Letters from China

Letter Number 6
Some Questions on Cuba

Jan 25, 1963

Dear friends,

I thought I had covered Cuba in other Letters, especially Nos. 4 and 5. But responsible friends still write that the Chinese "do not seem to realize that if the U.S.S.R. had not 'backed down' on Oct. 28, then"--and they quote Khrushchov--"Cuba would have ceased to exist."

To which I am tempted to say: "Piffle" but I refrain, for the question is a serious one on which honest differences exist. So I say: OF COURSE Khrushchov had to take those missiles out. But WHY did he ever put them in? WHY did he do it without camouflage, their bare bottoms open to the sky as prize for photographers? WHY were they "discovered" just in time for Kennedy to switch from his previous pose of refusing to invade Cuba because her weapons were "all defensive", to the new pose of "having to invade even at risk of nuclear war"? WHY was the withdrawal of missiles --in itself an excellent thing--combined with a long struggle-not yet ended--to force Cuba to "inspection on the spot", the spot being Cuba, which might become unlimited U.N. occupation with the U.N. troops hunting missiles in caves, making Cuba another Congo and Castro another Lumumba, with Kennedy in occupation via the U.N. without any risk of invasion, and the Latin American Revolution put back at least a decade?

I leave the questions with you, for Cuba is not my field. I suggest you read the NY Times Nov. 6 for a full page account of what went on in the White House and you can make up your mind how much Kennedy's talk was bluff, and how surprised he was at the speed with which Khrushchov yielded. Then note how Kennedy now rides high, and gloats in victory and pushes the arms budget, and presses on Viet Nam, Laos and Berlin, and how Khrushchov retreats--or is "more accommodating" on Berlin and nuclear tests. And you may understand why I feel that the world was not saved from nuclear war by K's actions on Cuba, but pushed a little nearer to war by the victory of the imperialist power. And if on this we disagree, I shall not press it. I am no world expert; let us wait and see.

Here I deal only with some slanders against China which I personally know to be lies. China is widely charged with having demanded those missiles and opposed their withdrawal and therefore with "adventurism" and "wishing to plunge the world into nuclear war". In The Nation for Dec. 15, for example, Alex Werth gives it as accepted that the missile installation had China's "strong support". I believe Mr. Werth to be honest, but misinformed by malicious people. For the statement I know is untrue.

China has now officially stated in at least two editorials ("Workers of All Countries, Unite to Oppose Our Common Enemy!" and "Differences Between Comrade Togliatti and Us", both available in pamphlets) that she "never called for the installation of missiles" and "never opposed taking them away" but objected "to the sacrifice of another nation's sovereignty as a means of reaching a compromise with imperialism". She has added: "We stand for complete ban on nuclear weapons," and "We hold that socialist nations have no need to use nuclear weapons as a gambling counter or for threatening others. To do this would be truly to commit the error of 'adventurism'." These are official words.

For three years I have known that China was against missiles in Cuba, since the time when Guevara came to Pekin and I heard Chinese leaders' views on Cuba's proper defense. I knew it also from the way every Chinese friend winced each time Khrushchov bragged of saving Cuba by missiles. I knew it from the shock the discovery of those missiles caused in Peking. At first nobody believed it; they thought it a Kennedy lie. Nobody believed ANY ALLY would be so stupid as to put missiles in Cuba, which could never save Cuba but only provoke attack from America's overwhelming strength, while alienating Cuba's much greater weapon, the Latin American people's support. Discussion raged about how K. could have done such a thing.

When Khrushchov signed up for "inspection on the spot" without even asking Cuba, then words were said about him which I shall not repeat. Cuba's very identity, it seemed, was being obliterated, as a nation and a Revolution; she began to appear in the eyes of the world--and of Latin America, as a piece of change in K's pocket to be traded to Kennedy for kind words. The Latin American Revolution seemed starting down the drain. Then Castro made his famous Nov. 1st speech on TV, refusing unilateral inspection in the name of equality of sovereign nations, and saving not only Cuba, but the "honor of the people", in the words of a friend. He was saving the Latin American Revolution and world peace.

In all this, no objection was ever heard in China to taking those missiles out. Get them out fast! Not that an angel is saving the world but a comrade corrects a mistake. China's views on Cuba's defense were based, as all of Chinese views are based, on careful and basic political analysis, taking into account the forces and issues of the world, the needs of world peace and progress. From such analysis, Cuba was NOT basically to be handled as a Bastion of Moscow and the socialist camp planted in the Western Hemisphere, protected by missiles and troops from overseas: the logistics and especially the politics were wrong. Cuba is seen as basically the forerunner and first-born of the Latin American Revolution, whose strength lies in keeping so close to the Latin people's hearts that they CANNOT let her down. From this standpoint again the missiles were "all wrong" for they changed Cuba from a brother island supported by most Latins and even some North Americans, into a foreign missile base that almost everyone would oppose.

Such was the analysis that made Chinese think the missiles should never have gone in. But Cuba, as a nation and a revolution, must be saved. Castro did it by a brilliant complex struggle against the Pact of the Two K's and the U.N. combined, though U Thant, to do him justice, did not seem to press very hard. Castro did it with courage, clarity, revolutionary integrity and a tact very rare in revolutionaries, without criticizing his Ally but reminding the Cuban people of the great generosity of the U.S.S.R., at a moment when they were sore at the loss of weapons and the belittling of their sovereignty.

So Castro became, in China's eyes, a leader of world stature for these are the qualities the Chinese admire and cultivate: courage, clarity, tact and revolutionary integrity. If China doesn't panic over 40 missile bases ending the world, it may be because she lives with hundreds of them trained on her cities from Japan and Okinawa all the time.