Phil Kaveny

The Works of Philip Kaveny

“Darkness,” “Fire and Ice” & the President, the Premier and the Poet: John F Kennedy, Robert Frost, Nikita Khrushchev &the Cuban Missile Crisis. Oct 1963 by Phil Kaveny

Transatlantic Romanticism, Paper III

Dr. Joel Pace

Philip Kaveny

Section I: Prelude  

Up until the class of May 8, 2014 I had an almost entirely different paper topic in mind, based upon our meeting of May 1, 2014. Now my final paper has an entirely different trajectory. However, the work that I have done up until the time I changed my topic to “‘Darkness’ and ‘Fire and Ice,’ Byron & Frost Foreshadow Nuclear Winter,” has not been lost and as it will be recycled into other projects.

I find it necessary to comment on how I was compelled to change topics by the aesthetic force of Byron’s “Darkness,” a brief comment by our instructor on the historicity of ”Darkness,” and most of all by a dog named Argus and a young woman named Kia. However first I must make my comments.

Not only in this course but throughout my life I could never do a paper simply to fulfill a course requirement, and in many courses I have found that the most interesting perspectives come at the end, as we now have learned something and perhaps even have something with which make comparisons, or perhaps even to relate to previous learning experiences.  Perhaps a particular lecture, or more likely a brief comment, jump starts my brain.  Like Mandelbrot’s butterfly-wings beating, both are necessary and sufficient cause to generate a hurricane.

Now I find myself in the position of the patron at the Four Star restaurant who places his order not realizing that he has only seen the appetizer menu or even worse stuffs himself by eating the whole bread basket, so I am grateful for this opportunity.

Up until at we read “Darkness” in class April 30th, 2014, I always thought of Lord Bryon as a pretentious putz. Yet as we read the poem in groups, stanza by stanza, something was happening to me who has, for example, stared down biker gangs who claimed that I had short changed them when I was working as a bartender in Madison, Wisconsin in the late 1960’s. I could not fight those lines, and find myself wondering if I am even fit to carry Lord Byron’s shoes onto the wrestling mat. This is what overpowered me, and made me a believer.

47 Even dogs assail’d their masters, all save one,

48 And he was faithful to a corse, and kept

49 The birds and beasts and famish’d men at bay,

50 Till hunger clung them, or the dropping dead

51 Lur’d their lank jaws; himself sought out no food,

52 But with a piteous and perpetual moan,

53 And a quick desolate cry, licking the hand

54 Which answer’d not with a caress–he died.

And I thought silently, this is a reference to The Odyssey. Bryon is referring to Odysseus’ dog Argus, from The Odyssey, who recognizes him after twenty years and dies bringing tears to Odysseus’ savage heart. But I only thought it. I said nothing.  But Kia said what I thought, and though we have not talked much we were connected like the two mowers in Frost’s “A Tuft of Flowers,” then somehow or other Robert Frost has snuck into class, and into my paper.

A leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared

Beside a reedy brook the scythe had bared.

 

I left my place to know them by their name,

Finding them butterfly weed when I came.

 

The mower in the dew had loved them thus,

By leaving them to flourish, not for us,

But he turned first, and led my eye to look

At a tall tuft of flowers beside a brook,

 

A leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared

Beside a reedy brook the scythe had bared.

Not only had he snuck into class and precipitated a series of memories and vivid images resonating with my recent incarnation with Lord Byron’s “Blackness” which then foreshadowed the nuclear nightmare, but Frost’s “Fire and Ice” became nuclear war and nuclear winter.  I remembered that in my first academic iteration I was at UW-Madison where I was being trained as a foreign policy analyst to project the consequences of limited and strategic nuclear war as we studied the Cuban Missile Crisis two years after it happened at the start of the Vietnam Era.  At least that’s what I did until I wrote the F word on all my final exams, and ransomed  back my soul. Now nearly fifty years after I made that decision not to work for those who manufactured death only looking for more death, I believe that Byron’s poem “Darkness,” though dealing with a volcanic eruption, in an artistic sense foreshadowed the end product of what was described in 1960 as “The Military Industrial Complex” that President Eisenhower cautioned the world against in his 1961 farewell speech[i].  One might suggest that edifice perhaps stands on the shoulders of the hubris of “The Enlightenment.” Yet this is not the thesis of my paper, but only component of it. With that I will bridge into the body of my paper with this short quotation from Loves Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature by Martha C. Nussbaum (Oxford University Press, 1990.)

“You may know a truth but if it is at all complex you have to be an

artist not to utter “it’s a lie”[ii]   Iris Murdock, Accidental Man.

 

The thesis of my paper is an answer to a question that is as simple as it is relevant.  In the research and reflection I have done for this paper I have found the answer to the question of my lifetime in the lives and work and trans-Atlantic and  trans-historical dialogue of two poets, Lord Byron (1788-1824), and Robert Frost (1874- 1963)[iii]. The question is this: How did it occur, fifty-two years ago, in 1962, that a tactical and strategic nuclear exchange precipitated by events that transpired between President John F. Kennedy, Cuban Premier Fidel Castro, and Premier Nikita Khrushchev during the thirteen days from October 15 to October 28th  resulted in what came to be known as The Cuban Missile Crisis?  Why is it that those few who might have survived to reproduce are not living in a global reality of Lord Byron’s “Darkness?”  I have come to believe that I have found answers to that question, in the souls of two poets and the Russian Premier, and something that two celestially beautiful Lithuanian refugee sisters told me.

