The possibility of the destruction of mankind was always in his mind. Someone once said that World War Three would be fought with atomic weapons and the next war with sticks and stones.
As mentioned before, Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August had made a great impression on the President. “I am not going to follow a course which will allow anyone to write a comparable book about this time, The Missiles of October,” he said to me that Saturday night, October 26. “If anybody is around to write after this, they are going to understand that we made every effort to find peace and every effort to give our adversary room to move. I am not going to push the Russians an inch beyond what is necessary.”
After it was finished, he made no statement attempting to take credit for himself or for the Administration for what had occurred. He instructed all members of the Ex Comm and government that no interview should be given, no statement made, which would claim any kind of victory. He respected Khrushchev for properly determining what was in his own country’s interest and what was in the interest of mankind. If it was a triumph, it was a triumph for the next generation and not for any particular government or people.
At the outbreak of the First World War the ex-Chancellor of Germany, Prince von Bülow, said to his successor, “How did it all happen?” “Ah, if only we knew,” was the reply.
Robert Kennedy, Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis, New York, 1969, 127–128
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