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Book World: 'One Minute to Midnight'


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Michael Dobbs
Author and Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 24, 2008; 3:00 PM

"In One Minute to Midnight, Michael Dobbs sets out to 'help a new generation of readers relive the quintessential Cold War crisis' and, in particular, its harrowing climax on 'Black Saturday,' Oct. 27, just before the Kremlin leader lanced the tension by agreeing to withdraw the missiles. In this he succeeds brilliantly, marshaling diverse sources to relate an intensely human story of Americans, Russians and Cubans caught up in what the late historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. termed 'the most dangerous moment in human history.'"

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Washington Post staff writer Michael Dobbs was online Tuesday, June 24 to discuss his new book about the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro On the Brink of Nuclear War, which was reviewed in Book World. He also wrote about the Cuban missile crisis and its lessons for today's leaders in the Post Outlook Section.

Dobbs awards Pinocchios to exaggerating and prevaricating politicians and pundits in his Washington Post column, The Fact Checker. He is also the author of Saboteurs: The Nazi Raid on America and Down with Big Brother: The Fall of the Soviet Empire.

A transcript follows.

Join Book World Live each Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET for a discussion based on a story or review in each Sunday's Book World section.

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Michael Dobbs: Greetings. Thanks for joining me on this on-line discussion, and your interest in my book, or the Fact Checker column. Fire away!

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Roswell, N.M.: When did the Soviets actually remove all the missiles from Cuba? How was that confirmed?

Michael Dobbs: Khrushchev agreed to remove his missiles from Cuba on October 28. The long-range ones capable of hitting the U.S. were removed within one week. The tactical missiles, which would have been used to attack a U.S. invading force, stayed longer, for a few more weeks. But in the end, Khrushchev decided he had to remove them too, as he did not want to leave nuclear weapons on the island, under Castro's potential control.

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Glover Park: Mr. Dobbs: based on what you know now, can you comment on the facts as they are presented in Robert Kennedy's book "Thirteen Days"? I'm curious to know whether history illuminates any misconceptions, mis-steps, or, perhaps, irony in Mr. Kennedy's memoir.

Michael Dobbs: Thanks. The RFK book was published posthumously, after his assassination in 1968, edited by Ted Sorensen. Of course, it tells the story from the Kennedy point of view, and there is a fair amount of political spin in it. It leaves out the secret war against Castro, which Bobby was responsible for directing, which was one of the factors that led to Khrushchev putting missiles in Cuba in the first place. It also gets some things wrong. I mentioned the eyeball to eyeball naval confrontation on October 24, which did not happen as advertised.

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Detroit, Mich.: I believe the strength of a great leader is measured in how they safeguard our country without going to war. Back-door negotiations have a place with getting things done without having to fire a weapon. President Kennedy had Bobby Kennedy work with the Russian leader with secret talks. This stopped the madness of a full scale nuclear war. The cowboy that we have in the White House today showed that you go to war first and work out the details later is truly the weak leader. Through your research, did you find Kennedy to be a really strong leader by using diplomacy?

Michael Dobbs: This question goes to the heart of an issue that has come up in the present election campaign: should you talk to America's enemies, or freeze them out. Barack Obama is correct in saying that Kennedy felt that it was necessary to negotiate, have contacts. He kept talking to Khrushchev through the most dangerous episode of the Cold War, and it was important that he did. On the other hand, the McCain people have a point when they cite the failed Vienna summit of 1961. JFK went into the summit unprepared, and was pushed around by Khrushchev. Afterwards, he came to see the summit as a mistake, and felt that it would take a great deal of effort to restore his credibility with Khrushchev. Both campaigns can use the Kennedy experience to justify their positions, to some extent.

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Ex-Cold Warrior: Good afternoon. I have one basic question: how close did we actually get to a nuclear exchange?

Michael Dobbs: It is very hard to answer this question in a quantifiable away. At one point Kennedy himself calculated the chances of nuclear war as between one in three and even. My answer is: too close. My book shows that the risk was not necessarily greater, but it was different from the way we have traditionally looked at it. In my view, the risk came not so much from the direct confrontation between K and K, but from the chance, unpredictable events that happen once you put the machinery of war into motion. By Black Saturday, October 27, both leaders were losing control over events, which is why they moved, in their different ways, to find a solution. Pressure was building on JFK to bomb the missile sites, and invade Cuba, which we now know could have pushed the Soviets into using their tactical nukes, against a U.S. invading force.

