Cuban leader Fidel Castro asked the Soviet Union in 1962 to launch a nuclear attack on the United States if it invaded Cuba, according to letters published today by a French newspaper.
The respected daily Le Monde said the letters were exchanged between Castro and Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev during the Cuban missile crisis.
In an acrimonious reply, Khrushchev suggested that Castro was irresponsible, since such a war would have killed millions of people in both East and West and destroyed Cuba.
Le Monde said Castro gave copies of three of his letters and two of Khrushchev's to French writer Jean-Edern Hallier last month. Hallier then gave them to the newspaper, it said.
The first letter by Castro, dated Oct. 26, 1962, said Cuba expected an American invasion "in the next 24 or 72 hours" after the U.S. discovery that the Soviet Union was setting up nuclear missile sites in Cuba.
The United States asked that the bases be withdrawn, and historians have said that the week that followed, until Khrushchev backed down, was the closest the world has come to World War III.
"The Soviet Union should never let a situation develop in which the imperialists could carry out the first strike of a nuclear war," Castro wrote. "That would be the moment to forever eliminate such a danger . . . no matter how hard and terrible such a solution would be."
Heads of state should not be "swept away by the popular feelings of hot-headed elements," Khrushchev replied.
"If we had refused a reasonable arrangement with the U.S., a war would have left millions of dead and survivors would have blamed their leaders who were unable to avoid it," he added.