By Philip R. Devlin
(October 25, 2022) —A previous column discussed the vital and vastly under-publicized role that Hugh Montgomery—a World War II hero and later a spy for the CIA—had in bringing about the peaceful resolution to the Cuban Missile Crisis of October, 1962. There were, however, other Connecticut connections to the resolution of this crisis.
American relations with Cuba began in earnest following the Spanish-American War (1898-99). Senator Orville Platt of Connecticut (after whom a high school in Meriden is named) played a key role in creating conditions that had a far-reaching effect on later Cuban history.
Platt (photo above) was a powerful senator who was Chairman of the Committee on Cuban Relations following the Spanish-American war. Platt defined the relationship between America and Cuba through the passage of the Platt Amendment on March 2, 1901.
The Platt Amendment established eight conditions that allowed for American dominance over Cuban political conditions; furthermore, it also established a permanent American naval base at Guantanamo Bay (“Gitmo”) on the southeast corner of the island—a presence that has long been a source of irritation to Cuba. The United States pays Cuba $4,085 per year to lease “Gitmo,” but the Cubans have refused to cash the check since Fidel Castro took over in 1959. Little did Orville Platt of Connecticut realize that his amendment would help create conditions that would bring the world to the brink of nuclear disaster 61 years later.
Yet another Connecticut resident who played a key role during the Cuban Missile Crisis was Roger Hilsman of Hamburg Cove in Lyme (1919-2014).
Like Hugh Montgomery, Hilsman (photo above) was a member of the OSS during World War II as well as a member of the elite combatants known as “Merrill’s Marauders,” operating in the Pacific theater of war, where he suffered severe wounds. A well-connected and well-respected public servant, Hilsman was an Undersecretary of State in the Kennedy administration in 1962. He used his considerable connections and influence to establish a back channel for negotiations between the Soviet Union and America during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was through these back channels that an agreement was reached to end the crisis peacefully.
A historian from Greenwich, Barbara Tuchman, also played a key background role in resolving the crisis.
In August of 1962, Tuchman (photo above) published a landmark book entitled August 1914 that eventually won the Pulitzer Prize for History—the first woman ever to do so! Kennedy, a voracious reader, read the book and quoted from it during deliberations concerning the missile crisis. Tuchman’s main point about World War I in her book was the civilian loss of control of decision-making to military planners in the run-up to World War I. JFK vowed that would not happen during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It didn’t.
Finally, another Connecticut native who played an important role in the crisis was Middletown’s Dean Acheson.
Acheson (photo above) was Truman’s influential Secretary of State following World War II. Acheson was largely responsible for NATO, the United Nations, and implementing the Marshall Plan. Acheson occasionally sat with the Ex-Comm members during the crisis. His key role, however, was to be dispatched to France to inform the sometimes-mercurial President Charles de Gaulle about the pending agreement to the crisis. Acheson’s book Present at the Creation: My Years in the State Department ranked as the 47th most influential book of the 20th century.
Hugh Montgomery, Orville Platt, Barbara Tuchman, Roger Hilsman and Dean Acheson were important people with strong Connecticut connections who, to varying degrees, played important roles in the Cuban Missile Crisis 60 years ago this month.
Photos from the internet, in the public domain.