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Forest Hill, Md.: What do you know about why the Soviets decided to deploy nukes and missiles to Cuba in 1962?

Michael Dobbs: There were several different factors. Kennedy and his aides believed that the principal Soviet motivation was a desire to achieve strategic parity. They had fewer nuke weapons at the time. By stationing intermediate range weapons in Cuba, Khrushchev suddenly had more nukes that could hit the U.S. That was no doubt one of his motivations, but I believe that he also wanted to defend Castro, and defend the Socialist revolution in Cuba. It was a matter of prestige for him, but also an emotional connection with Castro. He feared that the Kennedys were out to get Castro after the failure of the Bay of Pigs, and sending nukes was a way to protect him.

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Mountain View, Calif.: How do the events of the Cuban missile crisis that you have documented compare with Evan Thomas's description in his book on RFK, i.e., are both relatively consistent in their portrayal, or are there some differences?

Thank you.

Michael Dobbs: My book is quite consistent with Evan Thomas's description of RFK. Bobby was a complicated person, with two sides to him, much more emotional than his brother. He was effectively in charge of Operation Mongoose, the secret war against Castro. When he first heard that the Soviets had deployed missiles to Cuba, he reacted very emotionally, cursing Khrushchev. He talked about arranging some kind of "Sink the Maine" incident as a pretext for an invasion of Cuba, as if he needed one. Later he adopted a rather moralistic position, saying that a Pearl Harbor type attack was against the American tradition.

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San Francisco: In the U.S. the Cuban Missile Crisis is usually presented as beginning with the Soviet Union putting missiles into Cuba, and the Soviets backing down. In fact, the Soviets were responding to the U.S. putting missiles into Turkey, immediately adjoining the Soviet Union. The crisis was resolved when we agreed to move our missiles from Turkey in exchange for them removing their missiles from Cuba.

Does your book address this?

Michael Dobbs: You can always go back further into history when examining the question "who started it." I agree with you that there is a lot of pre-history to the Soviet decision to send missiles to Cuba. First, there was the Kennedy's secret war against Castro: the Soviet deployment was in part a response to that. Khrushchev was also indignant about the U.S. missiles in Turkey, across the Black Sea from his summer residence. He would look out in the direction of Turkey from his dacha, seethe with resentment, and think about ways of "putting a hedgehog down Uncle Sam's pants," as he put it.

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Boston, Mass.: Naftali's book has Khrushchev telling his government it was time to end the confrontatation -- before the message arrived with Bobby Kennedy's secret offer. Do you agree?

Michael Dobbs: I differ with Naftali on that question. I have looked at the same sources that he and Fursenko have, and think they have misread the admittedly somewhat ambiguous Presidium record. It is true that Khrushchev had probably taken a decision in principle to withdraw the missiles, but the message with the RFK offer arrived during the course of the meeting, prior to the final decision. It was a factor in the outcome.

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Forest Hill, Md.: Do you know from Soviet or Cuban sources who would have been in control of the nukes after they were operational - USSR or Cuba? Why would Castro put his nation at such risk of annihilation?

Michael Dobbs: The Soviets maintained control over the nuclear weapons. Khrushchev loved Fidel "like a son," but he also had doubts about his emotional stability, and was not going to entrust nuke weapons to him. As for Castro, his strategy has always been based on total defiance and showing no weakness to his enemies. He was ready to die for the cause, and take a large number of his fellow countrymen with him. I believe he was willing to authorize a nuclear war on Cuban soil to defeat the yanqui invader.

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Lansing, Mich.: Which movie or documentary of these famous 13 days most accurately portrays this crisis?

Michael Dobbs: I am not very familiar with the movies on the crisis. I have watched 13 Days several times. It recreates the atmosphere well, but includes a number of inaccuracies, including the famous Eyeball to Eyeball naval confrontation, which did not happen in this way. (Khrushchev turned his ships around the day before.) While the low-level reconnaissance planes were fired on, they were never hit. There are other inaccuracies too, but it was not bad for Hollywood.

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Forest Hill, Md.: Do you think that Kennedy would have authorized a preemptive strike on Cuba if the blockade had failed?