Before I go further I need to say everything one ever needs to know about Russia and Russians, even if they claim to be someone else, like Ukrainian or Georgian, or Byelorussian. I have as friends two beautiful Lithuanian sisters who are very dear to me, Bruta, and Joan, whose families fled to Chicago in order to escape from the Russian Red Army Steam Roller in 1945. Their father was a Colonel in the Czarist Army and they were clearly no friends of Russians. They incidentally translated my poetry into Lithuanian and made it sound like it was sung by the wind.  In any case I asked them why they thought Russia defeated the Nazis in the Second World War. They said it was not their Red Army; it was the Russian love of poetry. That may have been what was to save the planet only seventeen years later, and the lives and offspring of every sentient creature on the planet earth.

I had no foreknowledge of Byron’s poem “Darkness”, however I was only two years old at the time that Winston Churchill made his Fulton College (1946) Iron Curtain Speech which set the parameters for the Cold War for the next 45 years. In fact I learned of it not until I was age forty-seven.  It is fair to say that at that time it evoked or conjured up in me something like a post-traumatic response since we all who lived though it lived through an uneasy balance of terror. [iv]

From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an
“Iron Curtain” has descended across the continent. Behind
that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central
and Eastern Europe. [v]

Yet even stone walls and Iron Curtains are not impermeable to the poetic imagination as American poet Robert Frost demonstrates in his poem “Mending Wall which first appeared on the eve of World War I or the Great War, or The War to End all Wars[vi] in 1914.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

 

We will hold these lines from Frost’s “Mending Wall” in creative dialectical tension, written as they were nearly a hundred years after “Darkness,” and thinking as we must: What is “this something that does not love a wall?”  I will suggest that it is in the person and the poetry and even the referent for the poem, which is too robust even to be reduced by the postmodern sensibility, a gossamer and sticky thread in the spider’s web of language.  I feel a need to encourage my reader as the trajectory of this paper moves along crab-walking in a course that is in some sense between random and linear as I try to fit a multi-dimension concept onto the two dimensional map of an academic paper.  Perhaps it will help my reader that in the end I agree with Vladimir Nabokov and Joseph Conrad that every element in a story, whether it be a row boat on the horizon or a gun hanging on a wall, the boat must be rowed, and the gun must be used (or manifestly not used), or both must be edited out.

I need to include some material from “paper one” which has now been stripped down to its components to make a connection with the second part of “paper two,” but I won’t have time to fill in the dents with body putty, sand the fender down, and make the paint match, in order to transition into the next section of this paper.

In Transatlantic Romanticism, (March 25, 2014), with Dr. Joel Pace, it has become clear that we must  do the post-modern crabwalk back to a 1798 advertisement for the Lyrical Ballads which refers to them as experiments. One must reflect on the use of that term and suggest that perhaps we have too soon labeled Romanticism as simply a reaction against the empiricism of Locke and Hume and the dismal science of the economics of Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, and David Ricardo. What I mean by this that the Lyrical Ballads in a sense might be thought of as language experiments, which really in some sense foreshadowed the scientific thought- experiments of a young Einstein in the early 20st century, thoughts which appeared to be grounded in a quantum ambiguity, just as the Romantic works experimented with a non-binary ethical indeterminacy[vii] which challenged both a clockwork universe or a clockwork human soul.

Section II There and Back Again: From the Moral to the Cosmological Universe, and Back

Last night, after I had crashed night at 3:00 A.M., I was reflecting on my wife’s heart surgery which would have been technologically impossible in the 1960s, and wondering when she would be home. I watched The Inexplicable Universe: Unsolved Mysteries, with Professor Neil de Grasse Tyson, Hayden Planetarium, (Ph.D., Columbia University), (Inexplicable Cosmology.)[viii] I came to the conclusion that Byron’s “Darkness” is really a cosmological poem which in a major sense goes beneath the grounding assumptions of my previous paper where I refer to non-binary ethical indeterminacy which challenged both a clockwork universe and a clockwork human soul and addressed instead a cosmologically and morally indifferent universe 90% of which is unobservable even though it perturbs the observable 10% in a manner that may be, on a dimensional level, inaccessible.  This observation, in a sense, makes human existence and morality irrelevant. Also later in the lecture he suggested the cosmological possible.  One of the most interesting things we discussed in class was Byron’s suggestion of a non-theistic creation out of nothing, or creation ex nihilo, or the belief that God created this world out of nothing, ex nihilo being Latin for “from nothing.” [ix]

            Even the first line of “Darkness” evokes images from British scientist and public intellectual Nigel Calder’s 1981 book Nuclear Nightmares: An Investigation into Possible Wars. In the preface he reminds us that the senior leadership of both the Soviet Union and the United States in 1980 had lived through their worst nightmares, for the United States, a massive preemptive strike as in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and, in the case of the Soviet Union, the German Operation Barbarossa from June 22, 1941 until May 08, 1944 when the triumphant Red Army stood in the ruins of Berlin at a cost of nearly thirty million Soviet and German Lives.
1 I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
Just as Wordsworth’s 1797 Poem was precipitated by a phenomenal presence of a thorn, so “Darkness” (written between July 21st and August 25th 1816, p167), was precipitated by the phenomenal presence of the atmospherically, cataclysmic, global event of the eruption of Mount Tambora on the Island of Sumbawa in the Indonesian archipelago (April 5th 1815 (p1)). So I would argue that “the dream not all a dream” is really a kind of prophetic foreshadowing of the post-nuclear-holocaust future. Further I would argue that Lord Byron bears more than a simple family resemblance as Wittgenstein might say it to Dickens’  “Ghost of Christmas yet come.”

