Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002.
Read the Prologue from Sad and Luminous Days in PDF (requires Adobe Acrobat).
From the Author:
Phil Brenner and I have written the book so that it will be both interesting and accessible for a general audience, and relevant for debates about contemporary global affairs. It also highlights a fascinating and largely hidden story about the conflicts between Cuba and the Soviet Union in the 1960s—derived from new documents and numerous interviews—which nearly led to a total breakdown in relations between the two countries, and may have led the Soviets to promote efforts at a coup against Fidel Castro in 1968. Castro, at least, seems to have believed this was the Soviet intention at the time.
The centerpiece of the book is a previously secret 12-hour speech Castro delivered to the Cuban leadership in 1968 about the missile crisis. When Americans and Russians think about that moment in 1962, when the world came closer to Armageddon than ever before or since, we tend to use words such "harrowing" (because of the superpowers had come eyeball to eyeball in a nuclear confrontation) and "ma-chaya" or "relief" (that the confrontation ended peacefully and successfully from the U.S. point of view). Che Guevara captured the contrasting Cuban perspective—which is a view Americans and Russians have largely ignored or have not known—in his "farewell" letter to Castro, referring to the crisis as those "sad and luminous days." While the rest of the world breathed a sigh of relief, the Cubans were deeply saddened by what they viewed as the Soviet betrayal of an ally in the face of what looked to them like inescapable U.S. aggression. They also felt a sense of intense luminosity, a kind of brilliance, as they stood arm-in- arm together, ready to die for their dignity and for their cause. This Cuban stance continues forty years later, and points to two essential lessons the United States should have derived from the crisis: (1) small countries do matter, and (2) they perceive the world differently from the powerful states. The only way we can hope to prevent horrific crises in the future is to develop the capacity to listen to such "small" players in global affairs, and to engage in a process of "realistic empathy."
We are gratified that several prominent scholars and former officials have reviewed the pre-publication manuscript and lauded the book (their comments are appended below). This is a book that a large segment of your membership would find compelling, and we would expect C- SPAN also will likely want to film the event because of its timely link to the missile crisis anniversary.
—James G. Blight, in an interview with "Politics and Prose"
Advanced praise for Sad and Luminous Days: Cuba's Struggle with the Superpowers after the Missile Crisis
"Drawing on newly declassified documents from the U.S., Cuba and Russia, as well as interviews with former officials in all three countries, Blight and Brenner show how the missile crisis was caused, in large part, by a lack of empathy between Washington, Havana and Moscow. I have known for some time that we in the Kennedy administration misunderstood the Cubans and Russians. But in Sad and Luminous Days, we learn the many ways the Cubans and Russians misunderstood each other, and how those misunderstandings made the crisis as dangerous as it was. The book is a superb addition to recent history and is full of important lessons for relations between Great Powers and small countries, beginning with the lesson: 'empathize with your adversary, or you may regret it!'"
—Robert S. McNamara, secretary of defense to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, former president of the World Bank, and co-author most recently of Wilson's Ghost: Reducing the Risk of Conflict, Killing and Catastrophe in the 21st Century
"This splendid book shows starkly the deep differences between Cuba and the Soviet Union during the half-dozen years that followed the 1962 missile crisis. Those differences arose from the way the Soviets negotiated with the United States in 1962, without prior consultation with the Cubans. The authors eloquently build their case with many fascinating interviews with Soviet and Cuban decision makers and a spectacular, hitherto secret 1968 speech wherein Fidel Castro explained to the Cuban Communist Party's Central Committee why the Soviets were untrustworthy. This thoughtful and learned book is also a great read."
—Jorge I. Dom?nguez, Director of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University
"Every so often a work of history comes along that turns conventional wisdom on its head and brings to light previously mysterious, indeed hidden nuggets of truth, opening a new dimension to what we long held as the only conceivable plot line. Blight and Brenner's eloquent, beautifully written book brings to life in poignant, vivid, and solidly documented prose what until now has been a footnote in the standard accounts of the Cuban missile crisis: the Cuban perspective. Sad and Luminous Days demonstrates why the two authors are pioneers in writing Cold War history with newly declassified documents and sets the standard for the rest of us.