Michael Dobbs: I think JFK was willing to go a long way to avoid a preemptive strike against Cuba, and had a few other tricks up his sleeve. One of them was a more public deal on the removal of the Jupiters from Turkey in exchange for the Soviet missiles on Cuba. However, the military (LeMay and others) were urging him to attack, and the shootdown of another U-2 spy plane, or some unforeseeable incident, could have have forced his hand.

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Mike, Raleigh, N.C.: Is there any sense of how Castro and other Cuban leaders felt about the Soviets potentially planning to use nuclear weapons on Guantanamo and the beachheads near Havana?

Michael Dobbs: The deployment of nukes to within 15 miles of Guantanamo was closely coordinated with the Cubans, particularly with Raul Castro, Fidel's successor. I think that Fidel, and his immediate circle, were fully prepared to authorize the use of nuclear weapons against U.S. troops on Cuban soil. Che Guevara later talked about being willing to accept the deaths of hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people, to ensure the ultimate defeat of the imperialists.

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Charlotte, N.C.: In your posting on the Web site leading up this chat, you mentioned that intelligence failed the Kennedy administration. Following the Cuban missile crisis, what steps were taken to improve U.S. intelligence? Did these steps somehow fall apart in subsequent years? We were obviously taken by surprise by the 9/11 attacks.

washingtonpost.com: What the President Didn't Know (The Fact Checker, June 23)

Michael Dobbs: The intelligence record is mixed. On the one hand, the CIA did discover the long-range missiles at the last moment, on October 14, when they sent a U-2 plane over the missile sites. That was about a month after they arrived in Cuba, but it gave the president time to prepare a response before the missiles were armed with nuclear warheads. On the other hand, the intelligence agencies missed most of the tactical warheads, never learned about the FKR cruise missiles and grossly underestimated the numbers of Soviets on Cuba. McNamara told JFK on Oct. 20 that there were 6-8,000 Soviet "technicians" on the island, when there were 43,000 heavily armed combat troops.

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Alexandria, Va.: Some have speculated that RFK's emotional demeanor in his critical meeting with Ambassador Dobrynin was more ploy than genuine. Do you have any insight on this?

Michael Dobbs: I think that RFK was quite rattled by this stage in the game, and it was not simply a ploy. Of course, it may have helped convince the Soviets that time was running out.

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Hollywood, Fla.: Former U.N Ambassador Richard Holbrooke recently said that Kennedy had requested removal of the Jupiter missiles from Turkey before the Crisis. I've read that the president only requested that the Defense Dept. conduct a study on how to remove them. He didn't actually order their removal. Is that correct?

Michael Dobbs: There has been a lot of debate about this. Bundy, the national security adviser, noted that there is a distinction between a presidential wish and a presidential order. I do not think that JFK ever gave a formal order for the removal of the Jupiters, although he several times encouraged his aides to get them out of there.

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Forest Hill, Md.: Comment - Lots of similarities here with present world. Sounds like Castro is a close cousin to the Jihadists. Willing to sacrifice many for the sake of the "cause". Even Khrushchev wasn't that crazy! These are dangerous people.

Michael Dobbs: As I researched the book, I was repeatedly struck by parallels between then and now. I think the missile crisis has been mistaught for years. The political scientists have analyzed it in terms of rational choices and "rational actors." But "irrational actors" -- the guys with long beards, the guys in caves -- sometimes push themselves onto the stage, as we were reminded on 9/11.

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Lansdowne, Va.: Did we think it was real? Those of us in the underground command post at Offutt AFB thought so. I packed my wife and son into a car and sent them off down wind, before I was moved to an off-base location as an alternate CP.

Michael Dobbs: I have heard many similar stories. They were also preparing to evacuate the White House on Black Saturday.

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Easton, Md.: A friend is trying to find a quote used in your book "One Minute to Midnight" but we are unable to locate it.

The quote goes something like this... "What Do You Do When You Don't Know Where You Are" or "What Do You Do When The Intelligence Sources Are All Screwed Up". He thinks it was a Bobby Kennedy quote.

Can you help, please?

Many thanks.

Brenda

Michael Dobbs: Not sure I know what quote you are referring to. If you could be a little more specific, I might be able to help.

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Arlington, Va.: When I was a child my Dad and family were stationed in southern Italy. He supported the Jupiter MRBMs there until their withdrawal in 1963. Were the missiles taken out because of the deal with Khrushchev or because they were obsolete? Thanks.

