A General Who Would Have Started World War III
The Soviets incorporated nuclear weapons in their defensive plan. In the heat of battle the custodians of those weapons would have been under intense pressure as they were subjected to overwhelming US aerial strikes, naval bombardment, and ground attacks. A desperate local Soviet commander, perhaps cutoff from communications with higher authority, could easily have employed the tactical nukes at hand to save his command, or at least ensure that its demise did not come cheap. If the Soviets used nukes in Cuba, the US intended an overwhelming nuclear response. Things could easily have escalated from there to a full blown nuclear exchange that would have devastated both countries and Europe, irradiated the Northern Hemisphere, and set humanity back centuries. Luckily, President Kennedy resisted the pressure from his generals and admirals.
Instead, Kennedy relied on diplomacy, back channels, and blockade. LeMay likened Kennedy’s reluctance to trigger a nuclear holocaust to Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement at Munich. Fortunately, JFK declined to follow LeMay’s advice, and negotiated a way out of the crisis instead. Even after the crisis was over, LeMay still urged that Cuba be invaded. After retiring from the Air Force, LeMay went into extreme far right politics, and joined segregationist Alabama governor George Wallace as running mate in his 1968 presidential bid. He was too extreme even for George Wallace, who came to see the former general as a liability after he made tone deaf comments about nuking rivals into the stone age. After the campaign, LeMay retired to California, where he died of a heart attack in 1990.