The Cuban flag now hangs at the newly re-opened Cuban embassy in Washington D.C. The Cold War freeze is thawing. But I wonder what Dad would have thought about these changes. He worked on the Cuban Missile Crisis after all, and growing up I remember hearing plenty of criticism of Castro and other totalitarian leaders. When I asked about this assignment, his first with the agency, he said it had been his job to watch the Soviet build up. “I read reports from all over the world. Watched the whole crisis.”
Reading his book was like meeting a different father.
Six years ago, he published a book about this experience, called Mind-Sets and Missiles: A first Hand Account of the Cuban Missile Crisis. In it, he described the crisis from his point of view. When it came out, I remember thinking I would find the dad I remembered from growing up – someone who always defended US foreign policy, and who rarely agreed with my criticisms of the US. But my politically conservative dad, the one who always championed US interests and seemed seldom critical, was in his book. In Mind-sets and Missiles, he criticized the way surveillance was conducted during the crisis and argued for changes to intelligence gathering. Reading his book was like meeting a different father.
We are all more complex than we seem.
In another conversation, when I asked how he ended up in the CIA in the first place, he told me something else I didn’t expect: it wasn’t the first organization or the only one he interviewed with. He interviewed with the FBI and AID. Even the Peace Corps. When he told me that, I almost fell out of my chair. The Peace Corps? Dad could have been building irrigation ditches or helping villages install clean drinking water instead of meeting with informants and telling cover stories? If he had signed on with the Peace Corps, maybe he would have been someone I understood more, someone whose beliefs were more like mine. To my mind-set, he had always only wanted to be a spy and would have never considered anything else.
But we are seldom who others think we are – especially spies.
If he had lived to see this day, I wonder what Dad would think about the current shift in US and Cuba relations. Maybe he would stay inside his Cold War mind-set and disapprove. Then again, maybe he would surprise me. Again.