Christmas shoppers went berserk last week.
In Michigan, doors to a Wal-Mart had just swung open when the mob stampeded, bowling over and trampling several shoppers. Two were hospitalized. Same thing in Orlando, Fla., where local news ran pictures of an elderly lady being helped from the pavement as the frenzied mob surged around her. In Beaumont, Tex., scuffles featuring yelling, fisticuffs and swinging handbags erupted as the eager multitudes tried squeezing through the doors of a just-opened Wal-Mart. Panicked security guards resorted to pepper spray and tear gas for crowd control.
"Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving, is traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year as Christmas shoppers pack malls and department stores to suffocation. Last Friday they rang up $17.8 million in sales.
Intrepid terrorists could get maximum bang for their buck on “Black Friday.” A few well-placed bombs and the carnage would easily shame 9/11’s.
Macy’s, for instance, serves 50,000 shoppers on that one day. If nothing else, the theme would make for a hair-raising Hollywood drama or disaster blockbuster. Credibility might be a problem, however. After all, even the most bloodthirsty and psychopathic of terrorists seek government or semi-military targets: The Pentagon, The U.S.S. Cole, Marine barracks in Lebanon, embassies in Kenya, Saudi Arabia, etc. Typecasting one who craved massive civilian carnage for the malicious sake of massive civilian carnage might edge the movie over into a James Bond or Austin Powers comedy genre.
Yet the movie could be based on a terrorist living today who planned this very type of civilian carnage barely 40 years ago. He’s not holed up in some Pakistani cave either, or in some basement amidst the rubble of the Sunni Triangle. This terrorist is feted by visiting dignitaries ranging Kofi Annan to Steven Spielberg to Jimmy Carter. He occasionally grants interviews to star-struck luminaries of the Beltway media. Dan Rather and Barbara Walters count themselves among The Chosen. Ted Turner refers to his terrorist friend, Fidel Castro, as "one helluva guy!" Just last week at the Miami International Book Fair, Andrea Mitchell, commenting on the unexpected honor of interviewing Castro, referred to him as "an absolutely fascinating figure!"
Mitchell might find what Fidel Castro planned for Manhattan on the Friday after Thanksgiving 1962, equally fascinating. On Nov. 17, 1962, J. Edgar Hoovers’ FBI cracked a terrorist plot (though the term "terrorist" was not used at the time) by Castro-Cuban agents that targeted Macy’s, Gimbel’s, Bloomindales and Manhattan’s Grand Central Station with a dozen incendiary devices and 500 kilos of TNT. The holocaust was set to go off the following week, the day after Thanksgiving.
A little perspective: for their March 2004 Madrid subway blasts — all 10 of them — that killed and maimed almost 2,000 people, al Qaeda used a grand total of 100 kilos of TNT. Fidel Castro’s agents planned to set off five times that explosive power in the three biggest department stores on earth, all packed to suffocation and pulsing with holiday cheer on the year’s biggest shopping day. Thousands of New Yorkers, including women and children — actually, given the date and targets, probably mostly women and children — were to be incinerated and entombed. (I document this episode in my book, Fidel: Hollywood’s Favorite Tyrant.)
This godfather of terrorism still lives 90 miles from our shores in tropical splendor for all to see. Yearly he makes Forbes’ list of the world’s wealthiest. But forget any Hollywood movie about him — at least as a villain. That role is reserved for such as Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon or J. Edgar Hoover. Indeed Castro reigns as a veritable icon for many of Hollywood’s best and brightest. Oliver Stone refers to Castro as "a very moral, very humane man." Jack Nicholson gushes about his frequent Cuban host as "a genius!" and his island gulag as "a paradise!” Francis Ford Coppola penned a love letter to him. "Fidel I love you," it starts, "we both have the same initials and both use our power for good." (Again, you can read much more in my book.)
Castro planned his Manhattan holocaust short weeks after Nikita Khrushchev foiled his plans for an even bigger one. "Say hello to my little friends!" Castro dreamt of yelling at the hated Yankees in October 1962, right before the mushroom clouds. But for the prudence of the Butcher of Budapest (Nikita Khrushchev), Castro might have pulled it off. "If the missiles had remained," Fidel’s sidekick Che Guevara confided to the London Daily Worker in November 1962 regarding the Cuban missile crisis, "We would have used them against the very heart of the U.S., including New York."