2 The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars

3 Did wander darkling in the eternal space,

4 Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth

5 Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;

            I ask myself what lives in this darkness but ghosts and stories? This is the operative link to nuclear winter. In this  poem is T.S. Eliot’s wasteland foreshadowed being projected backwards 107 years, and anticipating the frozen desert of “The Wasteland,’ where April is truly the coldest month, rather than the cruellest? All my sources indicate that in 1962 the United States and the Soviet Union had the combined nuclear destructive capabilities to realize the world outcome depicted in the 1963 Stanley Kubrick film Dr Strangelove, [x]

“I think we should look at this from the military point of view. I mean, supposing the Russkies stashes away some big bomb, see. When they come out in a hundred years they could take over… In fact, they might even try an immediate sneak attack so they could take over our mineshaft space… I think it would be extremely naive of us, Mr. President, to imagine that these new developments are going to cause any change in Soviet expansionist policy. I mean, we must be… increasingly on the alert to prevent them from taking over other mineshaft space, in order to breed more prodigiously than we do, thus, knocking us out in superior numbers when we emerge! Mr. President, we must not allow… a mine shaft gap!”
– General Buck Turgidson [xi]

Section III. “Darkness,” “Fire and Ice” & the President, the Premier and the Poet: They Saved the World from Dying twice From Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice [xii]

It is fitting that as I finish the paper on Oct 31st 2014, All Hallows Eve[xiii], working at a University of Wisconsin Eau Claire computer lab wondering if any trick-or-treaters will come by our house, about to pick my wife so she can absentee vote against the gubernatorial candidate that would lead our great state in the race to the bottom. At the same time wondering will be ready for the potential trick-or-treaters or turn our lights off, and eat the candy myself. I wonder what happened almost exactly fifty two years ago between the President, the Premier and the Poet that has spared me from having to write these lines as a radioactive ghoul [xiv]

It is now a week since I wrote the above paragraph. It turns out that the trick-or-treaters, our neighbors, did in fact show up, and on Sunday night we had them all over, five children age 2 1/2 to eight, and their absolutely adorable young single mothers. My wife, the two parents myself, and the five kids all watched the extended edition of The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smog. It made me think more about the lines I had written last week. And it forced me to go back and actually research the actual factual situation, in terms of what was at risk during the Cuban missile crisis. The material will appear in a supplementary technical appendix, along with my reflections on how 52 years ago I was being trained, to become nuclear weapons analyst at the University of Wisconsin Madison.

What I have to say is this the situation 52 years later warrants inclusion of the illustration by my artistic colleague Theo Howard  of myself existing in the present is a radioactive ghoul. As terrifying as a situation in Cuba looked 52 years ago, it is more terrifying when reflected upon, with all the information that has come to light in the last half century. To do that I have to do a little bit of teaching, hoping that I’m not too greatly transgressing the literary genre borders on an English paper, in mind that this all brings of back to the reality of Byron’s “Blackness” and Frost’s “Fire and Ice.” To rephrase my statement, the Dark Satanic Mills[xv] of both the American and Soviet military industrial complex have been working overtime in the 139 years from the time “Blackness” was written until the first atomic bomb was tested. On July 16th 1945, at 5:29:45 a.m. as, the Manhattan Project comes to an explosive end, the first atom bomb is successfully tested in Alamogordo, New Mexico.[xvi] In the next seventeen years those same mills went in to a logarithmic-scale spiral producing and seeking ever more death.[xvii] Byron’s “Dream” that was yet not a dream would become the existential reality, made sufficient by the firestorm and they ice of nuclear winter.

This material is really a summary of several days of research, the kind of stuff I used to do a lifetime ago when I was a young man. Here are the facts of the American nuclear capability during the second half of October 1962. The United States had 635 megatons of deliverable nuclear weapons, and the Soviets about 1/3 that number. We live in an age where most people do not know the difference between a fission and fusion weapon of mass destruction. The starting point is these three atomic weapons of the fission variety were detonated by the United States in 1945. Each one of these weapons was equal in explosive power to approximately 10,000 tons of TNT, hence, the phrase kiloton. Therefore a megaton is equal to a million tons of TNT and has the explosive force of one hundred Hiroshima-sized atomic fission bombs.[xviii]

Fifty years on, it is difficult to comprehend just how high Cold War tensions were in the summer of 1962, and to recall how that evolved into the crisis of October, when the world’s most powerful states were on the brink of nuclear war. In 1962, the nuclear stockpile of the United States, consisting of more than 3,500 warheads, was six times that of the Soviet Union. The most powerful weapons — Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) — had ranges greater than 8,600 miles and were capable of hitting targets almost anywhere within the Soviet Union from American soil. The United States had 203 missiles of this type, with a combined nuclear yield greater than 635 megatons, the equivalent of 635,000,000 tons of TNT. By way of comparison, the “Little Boy” bomb dropped on Hiroshima during World War II — resulting in between 90,000 and 166,000 deaths — had a yield of around 15,000 tons of TNT. The Soviet Union had only 36 missiles capable of covering a similar distance, with a combined yield in the range of 108-204 megatons. Although much lower than the long-range missiles held by the Americans, these weapons still represented a nuclear power between 7,560 to 14,280 times greater than the Hiroshima bomb. The U.S. also held significant superiority in its strategic bombing forces. At the end of the crisis in October, a total of 1,306 American bomber planes were deployed with the ability to deliver 2,962 nuclear weapons.  [xix]

I hope that the above-mentioned material has given us some idea of what was at stake between the poet and the Premier and the President of the United States. Nuclear madness needs a different kind of analysis which somehow accommodates the irrationality and madness. I have had several conversations with my dear friend Dr. Michael Zielinski presently a programmer but a retired mathematics professor, who did his doctoral work on fractal geometry and Chaos Theory.  In order to improve the understanding of what I said up to now I’m going to popularize certain mathematical modeling strategies. And I am also going to talk about something called the prisoner’s dilemma. This is actually one of the favorite modeling strategies of business schools. But if I steal it for a while I don’t think anyone will notice it was gone, as I declare it reappropriated, to be used for something other than screwing consumers, or crushing unions.

