In a post today under the above title, David McReynolds of the Socialist Party writes that we should "continue the fight to close down the Guantanamo Base entirely, including its return to Cuba". It reminded me of the last time that was an issue, during the Cuba Missile Crisis of 1962, which younger readers need to learn about. I describe it as follows in my autobiography:

    "American nuclear missiles had been stationed in Turkey, right on the Soviet border, for years. Now, however, American spy planes discovered Soviet missiles in Cuba. President Kennedy announced a naval blockade against Soviet ships en route to that island, a flat violation of freedom of the seas, which is a long-standing, universal principle of international law. Its acceptance would mean Soviet surrender to domination of the world by the United States. Moscow could not accept that. The world was on the verge of nuclear destruction for the first and only time ever.

     "On the day the blockade was announced, I phoned KPFA [Pacifica] manager Trevor Thomas and told him that on my broadcast that evening I would abandon my Soviet-press [analysis] format and would attack the president for placing the existence of humanity at risk. Did Thomas want me to read the script to him? He said no. Considering the circumstances, and the government's known plan to incarcerate dissenters in long-maintained concentration camps if it came to war, Thomas' reply was the finest act of support for freedom of speech I have ever encountered.

     "The crisis began on Monday. Wednesday of that frightening week was our wedding anniversary, and we had tickets to Moscow's Bolshoi Ballet at the San Francisco Opera House. I cannot imagine a more surreal situation. I had wired Kennedy: 'Tamper with Russian ships and you will have a war,' hoping that the deliberate arrogance of the wording would cause someone to think the sender knew something, so it would be passed to a high level.

    "I also wired Premier Khrushchev: 'In the name of peace, could the Soviet government speak thus? The present acts of the U.S. government do not include invasion of Cuba. In view of the admission of intention to overthrow the Cuban government, this means Kennedy understands an invasion of Cuba would be disastrous for the United States. The Soviet government is satisfied that its arms to Cuba have already caused the U.S. to realize this. For world peace, the Soviet government therefore believes it possible to order the return of Soviet ships now bound for Cuba as a temporary measure to permit negotiations and UN action for withdrawal of the U.S. blockade. The USSR won't permit Cuba to go hungry or defenseless, and will resume shipments whenever urgently necessary.'

    "All of San Francisco society was at the opera house. The performance was splendid, the ovation stupendous, and in the intermission people chattered as usual. What else was there to do? Their destiny was not in their hands. I am reminded of the ball of the dead in Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita.

    "I dropped everything for the week, even my inhibition from the Depression years against lengthy long-distance phone calls. I did whatever I could think of to save the world. I use that phrase with no embarrassment or sense of cliché. It was not that I had illusions about my influence, but simply that I had to try. My older son, then at Reed College, was going out with the daughter of a top AFL-CIO official who was very close to Bobby Kennedy. I phoned that man, told him that the Russians could not tolerate any violation of international law on the high seas such as the boarding of one of their vessels, and urged that he transmit that immediately to the highest people he could reach. For once in my life I was glad that cold-war paranoia caused some people to think I was a Russian agent and therefore might be a back channel for diplomatic contact.

    "I phoned the same message to a retired Yale divinity professor who had been at the Moscow peace congress [a few weeks earlier]. There he told me that a former student of his, McGeorge Bundy, Kennedy's National Security Advisor, had asked him to report on the meeting. The professor asked me to brief him on my judgment of the conference. I had done so at length, in his Moscow hotel room. That's probably in Soviet intelligence files. I assume we were all bugged.

     "My younger son was going with a daughter of a former State Department official then living in Berkeley. This man, John Carter Vincent, had been fired in consequence of the McCarthy witch-hunt because he believed that the Chinese Communists were going to remain in power. He had broken up an earlier relationship between my older son and his older daughter because we are Jewish and I a radical. I phoned him, said the matter at issue overrode anything of a personal nature, and said I assumed he still had personal entrée to former associates in the department. I urged him to transmit the same message. Finally, Henry Shapiro, then still the UPI correspondent in Moscow as he had been during World War II when I put meat on the bones of his dispatches at the head office in New York, was in the Bay Area visiting his sister, a professor in the Soviet field. I phoned him with the same request.

     "To all, I said that the matter could be settled if we would leave Castro alone. I also said we should give up the U.S. naval base in Cuba, Guantanamo. Shapiro said that wasn't in the cards. When all the papers on that crisis are made public, I'd like to know if I had any input. President Kennedy, in his American University speech of June 1963, calling upon us to 're-examine our attitude toward the Soviet Union' (which I think got him killed), described damage to the Soviet Union in World War II by a comparison right out of my book of 1946: 'a loss equivalent to the destruction of this country east of Chicago.' One of Kennedy's university professors, Russ Nixon, shared my views and admired my book. But I have no idea how that comparison got into the speech.

     The crisis lasted just under a week. On my broadcast the following Monday, I read my wires to the two leaders and commented: 'I believe that telegram to Khrushchev is an exact description of the events that followed and of the situation as it now stands'."

     The American presence in Guantanamo has been a closed issue from that day to this. I believe the use the Bush administration has made of that base as a concentration camp, shaming this country in the eyes of the entire world, makes the time ripe for a demand by the peace movement that it be returned to Cuba.