TIME photography

See the Photographs from Vietnam That Changed a Veteran’s Life

"Looking at the pictures put me right back into the jungle as if I were a 21-year-old soldier again"

When Christopher Gaynor returned home from the Vietnam War, on Feb. 6, 1968, he didn’t leave with memories alone. He had spent his 13 months in the field artillery creating pictures, too. Untrained but inspired by combat photographers, he brought one of the era’s ubiquitous Brownie cameras—before investing $94 in an Asahi Pentax SLR—to record his experience. To develop each roll of film, he took it to the Post Exchange on the base camp, they mailed it to Kodak for processing, Kodak mailed it back to Vietnam and, finally, Gaynor mailed the pictures home.

But the world he encountered when he got back to the United States wasn’t exactly ready to look at them, and neither was he. The anti-war movement was strong and attitudes toward veterans were, he found, hostile. Before the year was up, he decided to leave the country. He spent the following years in England and Spain, and didn’t return until the year the war ended, which happened 40 years ago this month on April 30, 1975.

“I put [the photos] in a box, a box from Lavoris mouthwash. I didn’t look at them, I put them in the box, sealed it up, and they stayed in that box until 2007,” Gaynor, now 70, recalled. “I didn’t want to deal with it.”

Even after his return to the United States, decades passed before he decided that he should do something with that box. In 2007, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which he thinks is related to his exposure to Agent Orange during the war, and facing an illness motivated him to think about his legacy. At the time, the VFW post on Vashon Island, Wash.—where Gaynor still lives with his husband—was sponsoring a Boy Scout troop; one of the troop members wanted to scan Gaynor’s photos as part of his Eagle Scout project. Though Gaynor admits that his expectations for the results were low, he went along with the idea.

To say that he’s glad he did would be an understatement.

“I looked at them and they all came alive again,” he said. “It was completely overwhelming. All my buddies from 40 years previously [were] looking at me from these pictures, even the guys who weren’t with us anymore. Looking at the pictures put me right back into the jungle as if I were a 21-year-old soldier again.”

Gaynor notes that most of his photos, some of which can be seen above, aren’t of the dramatic scenes familiar from war photography. Rather, he captured the off times, with soldiers relaxing, playing ball, hanging out. It was portraiture, not fighting scenes, that brought back the memories.

And it wasn’t just a matter of remembering moments long buried. After opening the box, Gaynor began to investigate his own memories, digging out the letters he had sent home. He started to talk about his experiences and began to get more involved in the VFW and the American Legion. (He is the only openly gay officer of the American Legion of whom he knows, he said.) He reached out to younger veterans who had been in Iraq and Afghanistan. He established relationship with the families of his friends who had died in Vietnam. He became a consultant on the Vietnam-reenactor documentary In Country, which is out on video on demand on April 28. Though he does not want to make any money from the images, he tried to get his exposure for his photos in order to help other veterans connect with their memories, self-publishing a book of his photos and letters from the war.

The memories and images that had been buried for decades became the opposite of hidden, motivating Gaynor to reorganize his life around a new mission.

“It’s a difficult emotional stress [to revisit that time] but I had to do it,” he says. “Finding the pictures completely changed my life. There are no words to describe how it affected me. They’ve continued to reward me and live on.”

TIME Food & Drink

Here’s What New Coke Tasted Like

Can of New Coke beverage. (Phot
Al Freni—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Can of New Coke

Thirty years ago, Coca-Cola introduced what seemed like a fizzling new idea

It was, TIME declared, “like putting a miniskirt on the refurbished Statue of Liberty.”

Thirty years ago, on April 23, 1985, Coca-Cola announced that the company would take an unprecedented step in the ongoing cola wars: changing their formula. The secret formula for the classic soft drink would be locked away in a vault, forever, replaced that May with a sweeter pop designed to appeal to changing American tastes.