Some think Fidel and Che Guevara’s genocidal fantasy was a bigger factor in Khrushchev’s decision to yank the missiles than Kennedy’s so-called blockade.
Castro’s Manhattan bomb plot was far from "irrational." He’s no suicide bomber — not by a long shot. Castro wanted to blast Manhattan to heat things up again, to rekindle all those thrills he’d experienced the previous weeks during the missile crisis. Given the temper of the times, he knew his Soviet sugar daddies would be implicated too. Then the U.S. might retaliate. Then Castro would have exactly what he’d dreamed about and tried to provoke a few weeks earlier: an intercontinental nuclear exchange.
Millions dead in the United States. Millions dead in the Soviet Union. And almost certainly, millions dead in his own Cuba. But Castro himself would be nowhere near harms way. Soviet ambassador to Cuba during the missile crisis, Alexander Alexeyev, reports a fascinating — if unsurprising — datum about those days. While Castro was begging, threatening, even trying to trick Khrushchev into launching a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the U.S. — while he was ranting and yelling and waving his arms about grabbing his Czech machine gun and "fighting the Yankee invaders to the last man!" — while frantically involved in all this, a "fearful" (Alexeyev’s term) Castro was also making reservations with Alexeyev for a first-class seat in the Soviet Embassy’s bomb shelter. Thus he’d emerge into the smoldering rubble and millions of incinerated bodies and realize his lifelong dream: his name stamped in history as the gallant David against the yankee Goliath.
Castro’s agents for his Manhattan Thanksgiving bomb plot were members of the Cuban mission to the United Nations working in concert with members of the Fair Play For Cuba Committee, an outfit that became much better known a year later when member Lee Harvey Oswald really racked up some headlines.
Incidentally, at the time of the Manhattan terror plot, the Fair Play For Cuba Committee also included among it’s members, CBS correspondent Robert Taber (an early version of Dan Rather, who conducted Castro’s first network television soft-soaping on Aug. 30, 1957), along with The Nation magazine co-owner Alan Sagner. In 1996 President Clinton appointed the obviously unbiased Alan Sagner head of the scrupulously even-handed Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
In November 1995 Castro was on triumphant visit to Manhattan. He was the star speaker and main attraction at the United Nation’s 50th anniversary bash — the guest of honor. "The Hottest Ticket in Manhattan!" read a Newsweek story that week, referring to the social swirl that engulfed him. After his whooping, hollering, foot-stomping ovation in the General Assembly, Castro was feted by the New York’s best and brightest, hob-nobbing with dozens of Manhattan’s glitterati, pundits and power brokers.
First, there was dinner at the Council of Foreign Relations. After holding court there for a rapt David Rockefeller along with Robert McNamara, Dwayne Andreas and Random House’s Harold Evans, Castro flashed over to Mort Zuckerman 5th Avenue pad, where a throng of Beltway glitterati, including a breathless Mike Wallace, Peter Jennings, Tina Brown, Bernard Shaw and Barbara Walters all jostled for brief tryst, cooing and gurgling to Castro’s every comment. All clamored for autographs and photo-ops. Diane Sawyer was so overcome in the mass-killer’s presence that she rushed up, broke into that toothy smile of hers, wrapped her arms around Castro and smooched him warmly on the cheek.
"You people are the cream of the crop!" beamed the bearded Cuban man of the people to the smiling throng that surrounded him.
"Hear-hear!" chirped the delighted guests while tinkling their wine glasses in appreciation and glee.
And the mass-murderer and terrorist had barely scratched the surface of his fan club. According to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, on that visit, Castro received 250 dinner invitations from Manhattan celebrities and power-brokers many a millionaire. That November of 1995, Time magazine, referring to the adulation and acclaim by Manhattanites for the man who twice tried to incinerate Manhattan, hailed Castro as "The Toast of Manhattan!"
On Thanksgiving week of 1962 Fidel Castro planned on toasting Manhattan alright.