Fidel Castro has again been pontificating about the perils of nuclear war. This has been a favorite theme during his retirement, one that has been reiterated often in his published “reflections.” But his hypocrisy could not be more appalling.
In two of the five reflections he issued this year Castro has dwelled solemnly on the possibility of nuclear conflagration. On January 4th he wrote that after such a conflict “many millions of years would go by” before human life again “would arise.” On January 12, he condemned the United States for dropping atomic bombs on Japan at the end of World War II, “killing and irradiating . . . hundreds of thousands . . . in a country that had already been militarily defeated.” Surely, however, no historian of that war would agree that Japan was ready to surrender before President Truman made the fateful decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
In the same essay Castro praised Iranian president Ahmadinejad, never mentioning Iran’s advanced programs capable of producing nuclear weapons. “Yesterday,” Fidel wrote, “I had the satisfaction of having a pleasant conversation with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “I am convinced that Iran will not commit any rash actions that might contribute to setting off a war.” In fact, he added, “we hardly spoke about the topic of war.”
These commentaries are a replay of many others issued by Cuban media in 2010. Between June and November of that year a dozen articles attributed to Castro were devoted to his preoccupation with nuclear holocaust. One was titled “The Dangers of Nuclear War,” another, “On the Brink of Tragedy.” On June 16 the wrote that “the sky is growing increasingly cloudy,” and on July 11 brooded that “today everything hangs by a thread.”
Then on August 23 he appeared to return to a bizarre episode that continued to haunt him, a letter he wrote in the final hours of the missile crisis in late October 1962. It was in that communication to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev that Castro wrote: “If . . . the imperialists invade Cuba with the goal of occupying it . . . the Soviet Union must never allow the circumstances in which the imperialists could launch the first nuclear strike against it.”
These are the operative words in what has become known as Castro’s Armageddon letter. Incredibly, he advocated a massive preemptive nuclear attack on the United States if Cuba were invaded. Some have argued that he meant Khrushchev should attack in order to save Cuba, to destroy American military capabilities before invading troops could occupy the island. In contrast, Castro and his sympathizers have argued, unconvincingly, that he meant the Kremlin should attack after an invasion.
Still, by either interpretation there is nothing like that bone-chilling letter in the entire history of the nuclear age. No other world leader is known to have recommended the use of even a single nuclear warhead since 1945. Fidel’s recommendation to Khrushchev was orders of magnitude greater than the American attacks on Japan because hundreds of bombs would have been unleashed by the nuclear superpowers against each other.
Castro has remained unrepentant. In a September 1990 speech in Havana when he was compelled to admit his authorship of the Armageddon letter, he said defiantly, “I do not regret in the least what I did or what I said.” He later told an interviewer, “It is the most tremendous letter in history . . . one needed to be very strong.”
Yet, since his retirement he has had second thoughts, obviously worried about his place in history. In August 2010 he claimed not to have understood in 1962 that the attack he promoted would likely have resulted in just the kind of global catastrophe he has lately been decrying. “I should have understood much earlier that the risks of a nuclear war were much more serious than I imagined . . . it is not the same to explode 500 nuclear bombs in 1,000 days as it is to have them explode in one single day.”
This self-exoneration is preposterous. He claims that it was only in the summer of 2010 that he finally got around to consulting Cuban strategic warfare experts –including his eldest son. They helped him, he claimed, finally to appreciate what had previously eluded him. But how could he have failed for decades to have understood the fundamental realities of nuclear war and the size of the superpowers’ strategic weapons arsenals?
Despite his protests, the 1962 letter to Khrushchev embodied a fearsomely apocalyptic vision and reflected his insatiable hatred of the United States.
Dr. Brian Latell, distinguished Cuba analyst and author of the book, After Fidel: The Inside Story of Castro’s Regime and Cuba’s Next Leader, is a Senior Research Associate at ICCAS. He has informed American and foreign presidents, cabinet members, and legislators about Cuba and Fidel Castro in a number of capacities. He served in the early 1990s as National Intelligence Officer for Latin America at the Central Intelligence Agency and taught at Georgetown University for a quarter century. Dr. Latell has written, lectured, and consulted extensively. His new book, Castro’s Secrets: The CIA and Cuba’s Intelligence Machine, will be published in April 2012 by Palgrave Macmillan.