—Julia Sweig, Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations and Author, Inside the Cuban Revolution: Fidel Castro and the Urban Underground
"Sad and Luminous Days is an absolutely fundamental contribution to our knowledge of the Cuban missile crisis, Soviet-Cuban relations, and the difficulties facing Great Powers and small countries in their dealings with each other. Its principal lesson—the necessity (and the difficulty) of achieving realistic empathy with one's adversary—is especially salient at a moment when the remaining superpower, the United States, has declared a 'war on terrorism' involving potential confrontations between the U.S. and many other smaller countries. All U.S. decision-makers should read this book and learn its lessons before they attempt to carry out their 'war on terrorism.'"
—Sergei N. Khrushchev, author of Khrushchev on Khrushchev: An Inside Account of the Man and His Era, by his Son, Sergei Khrushchev
"A well-researched and beautifully written account of the triangular relationship that brought the world to the brink of nuclear catastrophe."
—Robert A. Pastor, author of Exiting the Whirlpool: U.S. Foreign Policy toward Latin America
"Empathy is believed by many to be a soft-hearted approach in a world that requires us to be heard-headed. This wonderful book amply demonstrates, however, that this view of empathy is false and derives from a fundamental misunderstanding of what empathy actually entails. The events of 9.11.01 demonstrate how profoundly tragic may be the result of a failure of empathy in world affairs—the failure to reach a deep and comprehensive understanding of how the world looks and feels to our adversaries. Blight and Brenner brilliantly explore how the failure of the U.S., Cuba, and the Soviet Union to achieve such empathetic understanding brought us to the threshold of nuclear annihilation in October 1962 and, in so doing, they provide an essential guide to negotiating the treacherous waters of the 21st century."
—Paul L. Wachtel, Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the City College of the City University of New York, and founding director of the Colin Powell Center for the Study and Practice of Public Policy at City College
"This challenging account of the missile crisis and it's aftermath casts fascinating light on Fidel Castro and Cuba. After Sad and Luminous Days, no one will be able to write the same way about Castro's relationship with the Kremlin."
—Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Pulitzer prize-winning historian and former White House aide to John F. Kennedy
From the inside cover of Sad and Luminous Days: Cuba's Struggle with the Superpowers after the Missile Crisis:
"Blight and Brenner's eloquent, beautifully written book brings to life in poignant, vivid, and solidly documented prose what until now has been a footnote in the standard accounts of the Cuban missile crisis: the Cuban perspective. Sad and Luminous Days demonstrates why the two authors are pioneers in writing Cold War history with newly declassified documents and sets the standard for the rest of us."
—Julia Sweig, author of Inside the Cuban Revolution: Fidel Castro and the Urban Underground
Americans recall the Cuban missile crisis with words such as "frightening" and "relieved." Cubans, on the other hand, remember the crisis very differently. In Sad and Luminous Days: Cuba's Struggle with the Superpowers after the Missile Crisis, James G. Blight and Philip Brenner argue that while the rest of the world breathed a sigh of relief, the Cubans were deeply saddened by what they viewed as the Soviet betrayal of an ally in the face of U.S. aggression.
By examining a previously secret Fidel Castro speech and other new evidence, Blight and Brenner take us on a remarkable journey from the harrowing moments of October 1962 to the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. In doing so, they highlight how Cuban-Soviet relations nearly collapsed and give us a new way to understand the forty-year conflict between Cuba and the United States. Sad and Luminous Days is an important and timely account of the troubled relationship between great and small powers that brought the world to the verge of nuclear disaster.
James G. Blight is professor of international relations at Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies and is the author or coauthor of more than a dozen books on U.S. foreign policy, including five on the Cuban missile crisis.
Philip Brenner is professor of international relations at American University in Washington, D.C., and chair of American University's Inter-Disciplinary Council on the Americas. A specialist in U.S. foreign policy towards Latin America, he has been engaged in research about U.S.-Cuban relations since 1974.