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10.9.8 Letter from Chairman Nikita Khrushchev to President John F. Kennedy, October 24, 1962

Khrushchev, Nikita Sergeevich, 1894-1971
1962 October 24

Letter from Chairman Nikita Khrushchev to President John F. Kennedy, October 24, 1962, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston,

This letter from Fidel Castro to Nikita Khrushchev was written during the crisis. As you read in Source 3, Castro was very concerned about past US imperialist actions in Cuba, including political domination, military threats, and economic control. In the recent past, the United States had encouraged and supported an invasion by Cuban anti-Communists, tried to assassinate Castro himself, and ruined Cuba's economy with an embargo. What do you think is Castro's biggest fear in regards to potential American actions? What does Castro refer to when he talks about "the moment to eliminate this danger forever," and what does he urge Khrushchev to do? What loaded words did he use in connection with the United States? What loaded words did he use in connection with Cuba and the Soviet Union? Loaded words are words that convey emotion, either positive or negative, toward one side or the other.

In his private letter to Nikita Khrushchev, Fidel Castro expressed his confidence that an American attack of Cuba was imminent and urged Khrushchev to initiate a first nuclear strike against the United States in case of invasion. Students could answer with either an air attack to destroy the missile sites, which Castro wrote he thought most likely, or an invasion and nuclear war. The threat of full-scale invasion of Cuba was definitely real, as some members of the president's advisers — including the president's brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy — pushed for such an invasion. The loaded words Castro used for the United States were aggression, imperialists, aggressiveness, brutal, blockaded, and violated. The key term is imperialists. It indicates that Castro thought the United States was threatening Cuba's independence. The loaded words he used for Cuba and the Soviet Union, including those about Khrushchev himself, were resist with determination, heroically, tireless defender of peace, superhuman efforts, serene, confront, infinite gratitude, generous, fraternal, profound gratitude, and admiration.

Our ties with the Republic of Cuba, like our relations with other states, regardless of what kind of states they may be, concern only the two countries between which these relations exist. And if we now speak of the quarantine to which your letter refers, a quarantine may be established, according to accepted international practice, only by agreement of states between themselves, and not by some third party. Quarantines exist, for example, on agricultural goods and products. But in this case the question is in no way one of quarantine, but rather of far more serious things, and you yourself understand this.

You, Mr. President, are not declaring a quarantine, but rather are setting forth an ultimatum and threatening that if we do not give in to your demands you will use force. … You are no longer appealing to reason, but wish to intimidate us. …

We firmly adhere to the principles of international law and observe strictly the norms which regulate navigation on the high seas, in international waters. We observe these norms and enjoy the rights recognized by all states.

You wish to compel us to renounce the rights that every sovereign state enjoys, you are trying to legislate in questions of international law, and you are violating the universally accepted norms of that law. And you are doing all this not only out of hatred for the Cuban people and its government, but also because of considerations of the election campaign in the United States. What morality, what law can justify such an approach by the American Government to international affairs? No such morality or law can be found, because the actions of the United States with regard to Cuba constitute outright banditry or, if you like, the folly of degenerate imperialism. …

Therefore, Mr. President, if you coolly weigh the situation which has developed, not giving way to passions, you will understand that the Soviet Union cannot fail to reject the arbitrary demands of the United States. When you confront us with such conditions, try to put yourself in our place and consider how the United States would react to these conditions. I do not doubt that if someone attempted to dictate similar conditions to you — the United States — you would reject such an attempt. And we also say — no.

The Soviet Government considers that the violation of the freedom to use international waters and international air space is an act of aggression which pushes mankind toward the abyss of a world nuclear-missile war. Therefore, the Soviet Government cannot instruct the captains of Soviet vessels bound for Cuba to observe the orders of American naval forces blockading that Island. Our instructions to Soviet mariners are to observe strictly the universally accepted norms of navigation in international waters and not to retreat one step from them. And if the American side violates these rules, it must realize what responsibility will rest upon it in that case. … We will then be forced on our part to take the measures we consider necessary and adequate in order to protect our rights. We have everything necessary to do so. ...