Cuban Missile Crisis ‘News’ Gave Us a Preview of the Internet Age

An original October 1962 news photograph of President John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy taken as tensions grew during the Cuban Missile Crisis sold for $527 at an August 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

“I am prepared to wait for my answer until hell freezes over.”

An unusual statement, especially at an emergency session of the somber United States Security Council, and uncharacteristically bellicose for the speaker, U.N. Ambassador Adlai E. Stevenson. It simply was the most dangerous time in the history of the world … the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

Stevenson

Ambassador Stevenson was interrogating Soviet U.N. representative Valerian Zorin while accusing them of having installed nuclear missiles in Cuba, a mere 90 miles from the U.S. coastline. Tensions were sky high. The Joint Chiefs had recommended to President John F. Kennedy an airstrike, followed by an immediate invasion of Cuba using U.S. military troops.

Then with the world’s two superpowers eyeball to eyeball, as Dean Rusk commented, the other guy blinked. Cuba-bound Soviet ships stopped, turned back, and the crisis swiftly eased.

Over much of the world, and especially in Washington and New York, there was relief and rejoicing. With crucial backing from the United Nations and the Organization of American States (OAS), nuclear war was averted. Success in avoiding a war of potential global devastation has gradually clouded the fact that the United States came perilously close to choosing the military option.

The arguments of those who fought for time and political negotiations have been blurred and gradually obscured by widespread euphoria. Even for Ambassador Stevenson, the sweet taste of success soon turned sour. First, there was the death of his dear friend Eleanor Roosevelt, quickly followed by a vicious personal attack on him that he never fully recovered from.

When Mrs. Roosevelt reluctantly entered the hospital, it was thought she was suffering from aplastic anemia. But on Oct. 25, 1962, her condition was diagnosed as rare and incurable bone-marrow tuberculosis. She was prepared and determined to die rather than end up a useless invalid. Her children reluctantly decided Stevenson should be allowed one last visit to his old friend, although daughter Anna warned she might not recognize him.

On Nov. 9, two days after her death, the U.N. General Assembly put aside other business and allowed delegate after delegate to express their personal grief and their country’s sorrow. It was the first time any private citizen had been so honored. Adlai told friends that his speech at the General Assembly and the one he gave at her memorial service were the most difficult and saddest times of his life.

Then a harbinger of a brewing storm started on Nov. 13 when Senator Barry Goldwater issued a sharp attack on Stevenson by implying he had been willing to take national security risks to avoid a showdown with the Soviets. The Saturday Evening Post followed with an article on Cuba that portrayed Stevenson as advocating a “Caribbean Munich.” The headlines at the New York Daily News screamed “ADLAI ON SKIDS OVER PACIFIST STAND ON CUBA.”

For months, Washington was abuzz with rumors that it was all a calculated effort by JFK and Bobby to force Stevenson to resign as U.N. ambassador. It was all innuendo, half-facts and untrue leaks, but it was still reverberating a quarter of a century later when the Sunday New York Times magazine, on Aug. 30, 1987, published a rehash of all the gossip.

In truth, all we were witnessing was a preview of things to come: the internet age of “Breaking News” (thinly veiled opinions parading as facts), 24/7 cable TV loaded with panels of “talking heads,” and a torrent of Twitter gibberish offering a full banquet of tasty goodies for any appetite.

Stevenson, born in Los Angeles in 1900 – the year his grandfather ran for vice president on a losing ticket with William Jennings Bryan – lost his own bid for the presidency twice (1952 and 1956). He died of a heart attack in 1965 in London while walking in Grosvenor Square – finally getting some peace.

The rest of us will have to wait.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

President McKinley’s Popularity Soared Despite ‘Imperialist’ Charges

william-mckinley-beaver-top-hat-with-leather-traveling-case
President McKinley’s beaver top hat and leather traveling case realized $17,925 at a December 2008 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Exactly 115 years ago this week, on Sept. 14, 1901, the 25th president of the United States, William McKinley, died from an assassin’s bullet. He had been shot on Sept. 6 in Buffalo, N.Y., while attending the Pan-American Exposition.

As he stood shaking hands with a long line of well-wishers at the Temple of Music, a man approached with his right hand wrapped in a handkerchief. As McKinley extended his hand to the man, Leon Czolgosz, a Polish-American anarchist, he was shot twice by a concealed .32-caliber revolver. One bullet deflected off a suit button, but the other entered his stomach, passed through a kidney and lodged in his back.

