Castro: A Letter from Khrushchev

by Andrew Stuttaford

Like many millenarians, Castro welcomed the thought of the purifying fire to come.  Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, decades into a career in which had waded through blood, remained convinced that communism still offered the promise of a radiant future to come and was a wily and determined opponent of the US.  But, unlike Castro, he had lost his taste for the apocalypse.

Here, via PBS, is the text of a letter Khrushchev wrote to Castro not long after the Cuban missile crisis. The most interesting section is this (my emphasis added):

If, by giving in to popular sentiment, we had allowed ourselves to be swept up by the more inflamed sectors of the populace, and if we had refused to reach a reasonable agreement with the government of the USA, war would have probably broken out, resulting in millions of deaths. Those who survived would have blamed the leaders for not having taken the measures that would have avoided this war of extermination…

In your cable of October 27 you proposed that we be the first to carry out a nuclear strike against the enemy’s territory. Naturally you understand where that would lead us. It would not be a simple strike, but the start of a thermonuclear world war.

Dear Comrade Fidel Castro, I find your proposal to be wrong, even though I understand your reasons.

We have lived through a very grave moment, a global thermonuclear war could have broken out. Of course the United States would have suffered enormous losses, but the Soviet Union and the whole socialist bloc would have also suffered greatly. It is even difficult to say how things would have ended for the Cuban people. First of all, Cuba would have burned in the fires of war. Without a doubt the Cuban people would have fought courageously but, also without a doubt, the Cuban people would have perished heroically. We struggle against imperialism, not in order to die, but to draw on all of our potential, to lose as little as possible, and later to win more, so as to be a victor and make communism triumph.

Castro, the internationalist, mourned by a pope, presidents and the leadership of an ‘ever closer Europe’, wanted to start a nuclear war.

Castro, the patriot, was willing to consign his own country to the flames.

Writing later, Castro’s accomplice, Guevara, put it like this (again, my emphasis added):

Here is the electrifying example of a people prepared to suffer nuclear immolation so that its ashes may serve as a foundation for new societies. When an agreement was reached by which the atomic missiles were removed, without asking our people, we were not relieved or thankful…

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