First I must give a brief a summary of Catastrophe Theory. What Catastrophe Theory really does is it shows the limits of the modeling of complex system; because it shows that there is a limit to the number of variables that may be computed.  At a certain point the data can no longer be retrieved. Perhaps one might focus on Dr. Robert Oppenheimer’s reflection that he thought immediately before the detonation of the first atomic weapon July 16, 1945, that in fact there was a significant possibility that the entire atmosphere of the world would be incinerated. In other words there were probable outcomes which extended past the limits of probability but are yet serious considerations. Perhaps the United States’ pre-9/11 concept of national security might be another example.  No one expected that the world’s most deadly military power that spends more than all other powers together might be trapped into a self-destructive foreign policy by the action of a few people only armed with box cutters.

This analytical part of this paper is to suggest that the logarithmic reproductive powers of the Satanic Mills which William Blake first brings to our attention in the 17 years from the detonation of the first nuclear weapon and the subsequent destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic weapons placed Kennedy and Khrushchev in a kind of prisoner’s dilemma. They were held together by their own escalating nuclear powers and capabilities. This was situation that neither could escape on their own nor distance from themselves. Strangely enough they are faced with something that Richard Nixon first noted when he visited Moscow in 1959. This is where Richard M Nixon (you know the crook, a wire taper or, the guy we made fun of) said in his speech “we must learn to live together, or America and the Soviet Union will die together” I want to say this about Nixon; he financed his first campaign for the California House of Representatives by the money he won as a professional poker player. What I think that he really did in that statement was make a judgment based on what we call in philosophical discourse a true opinion when knowledge is unattainable. Nixon made a judgment call; he made that statement, because as the poker player he knew the odds. He did the same thing when he set the stage for the American diplomatic recognition of China. He was calling the odds[xx].

That was what Kennedy and Khrushchev faced in the last half of October 1962. There is a subset of the prisoner’s dilemma which I originally observed in the television show Numbers. My observation was confirmed by Dr. Zielinski, and it goes something like this. The most unfavorable outcome of the prisoner’s dilemma is the death spiral, this is the point where communications, trust, and any possibility of interaction are completely broken off, and thus those who might survive and who would have benefited from cooperation in communications are broken off quite simply as they fall into spiral to the death. A very possible scenario to produce this outcome was the hawkish part of the Kennedy team, Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay Curtis, (part of Kennedy’s Cuban Missile Crisis Team), who simply wanted to annihilate the Soviets with a nuclear first strike, take 20 or 30 million losses against the Soviets’ 60 million, and break out the grill and the brewskys and have a tailgate   a victory party.

On the Soviet side, stationed in Cuba were 36 intermediate range ballistic missiles that Fidel Castro desperately wanted to launch. They were at the time at, or close, to an operational state. Each one of these missiles could reach all of the American cities in a deadly arc that extended in formation of the deadly fan to include New York City, Cleveland, Detroit, Minneapolis, Denver, Houston, Dallas, Albuquerque, Phoenix, and lest I forgot Seattle. Each one of these missiles had a thermal nuclear warhead with an explosive capability of 1.2M tons or the equivalent of 120 Hiroshima size atomic weapons.

So why am I not sitting here reflecting on this as a radioactive, corpse-eating, ghoul? It seems that the last days of October we were very close to the last days of humanity as we know it. I suggest, based upon material I’m going to include from former Sec. of the Interior Stewart Udall that it has something to do with Robert Frost, John F. Kennedy, and Nikita Khrushchev, and the power of poetry.

As this paper has unfolded it has become necessary for me to do a substantial amount of background research on Nikita Khrushchev. Because  like the subject matter of Lord Byron’s poem” Blackness” there is a blackness about Nikita Khrushchev’s circumstance, there is a blackness about his rise to power, his relationship Soviet party secretary Joseph Stalin, and the elemental  savage, and yet at the same time unstable, aspect of his personality. This is not a paper where I’m going to delve much into John F. Kennedy’s background. He was privileged, he was powerful, he was from one of the seventy-five richest families in the United States, yet his family money was to an extent from dirty sources, and I can say from my father’s experience as a Rhode Island Irishman that it could be a very dirty business.  This model of accumulating wealth was of the type that caused my father, Edward Kaveny (1898-1985), to flee for his life as a newspaperman in 1923, coming west, to Syracuse, Cleveland, Detroit, and finally Milwaukee, where he became the youngest political editor in the history of the Milwaukee Sentinel.

Nikita Khrushchev, as he often said, was the son of a Ukrainian coal miner. He was born in 1894 and experienced the horrors of the oppression of the Russian czarist government. He was exempt from service during the First World War because of his technical expertise of metal work. However some would call them sound. Yet Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin and nearly all of what he did in his famous 20th Communist Party speech in 1955.

In some sense that he might’ve seemed a brutal overmatch for John F. Kennedy. Yet if that were true that made the situation even more potentially fatal as far as possible post- Cuban missile crisis outcomes. Rather than continue with this biographical approach I would say that John F. Kennedy had certain blackness, perhaps a callousness, in his own right.  These were the two men thrown together that had the power to end the world by fire and ice and make Lord Byron’s blackness the human condition.

