Blind over Cuba: The Photo Gap and the Missile Crisis. By David M. Barrett and Max Holland. (College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 2012. Pp. x, 210. $29.95.)
Article first published online: 4 MAR 2014
© 2014 Phi Alpha Theta
Volume 76, Issue 1, pages 107–108, Spring 2014
How to Cite
Filipink, R. M. (2014), Blind over Cuba: The Photo Gap and the Missile Crisis. By David M. Barrett and Max Holland. (College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 2012. Pp. x, 210. $29.95.). Historian, 76: 107–108. doi: 10.1111/hisn.12030_9
- Issue published online: 4 MAR 2014
- Article first published online: 4 MAR 2014
In this study, authors David M. Barrett and Max Holland focus on one element of the Cuban Missile Crisis they consider both understudied and crucial: the failure to conduct U-2 surveillance flights directly over Cuba from August 29 to October 14, 1962. Barrett and Holland argue that this self-imposed halt to flights allowed the Soviets to install missiles and shaped the manner in which the crisis played out. The bulk of this slim book focuses on why this halt took place and the largely successful attempt by the Kennedy administration to deflect blame for this intelligence lapse.
Utilizing a host of declassified as well as little-used congressional sources, Barrett and Holland tell an interesting tale of how fear of another “U-2 incident” led to Secretary of State Dean Rusk and National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy, with the support of Robert Kennedy, forcing a halt to direct overflights of western Cuba after the discovery of SA-2 surface-to-air missiles installed there. This decision not only allowed the Soviets to proceed with the installation of missiles undetected but left the Kennedy administration open to embarrassing questions from Congress about why this halt took place. The administration skillfully deflected these questions by emphasizing intelligence estimates that predicted the Soviets would never install missiles in Cuba, blaming the weather, and claiming the peripheral flights that did take place. In so doing, the authors argue, the Kennedy administration unfairly placed the blame on the CIA and succeeded in defusing this potentially damaging narrative, allowing the dominant tale of Kennedy brilliance and American victory in the confrontation to define the historical understanding of the crisis.
The book adds to the existing literature on the Cuban Missile Crisis by highlighting an area that has not been seriously discussed, as the book's lengthy historiographical appendix, the longest chapter in the work, makes clear (117–142). That said, although the book is well written and the research is excellent, the thesis of the work is not fully clear. The authors at different points state their purpose as demonstrating the difficulty Congress had in investigating the president, showing that the intelligence community was unfairly blamed for a decision made by Kennedy's top advisors, and noting that “photo gap” is a crucial point to understanding how the crisis plays out. Additionally, the authors entirely focus on this one part of the larger story, taking it completely out of context. This decision does keep the volume slim, but it leaves the reader with the task of determining exactly where this story fits in the larger narrative.
Finally, there is one key question the book does not address that is fundamental to its case: Was the Kennedy administration justified in fearing the repercussions of a new “U-2 incident” in Cuba? The authors state that this is a primary cause for the “photo gap,” but they never explain whether or not this fear was justified. Nevertheless, this reviewer commends the authors for adding a new and important piece to our understanding of the Cuban Missile Crisis.