Prior to the roll-out, the company boasted that the new flavor beat out the classic (and also rival Pepsi) in taste tests. TIME’s food critic Mimi Sheraton weighed in on the taste too, deciding that the new soda wasn’t all that different:

New Coke seems to retain the essential character of the original version in that it, too, imparts faint cocoa-cinnamon overtones and has a balanced, smooth body with no sharpness or overpowering flavor. However, it is sweeter than the original formula and also has a body that could best be described as lighter. It tastes a little like classic Coca-Cola that has been diluted by melting ice. I have always preferred Coca-Cola to Pepsi, finding the latter much too sweet and thin. Most of all, I dislike the citrus-oil flavor I seem to detect in Pepsi. And though the new Coke approaches the sweetness and thinness of Pepsi, it does not have the lemony aftertaste. Therefore, I still prefer Coke. I suspect that those who have preferred Pepsi will continue to do so.

The change was billed as the first in nearly a century of Coke-making (not including the switch from sugar to high-fructose corn syrup, which wasn’t meant to affect the taste). And, as in natural when such a big change comes along, fans were nervous. Even before the New Coke went on sale, consumers told TIME they were nervous that the company would “ruin a good thing.”

Judging by the world’s reaction to the New Coke, those consumers were right: it was only three months before Coca-Cola gave in and brought back Coca-Cola Classic, bowing to pressure from people who were outraged that an American institution had been altered.

But, though the New Coke story has gone down in history as a business and marketing debacle — the president of Pepsi-Cola was quoted in TIME calling it “the Edsel of the ’80s” — that’s not the whole story.

In fact, New Coke wasn’t actually all bad for the company. Coca-Cola denied that New Coke was an elaborate marketing stunt, though that was a popular theory. Still, even accidentally, it worked. Coke’s stock soared when the classic formula came back and even in those anger-filled months between April and July, sales were good: “In May, Coke sales shot up a sparkling 8% over the same month in 1984, double the normal growth rate,” TIME reported. “Some of the increase included sales of old Coke still on store shelves, but most of it was the new drink.” The following year, when the company celebrated its hundredth birthday, it was with reports of sales that continued to climb.

Still, that didn’t keep New Coke (later called Coke II) from one last bit of infamy before it faded into the supermarket shelf sunset: the drink made it to TIME’s list of the 100 worst ideas of the 20th century — right alongside Crystal Pepsi.

Read more about the New Coke story, here in the TIME Vault: Coca-Cola’s Big Fizzle

TIME Television

This Is the Ronald Reagan Speech That Just Showed Up on The Americans

President Ronald Reagan addressing the National As
Diana Walker—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images President Ronald Reagan addressing the National Association of Evangelicals in a speech calling the Soviet Union an evil empire, on March 8, 1983

The episode title — "March 8, 1983" — is a clue

Contains a spoiler for the third-season finale of FX’s The Americans

Anyone who knew the title of Wednesday night’s season finale of The Americans might have guessed that a particular Ronald Reagan speech might make an appearance. After all, “March 8, 1983″ — the title of the episode — was also named by TIME, in 2003, to a list of the 80 days that changed the world.

That was the day on which President Reagan, speaking before the National Association of Evangelicals, delivered what is known as the evil-empire speech.

It was a time of potential change in the history of the Cold War, as advocates of a nuclear freeze or of nonintervention in countries like El Salvador, where a civil war was under way, were turning away from some of Reagan’s hard-line policies. The President took the opportunity of speaking in front of a religious audience to reiterate his belief in the existence of good and evil in the world, and that the U.S. and the Soviet Union were firmly located on opposite sides of that line. The USSR was the evil empire, and in that context, no hard line was hard enough.

At first the speech seemed to have backfired. That April, TIME noted, “Public-opinion polls showed that confidence in Reagan’s handling of foreign and defense policies had actually fallen during his monthlong hard-sell campaign on behalf of those policies” and that some White House officials called it his “Darth Vader speech.”

But, in the end, Reagan got what he wanted: the end of the empire in question.

In an earlier draft of the speech, noted TIME’s Romesh Ratnesar in explaining the speech’s inclusion on that 2003 list, Reagan had distanced himself from the strong language of good and evil. The version he ended up delivering, however, did anything but hedge — and that made all the difference:

His uncompromising rhetoric unsettled members of the Washington establishment, who warned that it would reheat the arms race and threaten peaceful coexistence with the Soviets. But Reagan managed to touch the hearts and minds of those who mattered: the rebels behind the Iron Curtain who ultimately brought it down. Nathan Sharansky read Reagan’s speech in a cell in Siberia. Knocking on walls and talking through toilets, he spread the word to other prisoners in the Gulag. “The dissidents were ecstatic,” Sharansky wrote. “Finally, the leader of the free world had spoken the truth — a truth that burned inside the heart of each and every one of us.”