My way of approaching the power of poetry is to use my theory of threes to try to pull this all together. To this point I have said very little about Robert Frost, and I’m only going to make minimal biographical reference to him. He was born in 1874, and he died less than three months after the Cuban missile crisis January 8, 1963. Robert Frost of course is famous for his presence and poetry reading at the Kennedy inauguration, and his connection to John Fitzgerald Kennedy through former secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall (1920 – 2012). I would suggest that the third thing that pulled these three men together was the power of poetry. Khrushchev in spite of his reputation and sometimes brutal demeanor seemed to have a receptive part of his soul for the poetry of Robert Frost. This is why Khrushchev invited Frost to the Soviet Union in July of 1962 just at the point at which the preparations for the Soviet military buildup in the placement of intercontinental ballistic missiles was being finalized in Cuba. Robert Frost (former Sec. of the Interior Stewart Udall delivered it through his connection with Kennedy) had a message to present to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.

He was to suggest just a different form of competition outside the realm of the Cold War, and something other than mere coexistence. Again, according to former Sec. of the Interior Stewart Udall, Robert Frost wanted to see both the United States and the Soviet Union compete and converge. The trip was short, lasting no more than a week, but Khrushchev really wanted to see Robert Frost, one can assume out of at least a respect for his poetry.  Robert Frost was deathly ill at the time he made the trip, accompanied by Udall, and he became very discouraged when it appeared that Khrushchev’s schedule would not allow for an appointment. Robert Frost was reported to have said “what the hell am I doing here if I can’t see Nikita Khrushchev?”

Both Stewart Udall and Robert Frost were summoned to lodgings not far from Nikita Khrushchev’s villa in the Crimea. Here is an excerpt from “Robert Frost’s Last Adventure,” from New York Times book section June 11, 1972.
STEWART L. UDALL it is s now 10 years since the curtains began to open on a nuclear showdown and the two great powers of the East and West confronted each other in the Cuban missile crisis. It was in late spring or early summer of 1962 that the Soviet Union began preparing to install about 60 offensive intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Cuba, well within range of the United States. The peoples of the world then watched, waited and were brought to the very edge of great danger before the crisis was ultimately met and the feared Armageddon averted.

Through some combination of simple coincidence, the compelling forces of history and a young American President’s belief in the relationship of poetry and power, I found myself in the company of one of the world’s great poets, Robert Frost, and one of its most powerful men, Nikita Khrushchev, as this most crucial and tense of dramas started to unfold. Neither Frost nor I, however, was aware that we were in the presence of one who had made such a fateful decision as Khrushchev had.
It is perhaps not outlandish to suggest that Frost’s mission to Moscow helped set the stage for the relaxing of tensions that was to occur between his country and the Soviet Union in the years to come and, indeed, for the forming now of positive agreements toward greater cooperation and interchange between East and West. This was the very purpose of his trip.

I have often faulted in my academic work for both the inclusion of my own authorial voice and my use of large blocks of quoted material, yet I feel it is necessary the integrity of this paper to let former Sec. of the Interior Stewart Udall speak in his own words as it adds to the historicity and my view of the mythology of new historicism in this paper.

This idea grew out of a Washington dinner party. Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin was present and had a lively exchange with Frost, who talked about the “right kind of rivalry” between the two countries, and the need for a high-level modus vivendi. I had been one of Frost’s closest friends in Washington and had suggested to John F. Kennedy in 1960 that Frost take part in the President’s inauguration, a suggestion that Kennedy of course took. So I proposed now that Frost go with me to the Soviet Union in the summer of 1962 as a kind of special ambassador. Dobrynin was enthusiastic. But the evening ended with Frost, who was not well, wondering if he was “up to it.” A few weeks later he wrote me to say he would make the trip if the President wanted him to go.

Kennedy and Frost had become good friends, each one a great stylist in his own way and each clearly fond of the other’s style. Frost once defined style as “the mind skating circles around itself as it moves forward,” a good description perhaps of the naturalness and self-critical detachment of John Kennedy. And Frost, of course, felt tied to Kennedy, felt here at last was a politician who understood and was sympathetic to the world of poetry and art. As the 88-year-old poet had said in his inaugural dedication verse:

Of a power leading from its strength and pride,
Of young ambition eager to be tried …
A golden age of poetry and power
Of which this noonday’s the beginning hour.

President Kennedy endorsed the idea of sending Frost to Moscow, and so the stage was set for the old man’s last adventure.

As the narrative unfolds the gravity of the situation becomes clear.

In the end, history intervened and Frost got his wish. Khrushchev was on vacation at the Black Sea. Unexpectedly, I was invited to fly down to Gagra for a conference on Sept. 6 –… And when the Soviet chairman spent a total of five and one-half hours with us on successive days — and took pains to give each of us explicit messages for President Kennedy — the mystery deepened.

I would and my own words to this and say that the sky darkened.

Neither of us knew it then, but the Soviet leader had an urgent ulterior motive. The beginnings of the nuclear showdown — the first in history — were taking shape. Nikita Khrushchev himself (as he later said in his book, “Khrushchev Remembers”) had made a “personal decision” in early July to install the missiles in Cuba — the first time Soviet missiles had ever been installed outside the borders of the U.S.S.R. Khrushchev’s gamble was overwhelming. If it failed (or rather, as he saw it, if President Kennedy misinterpreted his intentions), the crisis could plunge the world into nuclear holocaust. If it succeeded, it would constitute a worldwide strategic breakthrough for the Kremlin. But Kennedy’s reaction was crucial — and we were Kennedy’s friends

Continuing and Sec. of the Interior Stewart Udall: words:

Even as we arrived in the U.S.S.R., Soviet technicians were preparing the launching sites in Cuba, and the missiles were being created for shipment by sea. In Washington, the uncertain state of our intelligence reports at this point put President Kennedy on the defensive. Prominent Republican Senators were openly demanding that the President do something to stop whatever was under way in the Caribbean. To clarify the U.S. position, the day before Frost arrived at the Black Sea, President Kennedy held a press conference at which he bluntly warned that offensive weapons would not be tolerated in Castro’s territory. This, then, was the diplomatic backdrop the day to the Frost-Khrushchev conversation.

