Conscience

With some trepidation, I argued that, whatever validity the military and political arguments were for an attack in preference to a blockade, America’s traditions and history would not permit such a course of action. Whatever military reasons [Former Secretary of State Dean Acheson] and others could marshal, they were nevertheless, in the last analysis, advocating a surprise attack by a very large nation against a very small one. This, I said, could not be undertaken by the U.S. if we were to maintain our moral position at home and around the globe… We spent more time on this moral question during the first five days than on any other single matter… We struggled and fought with one another and with our consciences, for it was a question that deeply troubled us all.

— Robert Kennedy, Thirteen Days

I’m not sure what to make of this. Did JFK and his Ex. Comm. actually debate the morality of invading Cuba, rather than just the danger of reprisal, and did they spend five days wondering whether doing so would be a betrayal of American ideals?

This seems inconceivable in light of how every president in my lifetime appears to make decisions. I try and fail to imagine presidents 40-44 hotly debating the necessity of the moral high ground, while around them gathers an existential military crisis.

I could see it getting an eye roll in the war room, but it’s even easier to think of it never occurring to anybody present.

Even the act of lying about it in a memoir seems like an inadvisable risk; the optics would be terrible.