Read original March 1983 coverage of the speech, here in the TIME Vault: Hardening the Line

TIME Business

A Brief History of Secretaries

Toni Kari
Phil Slattery—Post Archive/Getty Images Toni Kari, who won the title of "Secretary of the Year" of the Denver Chapter of the National Secretaries Association, in 1964, on Jan. 24, 1964, in Denver

On Administrative Professionals Day, a look back at the 'secretary shortage' of 1957 and 'rebel secretaries' of the 1970s

When offices around the United States celebrate Administrative Professionals Day on Wednesday, they’ll be following the lead of more than six decades of businesses. According to the International Association of Administrative Professionals — formerly the National Secretaries Association — the day started as a 1952 celebration of National Secretaries Week; as of 2000, that celebration has been dubbed Administrative Professionals Week.

And in the ’50s, when the first such celebration took place, there was good reason for the American businessman (he was nearly always a man) to want to thank his secretary (nearly always a woman).

As TIME reported in a 1957 article about “The Secretary Shortage: They’re Either Too Pretty or Too Old,” the record number of women entering the workplace during that decade was not translating to a surplus of stenographers. The young, unmarried cohort that had traditionally served as secretaries was particularly small, due to the Depression-era birth-rate decline, and booming post-war business meant that demand was up. In addition, the opening up of a wide range of jobs to female workers meant that the women who were available for jobs were less likely to choose repetitive secretarial work. (Not that being a secretary was always boring: in a 1954 paean to the magazine’s administrative workers, TIME’s publisher praised bureau secretaries for being able to speak multiple languages, take dictation on two separate stories at once by using both hands — really! — and organize complicated international shipments for war photographers.)

Businesses tried a variety of tactics to change their minds, according to TIME:

Across the country businessmen beg for secretaries with bristling columns of help-wanted ads, promising prestige (“Your Own Office!”), or glamour (“Handle TV Stars!”), or romance (“Young Execs!”). Many big companies, whose long-set salary and seniority schedules make them less attractive than higher-paying small companies, try to make up the difference with a long string of fringe benefits. After a survey of several score firms in the New York area, the Commerce and Industry Association of New York reported that 78.1% offer profit-sharing plans, 52.7% pay full costs for employees’ health and accident insurance. But only the most exquisite melding of money, kindness and men leaves a girl impressed. “Fringe benefits are such old hat,” says one employment agent, “that the girls just want to know how many they’re getting—not if there are any.”

At the time, the magazine guessed at the maturation of the Baby Boom generation would mean that, given another decade, supply and demand would sort themselves out.

And yes, by the late ’60s there were more 20-something working women than there had been a decade earlier — but that wasn’t all that had changed. In fact, TIME articles about secretaries of the 1970s are also about the work shortage, despite what was at the time a high unemployment rate. Attitudes toward secretarial work hadn’t caught up with the rise of Women’s Liberation: Secretaries were thought to get little credit for their work and few opportunities to advance. Those young, educated women who had once been lured in with the promise of “Young Execs!” were giving it a pass.

As TIME reported in 1972, under the headline “Rebel Secretaries,” things were changing:

Last week, responding to complaints from employees, the U.S. State Department ordered its executives to stop treating secretaries as “char help,” to show a little more diplomacy toward them and to encourage independent secretarial decision making. Officials warned especially against the “reliable-old-shoe syndrome,” in which secretaries are assumed to be content with the same duties throughout their career while almost everyone else moves up.

…This week a group of New York City secretaries, backed by members of the National Organization of Women, plans to picket the headquarters of Olivetti Corp., which is running ads that infuriate feminists. The ads promote “brainy” typewriters that are supposed to eliminate some typing errors made by dippy-looking secretaries, who presumably lack the brains to avoid them in the first place. In the TV commercial, the secretary is shown as a vacuous sex kitten who finds that she can attract men by becoming “an Olivetti girl.”