The reader can feel the tension building at the narrative continues.

Neither of us knew it then, but the Soviet leader had an urgent ulterior motive. The beginnings of the nuclear showdown — the first in history — were taking shape. Nikita Khrushchev himself (as he later said in his book, “Khrushchev Remembers”) had made a “personal decision” in early July to install the missiles in Cuba — the first time Soviet missiles had ever been installed outside the borders of the U.S.S.R. Khrushchev’s gamble was overwhelming. If it failed (or rather, as he saw it, if President Kennedy misinterpreted his intentions), the crisis could plunge the world into nuclear holocaust. If it succeeded, it would constitute a worldwide strategic breakthrough for the Kremlin. But Kennedy’s reaction was crucial — and we were Kennedy’s friends.

One can almost hear the orchestra warming up for the dance macabre.

Even as we arrived in the U.S.S.R., Soviet technicians were preparing the launching sites in Cuba, and the missiles were being crated for shipment by sea. In Washington, the uncertain state of our intelligence reports at this point put President Kennedy on the defensive. Prominent Republican Senators were openly demanding that the President do something to stop whatever was under way in the Caribbean. To clarify the U.S. position, the day before Frost arrived at the Black Sea, President Kennedy held a press conference at which he bluntly warned that offensive weapons would not be tolerated in Castro’s territory. This, then, was the diplomatic backdrop the day to the Frost-Khrushchev conversation.

Both John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev were finding themselves imprisoned in a dilemma partially of their own making, and partially the end product of one William Blake referred to as satanic mills working 24 seven days a week, only producing death to seek more death.

At the last minute, their meeting was almost aborted. Frost was fatigued and running a 101-degree fever when he arrived. He want to bed and told Reeve he was too ill to make the 20-minute drive to the dacha of his host. Khrushchev, however, wanted the talk to occur, and when he learned the poet was indisposed he sent his personal physician and then went to Frost’s room to keep the appointment. I have a copy of the bedside photo of the two men taken by V.S. Lebedev, the chairman’s secretary. It shows a relaxed and self-confident Khrushchev sitting near a disheveled Frost who looks all of his 80 years. Though the poet has deathbed pallor, there is fierce alertness in his eyes.

 

There is Old Russian saying “one must eat a Pod of Salt with a man in order to understand him. Pood (Russian: пуд, tr. pud; IPA: [put]), is a unit of mass equal to 40 funt (фунт, Russian pound). It is approximately 16.38 kilograms. Nikita Khrushchev, John F. Kennedy, and Robert Frost, where little short on time.[xxi] What follows is a truncated version of conversations which transpired over several hours during the period of two days between Robert Frost Nikita Khrushchev and himself.

Noble rivalry” was the right theme for “two nations laid out for rivalry in sports, science, art and democracy,” Frost said. Maintaining his tone, he reminded his host that the ideas and deeds of poets and political leaders “shape the character of a country.” He underscored his point with one of his own aphorisms: “A great nation makes great poetry, and great poetry makes a great nation.” Khrushchev studied Frost’s face as Frost expounded his argument. He intervened only once to say that the fundamental contest would be in the area of “peaceful economic competition.” Otherwise, the Soviet leader took no issue with Frost and at one point he exclaimed, “You have the soul of a poet!”

 

Frost next discussed the need for a code of conduct, thus, anticipating by 10 years the Nixon-Brezhnev declaration of principles, agreed upon during the recent summit talks in Moscow. Frost said back then that such a code or mutually agreed upon principles of conduct would enable his “noble rivalry” to flourish. Leaders had a moral duty not only to steer clear of senseless wars but also to create a climate hospitable to wide-ranging contact and competition. If there was restraint, if the limits of national power were recognized, both sides would soon realize that “petty squabbles and blackguarding propaganda” had to be avoided. As Frost put it, “Great nations admire each other and don’t take pleasure in belittling each other…”

There was discussion about Berlin, about the horrors of a nuclear war, the meaning of economic competition, the common cultural traditions of Russia and the United States. .. There was a final handshake, the Soviet leader asked Frost to tell President Kennedy about their conversation, and Frost presented him a book of his poems inscribed, “To Premier Khrushchev, from his rival in friendship, Robert Frost.”

When his host left, the old poet dropped back on his bed exhausted. He said to Reeve, “Well, we did it, didn’t we? He’s a great man all right.” Frost was elated. He had shot his bolt; he had performed at the peak of his mental powers. Khrushchev the man met his expectations, and (as he told his press conference in Moscow the next day) “there was nothing common or mean” to mar the conversation. Frost had no way of knowing whether Khrushchev agreed with his main argument, but he chose to believe he would use restraint and “take a stand for greatness” on the fateful issues. He did know that he had had another big inning for poetry and power, and that was part of his elation…

.           When his host left, the old poet dropped back on his bed exhausted. He said to Reeve, “Well, we did it, didn’t we? He’s a great man all right.” Frost was elated. He had shot his bolt; he had performed at the peak of his mental powers. Khrushchev the man met his expectations, and (as he told his press conference in Moscow the next day)… “.

Khrushchev’s final maneuver was to make me the courier of a “secret message”; I was to give Kennedy his flat commitment that he would do nothing to “heat up” the Berlin crisis until after the November elections. This was the kind of personal politics that ultimately led to Nikita Khrushchev’s downfall. It was a clever, fascinating performance.