Michael Dobbs: They were pretty much obsolete by that stage, which is why JFK did not feel that there was much sense hanging on to them, let alone going to war over them. They were in fixed positions, very vulnerable to air attack. The same job could be done much better by Polaris submarines, which were hidden beneath the oceans.

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Washington, D.C.: Timeline question: US missiles in Turkey were removed after the crisis, but when did they go in and could that have been considered a degree of provocation?

Michael Dobbs: The Jupiters were pretty much obsolete by the time they were fully operational in March 1962. But they were a matter of prestige for the Turks, in particular, who decorated them with the Turkish flag. The Italians were less determined to hang on to their Jupiters than the Turks, who viewed them as a symbol of the alliance with NATO and the U.S.

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Washington, D.C.: A comment on your recent op-ed on your book, access to records, etc. I once worked for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), screening the Nixon tapes to see what could be released to the public. My twin sister (now deceased) worked as a Supervisory Archivist in NARA's records declassification division. In your Op Ed, "Our History, Off Limits," you noted that some archivists regard Richard Nixon as a champion of glasnost. If you are going to throw out such observations, some caveats are in order. As a federal agency, NARA is subject to message discipline so even as dogged a journalist as you never can survey and take the pulse of -all- the internal stakeholders. Be careful of generalizations, as a result. Also, you need to distinguish carefully between two separate and discrete actions by Nixon. One led to disclosures, the other delayed them. My sis was involved in the former, I in efforts to deal with the latter.

(1) Nixon issued an executive order on declassification in 1972. This enabled NARA over time to start systematic declassification and release of some historical records that dated back 30 years or more. (2) Nixon's lawyers sought to delay or limit disclosures from his own records after he left office in 1974. If you study some of the now-released Nixon tapes, you can hear Nixon fuming about his predecessors' records in the wake of the publication of the Pentagon Papers. And asking for older records to be released to "embarrass the creeps." (See July 1, 1971 tape extract published in Kutler, _Abuse of Power_, 1996.) Although archivists screened 3,700 hours of Nixon's taped conversations for public access during the 1980s, NARA only released 63 hours while he still was alive. (See Hersh, "Nixon's Last Cover-Up," _New Yorker_, December 14, 1992.) And no, that did not include the segment where he talked about embarrassing the creeps.

washingtonpost.com: Our History, Off-Limits (Washington Post, June 10)

Michael Dobbs: I was not talking about Nixon's attitude to his own records, but his attitude toward historical records. He did not have any problems about embarassing his Democratic predecessors. But the fact remains that more historical records were being declassified under Nixon than under the current administration. More effort now is being put into reclassification than declassification. Navy records on the missile crisis that I saw and photographed two years ago are no longer accessible to researchers while they undergo yet another security "review" that could last years.

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Lynchburg, Va.: What if the unthinkable had happened? How might a war have turned out?

Michael Dobbs: It would not have been very pleasant, to say the least. It could well have begun at the tactical level in Cuba, with an attack on Guantanamo or an American beachhead, but it would likely have escalated to a full nuclear exchange. Of course, the U.S. would have "won" the war, because it had huge nuclear superiority at that time. But even if only one or two Soviet nukes got through, the consequences for Americans would have been catastrophic. Kennedy asked the Pentagon at one point how many Americans might be killed if just one nuke got through, and was told "half a million." His reply: that is more than all the Americans killed in the Civil War, and it took us decades to recover from that war.

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Richmond, Va.: Excellent book! I can't put it down. By the way, a possible correction for future editions. You label a photo as showing a Cuban anti-aircraft gun in a city square. I believe it's actually an anti-tank gun. It has tires so it could't traverse fast enough to track aircraft. Also, this weapon couldn't be elevated high enough to take on aircraft.

You talk about the myths surrounding the Cuban missile crisis. I think it's important to remember that when the decision-makers were in the middle of this crisis, all they had to go on was what they knew at the time. Hindsight is 20-20.

Also, I was living in Turkey at the time this was going on. My Dad was a naval officer stationed there. We knew nothing about the Jupiter missiles. I remember thinking, though, that we were all going to die or at the least never see the US again.

Michael Dobbs: Thanks, glad that you are already in the middle of the book. I will look at that caption. I am sure there are some errors in the book, which I will correct for future editions.

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Washington D.C.: I have not read what the Red Chinese were doing during this crisis -- any actions, posturing of note?

