Cover image for Averting 'the final failure' : John F. Kennedy and the secret Cuban Missile Crisis meetings
Averting 'the final failure' : John F. Kennedy and the secret Cuban Missile Crisis meetings
Stern, Sheldon M.
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Publication Information:
Stanford, Calif. : Stanford University Press, 2003.
Physical Description:
xxx, 459 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.
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E841 .S757 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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The Cuban missile crisis was the most dangerous confrontation of the Cold War and the most perilous moment in human history. Sheldon M. Stern, longtime historian at the John F. Kennedy Library, here presents a comprehensive narrative account of the secret ExComm meetings, making the inside story of the missile crisis completely understandable to general readers for the first time. The author's narrative version of these discussions is entirely new; it provides readers with a running commentary on the issues and options discussed and enables them, as never before, to follow specific themes and the role of individual participants. The narrative highlights key moments of stress, doubt, decision, and resolution--and even humor--and makes the meetings comprehensible both to readers who lived through the crisis and to those too young to remember the Cold War. Stern demonstrates that JFK, a seasoned Cold Warrior who bore some of the responsibility for precipitating the crisis, consistently steered policy makers away from an apocalyptic nuclear conflict, which he called, with stark eloquence, "the final failure."

Author Notes

Sheldon M. Stern was the Historian at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library from 1977 to 1999

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Stern, a historian at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library from 1977 to 1999, presents here the most significant interpretation of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis to date. He is the first historian to have full access to the October 16-29 tapes, from which he has drawn this account of the meetings between Kennedy and the Executive Committee of the National Security Council. Kennedy is portrayed by Stern as a cool, in-control leader who, despite the bellicose recommendations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other advisers, made rational diplomatic decisions aimed at avoiding the "final failure" of a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union. However, Kennedy, along with his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, are faulted for helping to precipitate the crisis by their anti-Castro obsession, which continued until JFK's assassination in 1963. This absorbing narrative is densely packed with information that may overwhelm the general reader, but historians and informed readers are richly rewarded by this first "interpretative narrative account" of the most dangerous Cold War confrontation. How ordinary Americans responded to the Cuban Missile Crisis is the theme of independent historian George's admirable social history, which is especially notable for its portrayal of how children were traumatized by air raid drills and other futile protective measures "[that] had little more credibility than the Easter Bunny." Many anecdotes are humorous only in hindsight-of panic buying, attempted evacuations of cities, and denial, which led to a mini-boom in private fallout shelters. George skillfully demonstrates that the crisis was inflamed by the Cold War culture, which led to a dangerous war of words between Kennedy and Khrushchev in a political setting where diplomacy was viewed as appeasement. Both of these first-rate investigations are strongly recommended for academic and larger public collections.-Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

This book certainly ranks among the most significant works yet written on one of the most precarious moments in all human history. Stern, historian at the John F. Kennedy Library from 1977 to 1999, presents a detailed account of President Kennedy's Ex Comm meetings concerning the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. Top administration advisers debated how to respond to the placement of Soviet missiles 90 miles from US shores. This book differs from The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House during the Cuban Missile Crisis, ed. by Ernest R. May and Philip D. Zelikow (CH, Feb'98), and the three-volume John F. Kennedy: The Great Crises, ed. by Philip Zelikow et al. (2001), in that it offers a cogent running narrative that clarifies much that would appear confusing to even experienced readers. President Kennedy himself is shown to be a consistently moderating figure, ever seeking such options to nuclear confrontation as a swap involving NATO missiles in Turkey. Robert F. Kennedy, contrary to claims made in his memoir Thirteen Days (1969), was confrontational throughout the crisis. The precariousness of these times is well captured. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. J. D. Doenecke New College of Florida

Table of Contents

Robert Dallek
Forewordp. xi
Preface: The JFK Cuban Missile Crisis Tapesp. xiii
Listening to the JFK Tapesp. xvi
Origins of the JFK Tapesp. xxi
Opening the JFK Tapesp. xxiv
The Historical Value of the JFK Tapesp. xxvi
Introduction: the Making of the Cuban Missile Crisisp. 1
The Cold War: JFK's Cruciblep. 1
Nuclear Confrontation in Cubap. 9
The Kennedy Paradoxp. 32
Key Members of the Executive Committee of the National Security Councilp. 41
The Secret Meetings of the Executive Committee of the National Security Councilp. 57
Epilogue: The November Post-Crisisp. 403
Conclusion: Listening and Learning: Insights from the JFK ExComm Tapesp. 413
Appendix The Published Cuban Missile Crisis Transcripts Rounds One, Two and Beyondp. 427
Bibliographyp. 441
Indexp. 451