Khrushchev’s ominous game did not surface for six weeks, but at the very time we were at Gagra he was apparently preparing another bold stroke that would have fascinated Robert Frost. He was preparing — literally — to use poetry to consolidate his own political power: readying a new round of de-Stalinization to exploit the gains in power and prestige that would result from his Cuban coup.

The concluding portion of the interview is to my purposes the most important. The secretary of Interior Stewart Udall thinks Robert Frost made an alienating slip in a manner in which he placed words in Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s mouth. I simply think Udall has got it wrong. In a longer paper I wish to further develop this argument. When I did Soviet studies of the young man there was a kind of symbolic order with which one visually and verbally read the actions of Soviet leadership. The way I read the following statement is that Robert Frost really was giving a message to Kennedy, it was a message that Khrushchev given him to tell Kennedy that to survive he must combat these misperceptions.

As he was beginning to repeat himself near the end of his New York press conference, Frost astonished me by suddenly blurting out, “Khrushchev said he feared for us because of our lot of liberals. He thought that we’re too liberal to fight — he thinks we will sit on one hand and then the other.” This was the fresh news the reporters were waiting for, and the next day The Washington Post carried a banner headline: “Frost Says Khrushchev Sees U.S. as ‘Too Liberal’ to Defend Itself.”

Reeve and I both knew the poet had put words in Khrushchev’s mouth. The phrase “too liberal to fight” was one Frost had used many times, but once he had attributed it to the chairman the damage was done and there was no way to correct the record. From every standpoint it was an unfortunate slip: With one stroke, the poet had violated his own rules for “magnanimous conduct,” had misrepresented Khrushchev’s position, and had embarrassed President Kennedy. In a thoughtless moment, he had indulged in the very propagandizing he personally deplored in his conversation at Gagra.

I do not accept the idea that any damage was done. I would argue that the fact that Robert Frost used the phrase “Khrushchev thinks America is too liberal of fight,” indicates what Khrushchev felt it was absolutely essential that Kennedy know. The message Robert Frost was delivering was not his message but the misperception of those around him. The fact that Robert Frost delivered that message and Kennedy then dismissed him, and refused to interact with them even up to the time of his death, was in fact an essential part of the protocol. It is either a catastrophic systems break down or a death spiral loss of communication. Frost intellectual and cultural international standing made him perhaps the only one that could deliver that message. That is as close as I can come for now to why I’ve had 70 summers, rather than having my life and most of the life of the planet and in the devastation of fire and ice, which would then be followed by the ghostly Byronic darkness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Works Cited

Adams, Jason Ryder. Get Out of Dodge: Prepping to Leave Your Home and Bug Out During a Disaster. New Survival Prepper Guides, Vol. 2. Unknown: Adams, 2012. Kindle

Adams, Jason Ryder. Sealing Yourself In: Prepping for Bioterrorism, Chemical Disasters, and Pandemics. New Survival Prepper Guides, Vol. 3. Unknown: Adams, 2012. Kindle

Clonts, Jim. When Penguins Flew and Water Burned: A B-52 Navigator’s Journey from Where it All Began to War and Back. Lulu.com, 2006. Kindle

The Cuban Missile Crisis: The 13 Days that Brought the Cold War to the Brink. Rivers, Charles, ed.  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013. Kindle

“The Cuban Missile Crisis” Declassified FULL Documentary

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_0Ijorplvc

 

“The Fog of War – Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nwXF6UdkeI4

Hell’s Fire: A Documentary History of the American Atomic and Thermonuclear Weapons Projects – From Hiroshima to the Cold War and the War on Terror. Ed. Lenny Flank.  Petersburg: Red and Black Publishers, 2008. Kindle

Kearny, Cresson H. Nuclear War Survival Skills: Lifesaving Nuclear Facts and Self-Help Instructions. Updated and Expanded 1987 Ed. Oregon Institute of Science & Medicine, 1999. Kindle

Keeney, L. Douglas. 15 Minutes: General Curtis Lemay and the Countdown to Nuclear Annihilation. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2011. Kindle

Klingaman, William K. & Nicholas P. Klingaman. The Year Without Summer: 1816 and the Volcano that Darkened the World and Changed History. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2013. Kindle

Meaker, Scott S. F. On the Brink of Nuclear War: Cuban Missile Crisis – Soviet Union, Cuba and the United States.  Amazon Digital Services, 2013. Kindle.

“Peter Jennings – The Missiles of October: What the World Didn’t Know (1992.”)  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dMYumVM1rZM

“Robert Frost’s Last Adventure.”
http://www.nytimes.com/books/99/04/25/specials/frost-last.html

Rowe, Phil. B-52 Days Remembered: Phil Rowe Recalls Early Days as a Crewmember 92nd Bomb Wing at Fairchild AFB, WA. Unknown, 2014. Kindle

Rowe, Phil. B-58A Supersonic Strategic Bomber: Stories & Remembrances of a Crewmember. Amazon Digital Services, 2014. Kindle

“Russia:  Nixon Speaks on Arrival in Moscow.    http://www.itnsource.com/shotlist//RTV/1959/07/24/BGY503160377/?s=tendai
[i] https://archive.org/details/DwightD.Eisenhower-FarewellAddressmilitary-industrialComplexSpeech

[ii] .Loves Knowledge Essays on Philosophy and Literature by Martha C. Nussbaum Oxford University Press, 1990(.p2)  I

[iii] I Believe that this connection will become more manifest  if I am fortunate enough to make this line of inquiry an acceptable research agenda but the fact that only fifty years separate and an oceans separate their lives is something  this course is making me think about