More and more secretaries, like airline stewardesses, are rebelling against being viewed as objects of vicarious sexual pleasure (or being called “dear” and “honey” by men in the office). Linda Lervold, a secretary at a Manhattan ad agency, complains about an office “hotpants party” at which women employees were invited to “show their wares.” A N.O.W. member, Miss Lervold attended wearing distinctly unsexy culottes and gave the host, a vice president, a pair of men’s hot pants. “I don’t think anybody at the party got the point,” she laments.

But, one way or another, the message got through. At the time, the National Secretaries Association counted that half of its members had aspirations of using their jobs to work toward management positions; accordingly, training courses were moving beyond shorthand to include topics like accounting.

And, as computers became a regular presence at the average office, the typing and filing that had once filled a secretary’s days diminished, leaving room for much more and varied work — a change that eventually created the administrative professional role we’re familiar with today.

Read the 1972 report, from a special issue about the American woman, here in the TIME Vault: Rebel Secretaries

TIME Books

How Toni Morrison’s New Novel Answers Her Critics

Jan. 19, 1998, cover of TIME
TIME The Jan. 19, 1998, cover of TIME

Her newest book, 'God Help the Child,' will be released on April 21, 2015

American author Toni Morrison isn’t exactly new to the writing game, but her latest book, God Help the Child, which arrives on Tuesday, is still a first in its own way. The book is being billed as Morrison’s first to take place “in our current moment” rather than in the past.

Looking back at Morrison’s career, the decision to set God Help the Child in modern times gains an extra level of meaning.

Morrison’s novels have always addressed issues that mattered to modern readers, despite their sometimes distant setting; as the Nobel-winner told TIME in 1998, when she and her novel Paradise were the subject of a cover story, most the questions she got from fans were “anthropological or sociological or political” rather than literary. And raising those questions, especially about race and gender, was part of her mission as a writer.

But, TIME noted, some of her critics found that she distanced herself from the answers by focusing on the past:

The debate about where Morrison ranks among the other American laureates will probably simmer for years. Does she belong with Steinbeck and Pearl S. Buck, authors whose earnest social concerns and novels now strike most critics and readers as passe? Some reviewers have found Morrison’s novels overly deterministic, her characters pawns in the service of their creator’s designs. Essayist Stanley Crouch says Morrison is “immensely talented. I just think she needs a new subject matter, the world she lives in, not this world of endless black victims.” But for every pan, Morrison has received a surfeit of paeans: for her lyricism, for her ability to turn the mundane into the magical. In the Nobel sweepstakes at the moment, Morrison looks to be a lot closer to William Faulkner, whom many critics regard as this century’s greatest American novelist, than to Buck and Steinbeck.

Whether God Help the Child receives pans or paeans, that chronological distance won’t be to blame.

Read the full story, here in the TIME Vault: Paradise Found

TIME Environment

What Caused the Worst Oil Spill in American History

Big Spill
Cover Credit: PHOTOGRAPH BY CHRIS GRAYTHEN - GETTY IMAGES. INSET: AP The May 17, 2010, cover of TIME

The Deepwater Horizon spill started on April 20, 2010

Five years ago Monday, when there was an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon, an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, the first news reports said that nearly a dozen people had been killed by the blast.

Before long, however, it was clear that the impact would continue to be felt, and by many more people. The oil spill that began that day and continued into the summer would end up being the worst such accident in U.S. history, spilling millions of gallons of crude into the fragile waterway. How it would be cleaned up remained a mystery, one that is still being answered today.

Another mystery, as TIME’s Bryan Walsh explained in a cover story shortly after the spill began, was what had actually happened on that fateful day:

Investigators are still exploring exactly what went wrong on the Deepwater Horizon, but the catastrophe seems to have been the result of a cascading series of failures–and too little oversight. Rigs are equipped with blowout preventers, 40-ft.-high (12 m) stacks of machinery with multiple hydraulic valves that are designed to seal a well should anything go wrong. Crew members on the Horizon couldn’t activate the blowout preventer, and a deadman’s switch that should have kicked in when control of the rig was lost failed as well. One safety feature the Horizon did not have is an acoustic switch, an additional backup that can activate the blowout preventer remotely. Regulators don’t mandate them in the U.S., though they are effectively required in nations like Brazil and Norway.