Michael Dobbs: There was some posturing. They presented themselves to the Cubans as the real revolutionaries, as opposed to the gutless Soviets. Khrushchev was worried that Castro might end up siding with the Chinese. Curiously enough, much of the American intel talks about movements of "Russ/Sino/Cuban troops." This was two years or so after the Sino-Soviet split, but the intelligence people routinely referred to the Soviets on Cuba as Russ/Sino, because that was the category they thought in at that time. There were no Chinese troops on Cuba in October 62.

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St. Augustine, Florida:1. How do you treat May and Zelikow's book? [ The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the Cuban Missile Crisis by Ernest May and Philip Zelikow]

2. What use do you make of the series of U.S.-Soviet/Russia-Cuba conferences on the missile crisis?

Michael Dobbs: The May and Zelikow book is good, although it contains some inaccurate transcriptions, most of which they have corrected on the website at the Miller Center (UVA). Another scholar, Sheldon Stern, has produced his own competing book: it is worth looking at both of them if you are interested in the subject. I drew on both of them, and also listened to the tapes.

2. The conferences were very helpful to me. The Cubans gave me no help in my research, but I got valuable insights into Fidel's activities, point of view, from the conferences organized by the National Security Archive in Havana and elsewhere.

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Alexandria, Va.: Is there any indication that President Kennedy really did fear a military coup, or were the Soviets just projecting their own political environment onto the U.S.?

Michael Dobbs: This comes from Khrushchev's memoirs, I believe, which talks about Kennedy's fear of a military coup. That was an exaggeration, but the military were openly calling for intervention: had there been another shootdown of a U-2, it would have been very difficult for Kennedy to resist calls for retaliation. In the end, Generals like LeMay obeyed civilian authority, but they were not shy about expressing their disapproval.

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Union City, N.J.: What was the U.S. media discussing at the time that could have found its way to the "Voice of the Americas" radio transmissions heard inside Cuba? I was an eight year old living in Cuba and remember Dad listening to the radio -- not the Cuban stations -- in secret and the overall feeling of impending catastrophe.

Michael Dobbs: VOA probably reflected the general tone of the American media during the 13 days, which was one of considerable alarm. There was a lot that reporters did not know at the time, of course, and the Kennedy administration was quite effective in spinning the media.

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Reno, Nevada: The essay of yours I read in the Post earlier this week did not seem to allow for the possibility that the whole "crisis" was unnecessary, that both the Soviet and Cuba were entirely within their rights under international law in installing the missiles and that the U.S. was the one acting illegally, a blockade being an act of war. Can you address that view?

washingtonpost.com: Cool Crisis Management? It's a Myth. Ask JFK. (Post Outlook Section, June 22)

Michael Dobbs: The problem was that the Soviets installed missiles in Cuba in total secrecy, having assured the U.S. that they would never do any thing. Castro wanted a public defense treaty, which would have put the U.S. in a much more difficult position. After all, we had already deployed missiles to Turkey, so it would have been difficult to object if the Soviets did the same thing in Cuba.

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Ex-Cold Warrior: A follow-up: during the tenser days of the standoff, was there any possibility that U.S. military leaders could have initiated unilateral use of nukes (even tactical ones) without Presidential command authority?

Michael Dobbs: In practice, yes, as there were no locks on most of the nukes. As I relate in the book, some nukes were under the effective physical control of 25-year old Air Force lieutenants, flying solo. I believe, however, that an accidental release of a nuke or an accident involving a nuke was a bigger risk than U.S. military leaders defying the president. Even hawks like LeMay respected civilian authority.

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San Diego, Calif.: Thank you for setting the record straight on Kennedy as well as the current candidates on The Fact Checker -- I can't wait to get your new book -- have you considered writing a book on Reagan and the end of the Cold War?

Michael Dobbs: I did write a book on the end of the Cold War, or at least the collapse of the Soviet Union, which I witnessed as a reporter in Moscow between 1988 and 1993. It is called "Down with Big Brother." I am now thinking of writing a book about the origins of the Cold War.

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Vancouver, Canada: Hi Michael,

When I was a history student in the '70s, I got a B for proposing that JFK averted a nuclear war. My prof said that JFK was "macho," and provoked the crisis to satisfy his macho instincts. That seems to have been a prevailing theory for quite a while. How did this come about? Was it knee-jerk revisionism? You've made it clear that he was in fact thoughtful and calm in the face of pressure to go to war.

