Monday, December 18, 2006

Literary corner

Forty four years after the world came close to nuclear oblivion, a new book on the former Soviet strongman Nikita Khrushchev has shed new light on what was to become known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Titled Khrushchev’s Cold War, the book is written by Aleksandr Fursenko, a Russian academic, and Timothy Naftali, the newly appointed director of the Nixon presidential library in California.

According to this review in The New York Times yesterday, the authors argue that the decision to place nuclear missiles on Cuban soil at the height of the Cold War may not have had much to do with Khrushchev wanting to protect Fidel Castro.

Instead, the Soviet leader may have wanted to get the attention of President John F Kennedy – and effectively bluff the US on to the negotiating table.

By positioning missiles so close to key American cities, Khrushchev apparently hoped to intimidate Kennedy into negotiating with Moscow as an equal.

“It seemed a quick, cheap way to gain American respect, which Khrushchev desperately craved,” the authors argue.

Even after backing down and agreeing to remove the missiles from Cuba, Khrushchev is said to have "found solace in the fact that Washington had taken him seriously, vowing not to invade Cuba in exchange for a Soviet promise to withdraw the missiles".

Nearly half a century later, both Kennedy and Khrushchev are long dead. The third man in the drama is on his deathbed in Havana. And well over a million Cubans are living in exile. Still.

KHRUSHCHEV’S COLD WAR: The Inside Story of an American Adversary.
By Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali. Publisher: W. Norton & Company.


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