Several months after the end of the Cuban crisis, I was involved in negotiations with Premier Khrushchev for the release of two cardinals who had been under house arrest in the Ukraine and in Czechoslovakia for almost two decades. Premier Khrushchev spoke freely about the situation in the Kremlin during the week of the Cuban crisis. From his description, the Soviet situation emerged as a mirror image of the American experience. The people around Khrushchev sought to steer him away from any action that would be a confession of weakness.
“When I asked the military advisers if they could assure me that holding fast would not result in the death of five hundred million human beings, they looked at me a though I was out of my mind or, what was worse, a traitor,” he told me. “The biggest tragedy, as they saw it, was not that our country might be devastated and everything lost, but that the Chinese or the Albanians would accuse us of appeasement or weakness. So I said to myself: ‘To hell with these maniacs. If I can get the United States to assure me that it will not attempt to overthrow the Cuban government, I will remove the missiles.’ That is what happened. And so now I am being reviled by the Chinese and the Albanians. They say I was afraid to stand up to a paper tiger. It is all such nonsense. What good would it have done me in the last hour of my life to know that though our great nation and the United States were in complete ruins, the national honor of the Soviet Union was intact?”
Norman Cousins, ‘The Cuban Missile Crisis: An Anniversary’, The Saturday Review, October 15, 1977, p. 4