[iv] the Cold War) The state of political hostility that existed between the Soviet bloc countries and the US-led Western powers from 1945 to 1990. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/cold-war


[v] http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/churchill-iron.asp

[vi] http://wwi.lib.byu.edu/index.php/Wilson’s_War_Message_to_Congress

[vii] A course of action tentatively adopted without being sure of the eventual outcome: “the previous experiment in liberal democracy had ended in disaster.”  Origin: Middle English: from Old French, or from Latin experimentum,from experiri ‘try’. Compare with experience http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/experiment

[viii] http://www.thegreatcourses.com/tgc/courses/course_detail.aspx?cid=1816


[ix] The  Bible is clear that God is the creator of this world (Gen 1:1; Job 38:1-42:6 among many others), but the issue of how he created this world is what is in question. Typically there are two main answers: (1) either God created this world from nothing, or (2) he created this world from pre-existing matter. In the second view God would be the organizer or the one who “ordered the chaos” of this world. http://www.theopedia.com/Creation_out_of_nothing

[x] http://homepage.eircom.net/~odyssey/Quotes/Popular/Films/Strangelove.html


[xi] http://homepage.eircom.net/~odyssey/Quotes/Popular/Films/Strangelove.html


[xii] Robert Frost, “Fire and Ice”, in the selection “A Group of Poems” by Robert Frost, Harper’s Magazine , December 1920, p. 67.


[xiii] http://www.loc.gov/folklife/halloween.html

[xiv] ghoul is a folkloric monster or evil spirit associated with graveyards and consuming human flesh, often classified as undead. The oldest surviving literature that mention ghouls is likely One Thousand and One Nights.[1] The term was first used in English literature in 1786, in William Beckford‘s Orientalist novel Vathek,[2] which describes the ghūl of Arabian folklore.

By extension, the word ghoul is also used in a derogatory sense to refer to a person who delights in the macabre, or whose profession is linked directly to death, such as a gravedigger or graverobber. A Ghoul can also refer to a human being who digs up and eats corpses http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghoul

[xv] Blake’s poem

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England’s pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England’s green & pleasant Land

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/And_did_those_feet_in_ancient_time#.22Dark_Satanic_Mills.22


[xvi] http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-first-atomic-bomb-test-is-successfully-exploded


[xvii] http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logarithmic_scal

[xviii] http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/07/17/what_was_at_stake_in_1962

[xix] http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/07/17/what_was_at_stake_in_1962

[xx] http://www.itnsource.com/shotlist//RTV/1959/07/24/BGY503160377/?s=tendai

 

[xxi] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pood

[1] https://archive.org/details/DwightD.Eisenhower-FarewellAddressmilitary-industrialComplexSpeech

[1] .Loves Knowledge Essays on Philosophy and Literature by Martha C. Nussbaum Oxford University Press, 1990(.p2)  I

[1] I Believe that this connection will become more manifest  if I am fortunate enough to make this line of inquiry an acceptable research agenda but the fact that only fifty years separate and an oceans separate their lives is something  this course is making me think about
[1] the Cold War) The state of political hostility that existed between the Soviet bloc countries and the US-led Western powers from 1945 to 1990. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/cold-war
[1] http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/churchill-iron.asp

[1] http://wwi.lib.byu.edu/index.php/Wilson’s_War_Message_to_Congress

[1] A course of action tentatively adopted without being sure of the eventual outcome: “the previous experiment in liberal democracy had ended in disaster.”  Origin: Middle English: from Old French, or from Latin experimentum,from experiri ‘try’. Compare with experience http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/experiment

[1] http://www.thegreatcourses.com/tgc/courses/course_detail.aspx?cid=1816

[1] The  Bible is clear that God is the creator of this world (Gen 1:1; Job 38:1-42:6 among many others), but the issue of how he created this world is what is in question. Typically there are two main answers: (1) either God created this world from nothing, or (2) he created this world from pre-existing matter. In the second view God would be the organizer or the one who “ordered the chaos” of this world. http://www.theopedia.com/Creation_out_of_nothing

[1] http://homepage.eircom.net/~odyssey/Quotes/Popular/Films/Strangelove.html
[1] http://homepage.eircom.net/~odyssey/Quotes/Popular/Films/Strangelove.html
[1] Robert Frost, “Fire and Ice”, in the selection “A Group of Poems” by Robert Frost, Harper’s Magazine , December 1920, p. 67.
[1] http://www.loc.gov/folklife/halloween.html

[1] ghoul is a folkloric monster or evil spirit associated with graveyards and consuming human flesh, often classified as undead. The oldest surviving literature that mention ghouls is likely One Thousand and One Nights.[1] The term was first used in English literature in 1786, in William Beckford‘s Orientalist novel Vathek,[2] which describes the ghūl of Arabian folklore.

By extension, the word ghoul is also used in a derogatory sense to refer to a person who delights in the macabre, or whose profession is linked directly to death, such as a gravedigger or graverobber. A Ghoul can also refer to a human being who digs up and eats corpses http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghoul

[1] Blake’s poem

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England’s pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England’s green & pleasant Land

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/And_did_those_feet_in_ancient_time#.22Dark_Satanic_Mills.22
[1] http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-first-atomic-bomb-test-is-successfully-exploded
[1] http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logarithmic_scal

[1] http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/07/17/what_was_at_stake_in_1962

[1] http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/07/17/what_was_at_stake_in_1962

[1] http://www.itnsource.com/shotlist//RTV/1959/07/24/BGY503160377/?s=tendai

 

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pood

 

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This entry was posted on February 8, 2016 by in Academic Paper, Kaveny, Non-Fiction, Phil Kaveny, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , .
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