Thanks.

Michael Dobbs: I am skeptical of the "hero or villain" version of history. Kennedy (and Khrushchev for that matter) helped provoke the crisis in the first place. I talk about this in the book. During the 13 days, however, both men helped avert the danger of nuclear war. Although they did not appreciate it at the time, they ended up being on the same side, struggling to control the chaotic forces of history they themselves had unleashed. Jackie Kennedy later wrote to Khrushchev (after JFK's assassination), telling him that her husband always believed that the risk of war came from the "little men", not the "big men." I think that is correct, at least in the case of the missile crisis.

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Eastchester, N.Y.: I have read that the U.S. learned of the existence of the missiles because a top Soviet walked into our embassy in Moscow and told us. We took the high altitude pictures to camouflage our true source. If all this is so, with what deliberation did Kennedy precipitate the crisis?

Michael Dobbs: You are probably thinking of Oleg Penkovsky, but it is more complicated than that. Penkovsky had provided the technical manual for the R-12 missile that was deployed on Cuba, but he did not tip off the U.S. to the deployment itself. His info helped the CIA to identify the missiles accurately, and predict when they would become operational. He was arrested by the way on October 16, the first day of the crisis.

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Freising, Germany: This is the first time that I've read that Kennedy horsetraded the dismantling of U.S. Jupiter missiles in Turkey for the Soviet missiles from Cuba. It's incredible sometimes how details get lost over the decades.

You write that Kennedy had relatively good intelligence about the medium-range Soviet missiles capable of hitting the United States, and that U.S. reconnaissance planes had actually taken photographs of the Soviet nuclear-storage bunkers at Bejucal and Managua, but was there ever any certain knowledge regarding the whereabouts of these nuclear missiles that could have made a first strike successful?

Michael Dobbs: Yes, we had identified the precise location of the missile sites, but not the warheads. However, there were also reserve missiles, which were difficult to identify. The Air Force told Kennedy that they were "95 percent" sure of getting all the missile sites in a strike, but that was not good enough for him, and was one of the factors that dissuaded him from authorizing a strike.

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Palo Alto, Calif.: I have found it curious that few commentators on the missile crisis ever ask the question, why was it okay for us to surround the Soviet Union with missiles in sovereign states that were willing to host them (like Turkey), but not okay for the Soviet Union to place their missiles in a sovereign state near us that was willing to host them (Cuba)? Is it because the same rules do not apply to us as to other nations? And was it worth risking a nuclear war to help Kennedy save face (no open deal providing that Turkish missiles would go if Cuban missiles go)? So Kennedy must save face but not Khrushchev? Wouldn't it have been a bigger act of political courage for Kennedy not to put the world at risk to preserve the Democrats' chances in the mid-term election?

Michael Dobbs: The Kennedy administration had a hard time answering this question. At one point, on the first day of the crisis, JFK is fuming about the deployment of Soviet missiles on Cuba, and tells Bundy, his national security adviser, "why, that would be like us deploying missiles to Turkey, that would be really dangerous," or words to that effect. Bundy replies, "we did deploy missiles to Turkey." JFK had evidently forgotten that little detail in the midst of his indignation at being double-crossed by Khrushchev.

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Lyme, Conn.: I am sure your book covers this, yet the Cuban missile crisis and how President Kennedy handled it contains a very valuable lesson in diplomacy. When the Russians sent mixed responses (perhaps written by different writers, one seeking a diplomatic solution and another by someone who thought the Soviet Union needed to sound militarily strong), there was a realization in language to respond only to the messages that were encouraging and presented openings for further the dialogue rather than addressing the more threatening messages. Otherwise, this could easily have turned into an exercise of bravado with two sides that probably didn't want to fight feeling obligated to fight because they had dared each other into a fight. Instead, keeping the dialogue towards diplomatic solutions led to a diplomatic solution. Would you agree, or would you like to elaborate on this?

Michael Dobbs: Obviously, it was important to keep the lines of communication open during the crisis. We would not have got anywhere with Khrushchev by ignoring him, or freezing him out. On the other hand, the Vienna summit was ill-prepared, and might have encouraged him to test JFK's mettle. It is a complicated issue. There is a time to be tough, and a time to negotiate...

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Michael Dobbs: Thanks for the great questions. Hope that some of you are inspired to read the book. I had a great time researching and writing it.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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