When doctors operated, they were unable to locate the bullet and he died eight days later from the spread of gangrene throughout his body. It was eerily similar to the assassination of President James Garfield 20 years earlier. He had been shot on July 2, 1881, and did not die until Sept. 19. Again, his doctors were unable to locate the bullet and he suffered for over two months as they probed the wound with their unsanitary hands and instruments until they killed him.

william-mckinley
McKinley

Both men would have easily survived if they had the benefit of modern medicine. By the time of McKinley’s death, the X-ray had been invented and doctors in the Balkan war in 1897 were using it to “see inside patients’ bodies.” However, the possible side effects of radiation were not yet recognized.

William McKinley had entered politics following the Civil War and at age 34 was a member of the House of Representatives for 14 years before losing in 1890. He then served two terms as governor of Ohio and by 1896 was the leading Republican candidate for president. Aided by wealthy Ohio industrialist Mark Hanna, he easily defeated Democrat William Jennings Bryan by the largest margin since the Civil War.

During his first term, McKinley earned a reputation as a protectionist by advocating high tariffs to protect American business and labor from foreign imports. He was a staunch supporter of the gold standard to back up paper money. However, foreign policy became a major issue in April 1898 when the United States intervened in the Cuban struggle for independence from Spain. The Spanish-American War was over in a quick three months and Cuba became a U.S. protectorate. This was followed by the annexation of Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines.

Suddenly, the United States had become a colonialist power, with a big interest in Asia, especially China.

President McKinley’s popularity soared during these economic boom times, and despite charges of being an “imperialist,” his margin of victory over William Jennings Bryan was even greater in the 1900 presidential rematch. Theodore Roosevelt was selected as McKinley’s vice president – against Mark Hanna’s strong objections – and naturally became president after McKinley’s unfortunate death.

Teddy “The Rough Rider” Roosevelt, who had charged up San Juan Hill, would bring a new level of energy and spirit to the White House. All Mark Hanna could do was watch and grouse, “Now look! That damn cowboy is president!”

The nation seemed to do just fine.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Big-Money Elections Date Back More than 100 Years

Marcus Alonzo Hanna is considered one of the earliest “kingmakers” in American politics.

By Jim O’Neal

Bernie Sanders just announced his campaign has raised an astounding $222 million to date, with 99 percent coming from individuals!

Money has always been a factor in politics, however, modern political fundraising really got going in 1896 when William McKinley ran for president. It was due to the innovation of a successful Cleveland businessman who had made his personal fortune in the coal and iron industry.

Marcus Alonzo Hanna (1837-1904) was rejected for participation in the local Civil Service Reform Association, so he opted for the world of politics instead. He had some quirky habits like gorging on hard candy, eating chocolates by the box and a belief that government existed to serve business. He preferred the company of other wealthy men and scoffed at books and scholars alike.

He became recognized as the Republican Party boss of Ohio, a state that had produced Supreme Court Justices, presidential cabinet members, and five presidents (this would later increase to eight … the record). Ohio was a wonderful training ground for national politics.

Hanna had successfully backed McKinley (former congressman) for Ohio governor in 1892 and rescued him from bankruptcy in 1893 by paying off a $30,000 business debt. Three years later, he became McKinley’s full-time presidential campaign strategist after spending $100,000 of his personal money securing the Republican nomination for McKinley.

Hanna then positioned McKinley perfectly for the 1896 general election, first by successfully blaming the Democrats for the Panic of 1893 and then becoming the precursor of the modern media consultant. He controlled the political schedule and tailored a message that fit the strategy of the campaign. He insisted that McKinley simply sit on his front porch in Canton, Ohio, receive delegations from all over the country and occasionally issue a carefully worded public speech.

Even the railroads cooperated by reducing fares for Canton-bound Republican delegations. They flocked by the trainload. In a single day, McKinley spoke to 80,000 people, who in turn exchanged greetings and pledged their loyalty. Meanwhile, hundreds of orators crisscrossed the country spreading the word of the Ohio Republican. The campaign paid for the trips and Hanna personally approved every itinerary and all invoices.

