They are all defensive

September 9, 1962

I was talking today to my son Sergei, who had asked me about what is going on with the Cuban operation. I don’t tell Sergei everything, but he is a good confidante, very smart, and a good check on some of my more impulsive tendencies. Of course, I do as I see fit, but it helps to have someone to talk to I can totally trust. God knows, he will never be a politician. He is too naïve, too trusting, too ignorant of the ways of the political world. But he is a good soul, and they say is knows a lot about rocketry and all that scientific and technological stuff I will never understand.

I told Sergei I was beginning to compose, in my mind, a top-secret—no, super-secret—letter to Kennedy. I told him I thought Kennedy’s motives and instincts were anti-war, but that he seemed susceptible to the fascist militarists who surround him. I began thinking about this when we met in Vienna last year. He is closer to Sergei’s age than mine. He looks like a student or maybe a junior staffer, not the president of the leading capitalist country. It is almost unbelievable, actually, that a kid like that can actually run the United States of America. With all the pressure he is going to feel from the militarists once I tell them we have nuclear missiles in Cuba, I want to give him some arguments in this secret letter to use against them. I especially want to try to convince him that the deployment—every man, tank, missile, warhead, everything—they are all defensive. I have to find a way to convince Kennedy that I understand the power of nuclear weapons—not technically, the way Sergei does—but I know enough to be convinced that these terrible weapons must never, ever be used.

I still plan to make the speech in Havana in November—maybe around the 20th of November. But the Cubans keep telling us that we risk a big blowup if the missiles catch Kennedy totally by surprise. They say he won’t be able to resist the push toward war over the missiles. The shock, they say, will be too great for him. So I think this might be a way to do it. Now, I asked Sergei, how do I convince Kennedy in a private letter that these weapons are only for the defense of Cuba? Sergei, bless his heart, said he had no idea. Instead, he asked me: “isn’t it totally obvious, father?” Well, of course it is obvious to us, to the Soviets. I admitted that. And maybe it should be obvious to Kennedy. So I asked Sergei: “do you think the American nuclear missiles are defensive or offensive?” Sergei just smiled and said, “I am not sure.”

“Exactly,” I said. “I am betting that Kennedy might be a little perplexed about our missiles, especially in light of the fact that his hawks will be telling him that we are about to do something really, really aggressive and stupid like attack the United States of America with the weapons in Cuba.”

Now, I have to figure out how to get a letter to Kennedy that is so private that not a single other human being—no American and no Russian—is aware of it.