Skip to comments.How Barbara Tuchmanís The Guns of August influenced decision making during the Cuban Missile Crisis
Posted on 03/20/2012 10:28:47 AM PDT by Borges
Reviewing Barbara W. Tuchman: The Guns of August, The Proud Tower in the Times Literary Supplement recently, Robert Zaretsky noted that one of the ways to assess the aims and success of her 1962 Pulitzer prizewinning book is to consider its influence on a man whose job it was to respond to present pressures: President Kennedy."
Much has been made of the influence The Guns of August had on Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisisand for good reason. Kennedy himself made a point of referring repeatedly to the lessons of Tuchmans book (which had been published just a few months before that fateful October). In the midst of the crisis, he told his brother Bobby: I am not going to follow a course which will allow anyone to write a comparable book about this time [and call it] The Missiles of October."
Given the passions of the moment, this was a nearly superhuman task. Would someone who had not read the book, or who had not studied history (as Kennedy had at Harvard), have been able to resist the advice of military men like Curtis LeMay, who wanted to evaporate the island with nuclear bombs?
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JFK read a book that stood the test of time and now political and military push a book that turned out to be a fraud, Three Cups of Tea.
As a young boy, read Tuchman’s “Stilwell and the American Experience in China.” Have no idea how the book found its way into my hands.
It gave me an interest in China and Chinese Language I still have today.
Tuchman and her much-lauded book are not without controversy. Although the book was about Europe’s stumble into World War I, during the 60s and 70s, the Left broadly cited it for the thesis that military planning inherently generated a drive to war. Tuchman, who had moved Left herself, did little to contradict this canard.
It’s also notoriously biased against the Germans. The WW1 era Germans were not Nazis.
My favorite Stilwell anecdote:
The General was fluent in Chinese. When he returned to the U.S. after V-J Day, the citizens of San Francisco Chinatown gave him a ticker tape parade. A Chinese-American kid asked for his autograph and Vinegar Joe signed his name in Mandarin characters. The kid looked at it for a second and said,
“Hell, a three star general and he can’t even write English!”
As far as WW1 goes, I maintain that if, after the first month of Verdun, the troops on both sides had mutinied, shot their generals, hanged their politicians and gone home, the Twentieth Century would have been quite different. It's one of the reasons I don't think infinitely well of military discipline.
Barbara Tuchman's father was publisher of The Nation back in the 1930s. If the magazine reflected her views there probably wasn't much further left she could have moved.
I always wondered about stuff like this:
In the midst of the crisis, he told his brother Bobby: I am not going to follow a course which will allow anyone to write a comparable book about this time [and call it] The Missiles of October.
As Kennedy told his brother Bobby: I wish we could send a copy of that book to every Navy officer on every ship right now, but they probably wouldnt read it.
There actually was a TV movie, called The Missiles of October, and William DeVane actually said those lines to Martin Sheen, but they always seemed phony to me, like they were something Bobby Kennedy or Arthur Schlesinger cooked up to make JFK look more "literate" and "intellectual" or "decisive" or "incisive."
De Vane does commercials for investing in gold now. I wonder if any senior citizens think it's Jack Kennedy telling them to buy.
New details are still surfacing. As the UK Telegraph reported a few weeks ago in a story about Kennedy's teen age mistress:
At the height of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, as the world teetered on the brink of a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviets, Kennedy hinted to his lover that he would be prepared to blink first: Id rather my children were red than dead.
So, instead of Tuchman as the decisive influence on Kennedy during the missile crisis, it may well have been that he was swayed by Leftist sloganeering.