Then they countered every speech by Democratic rival William Jennings Bryan by printing millions of documents in German, French, Italian, Dutch, Hebrew and Spanish and then distributing them in closely contested states. This combination of messaging and pamphleteering on such a vast scale cost more money than had ever been spent on any political campaign. New York banks, insurance companies and millionaires were expected to kick in 0.25 percent of their capital and even John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Co. contributed $250,000!

The result was an overwhelming victory and legislators have been chasing “campaign finance reform” ever since. I wish them luck, as the price for admission today is a cool billion dollars. Even Mark Hanna might be shocked by today’s election economics, but I suspect he would adapt rather easily. He was one smart dude!

P.S. Hanna also made it into the U.S. Senate a couple of times before dying in 1904.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Intraparty Feuding Over Presidential Politics Not New

This 1900 William McKinley reelection poster realized $17,925 at a May 2010 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

“Now look! That damn cowboy is president!” – Mark Hanna (1901)

Major William McKinley was the last veteran of the Civil War to be nominated for president by any party. With the backing of Ohio businessman and U.S. Senator Mark Hanna, McKinley won the 1896 presidential election and was inaugurated on March 4, 1897. This was the last presidential inauguration of the 19th century and the first to be recorded on film.

His vice president, Garret Hobart, died in 1899 at age 55 from heart disease. He would become the last man to serve in that office in the 19th century and the last vice president to die while in office. The vice presidency was then vacant until the next election.

As the incumbent, McKinley was the strong favorite in 1900, but a major dispute erupted over the choice for VP. There was a lot of support for Theodore Roosevelt after his high-profile exploits in the Spanish-American War, however, “King Maker” Hanna was very much opposed. He viewed TR as a maverick who would be hard to control and made his opinion well known:

“Matter! Matter! Why, everybody’s gone crazy. What is the matter with all of you? Here’s this convention going headlong for Roosevelt for vice president! Any of you realize that there’s only one life between that madman and the presidency? … What harm can he do as governor of New York compared to the damage he will do as president if McKinley should die?”

There was also a major dispute over the party platform, and the new Silver Republican Party decided to back Democrat William Jennings Bryan when the main Republican Party supported the gold standard. Silver Republicans included the senators from Utah, Idaho, Colorado, South Dakota, Montana and Nevada.

Of course, McKinley did win the election and after he was assassinated in 1901, that “damn cowboy” did become president. By then, Hanna’s health was failing and he and the new president reached an accommodation. TR would stop calling him “old man” and Hanna would stop calling Roosevelt “Teddy” (he disliked that name). The Silver Republican Party faded away and the 20th century was waiting impatiently.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Germany’s Aggressive U-boat Tactics Pushed America into WWI

Cunard Line produced a tin advertising plaque to promote the RMS Lusitania’s New York-Liverpool route.

By Jim O’Neal

When World War I erupted, one unassailable fact was that the British Royal Navy was far superior to any of the other combatants. Germany recognized this significant British advantage and realized they would have to rely (heavily) on their fleet of U-boat submarines.

Then in February 1915, the German navy adopted a controversial policy of unrestricted warfare on all enemy ships, including merchant vessels. Their objective was to interrupt transatlantic trade, as well as prevent guns and ammunition shipments to the British Isles.

On May 7, 1915, at 2:12 p.m., the RMS Lusitania, en route to Liverpool, England, from New York City, was hit by torpedoes on her starboard. This was followed by an internal blast, suspected to be the boiler room. The ship sank in less than 20 minutes. All 1,200 passengers, including 128 Americans, were either killed or drowned. The German Embassy in Washington, D.C., had published warnings in several New York newspapers reminding prospective passengers of the dangers involved in transatlantic travel. One such notice, in fact, had appeared adjacent to a Cunard Line advertisement for the return trip of the Lusitania.

President Woodrow Wilson sent a strongly worded protest to the German government demanding an apology, but the Germans claimed they were justified since the Lusitania was secretly carrying armaments to the British. Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan resigned because he believed Wilson was leading the country to war. The U.S. had maintained a strict policy of neutrality since Americans were leery of involvement in a foreign war.

However, on Feb. 1, 1917, the Germans resumed their aggressive policy of unrestricted U-boat warfare and two days later, Wilson announced the U.S. was breaking all diplomatic relations with Germany. The American liner Housatonic was sunk by a U-boat just hours later.

Finally, on Feb. 6, 1917, the United States formally entered World War I, “the war to end all wars” … except for all the other ones that would follow.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].