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October 1962: The Missile Crisis As Seen From Cuba by Tomás Diez Acosta (review)

From: Caribbean Studies
Volume 41, Number 1, January-June 2013
pp. 229-233 | 10.1353/crb.2013.0011

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Reviewed by
Tomás Diez Acosta. 2012 (First published 2002). October 1962: The Missile Crisis As Seen From Cuba. New York; London: Pathfinder. 333pp. ISBN: 978-0-87348-956-0.

The Cuban Missile Crisis is one of the most debated historical problems of our recent past. Developments in the last two decades, particularly the collapse of the Soviet Union and the substantial declassification of relevant documents by the US government, have furnished scholars with ample new material to expand and revise the rich historiography. Memoirs, especially those of former Soviet officials, have also proliferated, animating the debate. The new century has opened the way to a fresh approach that eschews ideological wrangling in favor of dialogue and collaboration among scholars of the former rivals. Nevertheless, the leading role of the superpowers remains a defining feature of this history’s narrative, with the Cuban experience playing a subsidiary role in the momentous clash of titans.1

Tomás Diez Acosta’s October 1962: The Missile Crisis As Seen From Cuba stands out as a determined effort to incorporate the Cuban perspective on events prior to, during, and after the actual incident. The book’s balanced selection of sources integrates data from official records of the three main protagonists in a step-by-step account that also features vignettes of each side’s apparent take on the event and its aftermath. This encompassing approach yields a panoramic outlook, allowing the reader a glance at the sort of interaction that defined the crisis. Nonetheless, unlike other exemplars of the historiography, Diez Acosta’s volume accentuates Cuba’s participation in events, while underscoring the pathos of an island caught in the middle of an imperialist tug-of-war [End Page 229] between the two superpowers.

Two very significant and original features stand out in the book: its incorporation of Cuban archival material to the analysis, and its evaluation of the crisis’s impact for Cuba in real context. The work’s access to documentation from Cuban military archives contributes a unique vantage point, especially when assessing Cuba’s response in concrete terms (Chapters 2, 7 and 8). The study emphasizes, for example, the country’s administrative and military structural reorganization in the course of the Bay of Pigs assault, including the transformation of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) into a regular, multi-leveled fighting force (Chapter 2). In addition, as the author points out, “government management advanced in close interconnection with military actions (p. 72),” establishing social organizations, efficient support networks, and policies that became paramount to the regime’s survival in the long run. In general, Diez Acosta seems to suggest that the Bay of Pigs assault and the missile standoff signified an ultimately beneficial, rite of passage for the Cuban revolution, contributing to the system’s consolidation and endurance.

The book’s approach to the events seems to aim at defining the standoff as yet another, albeit potentially disastrous, imperialist clash of wills. For Diez Acosta, the United States “was trying to use any means to justify its future intervention in Cuba...” and “starve the Cuban Revolution into submission” (p. 55). In turn—at least according to the former Soviet high officials interviewed—plans and implementation of “Operation Anadyr,” Khrushchev’s pet project for Cuba, were organized and coordinated in Moscow without consulting the Cuban leadership (Chapters 4 and 5). According to the author’s interpretation, these two sets of isolated circumstances finally merged into a perfect formula for imperialist confrontation: prior to the October 1962, the US government had already decided on a “total blockade” as the first stage of an invasion scenario (Chapters 1 and 3), and the Soviets’ insistence in keeping the missile operations a secret provided the perfect pretext to activate the plan (Chapters 5 and 6).

The subliminal “we say/you say” play on developments, is another of the work’s inventive features. While recent Soviet sources stress the “emotional” character of the Cuban leadership,2 Diez Acosta in turn underscores the Soviets’ mishandling of the situation, and Khrushchev’s conniving manipulation of the Cuban missile project (Chapter 4). However, although some of the evidence seems valid and to the point, it is difficult not...