When the rig sank, the riser–the pipe that runs from the wellhead to the surface–fell as well, kinking as it did and causing three breaks, from which thousands of barrels of oil are leaking each day. “There were multiple chances to stop this,” says Malcolm Spaulding, a professor of ocean engineering at the University of Rhode Island. “And they all failed.”

Read the full cover story, here in the TIME Vault: The Big Spill

TIME Drugs

Here’s What People Called Pot in the 1940s

MARIJUANA REEFERS HIDDEN IN A BOOK
Keystone / Getty Images Marijuana reefers hidden In a book, circa 1940

"Two or three long puffs usually suffice after a while to produce a light jag," TIME explained in 1943. "The smoker is then said to be 'high'"

In 1934, when marijuana first appeared in the pages of TIME, it was with an asterisk that clarified that it was “a drug, long common in Mexico, made from a variety of hemp weed.” In the years that followed, the drug showed up in the news a few times, mostly associated with the idea of reefer madness. By 1943 when TIME published its first full article about what the magazine called “the weed,” readers would still be unfamiliar with much of the terminology used.

And, even though marijuana is moving toward legalization in many places in the United States, some of that terminology — giggle-smokes! — is likely to be unfamiliar to modern readers too.

See whether you recognize any of this pot slang from the 1943 story:

To its users, the drug has many names—many of them evasive. Marijuana may be called muggles, mooter, Mary Warner, Mary Jane, Indian hay, loco weed, love weed, bambalacha, mohasky, mu, moocah, grass, tea or blue sage. Cigarets made from it are killers, goof-butts, joy-smokes, giggle-smokes or reefers. The word marijuana is of Mexican origin and means “the weed that intoxicates.” It is made from the Indian hemp plant, a spreading green bush resembling sumac. Known to the pharmacopoeia as Cannabis sativa, it is a source of important paint ingredients and rope fiber as well as narcotics. It can be grown easily almost anywhere, hence tends to be inexpensive, as drugs go. Its recent prices (10¢ to 50¢ a cigaret) have placed it beneath the dignity of big-time racketeers. But its furtive preparation and sale afford a modest living to thousands.

In most U. S. cities the marijuana salesman peddles his cigarets to known clients in public places. He is known to his clients as a “pusher.” His clients are known as “vipers.” Etiquette between pushers and vipers is necessarily delicate. When he wants to buy, the viper sidles up to the pusher and inquires “Are ya stickin’?” or “Are ya layin’ down the hustle?” If the answer is affirmative, the viper says, “Gimme an ace” (meaning one reefer), “a deuce” (meaning two), or “a deck” (meaning a large number). The viper may then quietly “blast the weed” (smoke). Two or three long puffs usually suffice after a while to produce a light jag. The smoker is then said to be “high” or “floating.” When he has smoked a reefer down to a half-inch butt, he carefully conserves it in an empty match box. In this condition it is known, in Mexican, as a chicharra, or in English, as a “roach.”

Though much of that lingo would fade into the skunky haze of time, “the weed” itself wouldn’t stay mysterious for much longer. One reason for that mainstreaming shift is hinted at by the magazine section in which that 1943 article appeared: music. “It is no secret that some of the finest flights of American syncopation, like some of the finest products of the symbolist poets, owe much of their expressiveness to the use of a drug,” the story reported.

The reason for the connection between jazz and pot was, the magazine guessed, that the illusion of a slower sense of time and a keener sense of hearing might allow musicians to improvise with more confidence. Plus, though the effects of the drug might look like the effects of alcohol, it seemed in some ways to be a better choice of vice. Though regular use would get in the way of “orderly living,” it didn’t seem to cause “physical, mental or moral degeneration.” Seeing their heavy-drinking musical colleagues afflicted with cirrhosis or other alcohol-related conditions could further convince jazz artists to choose to light up instead.

As jazz music became more widely appreciated outside its specific scene, marijuana had to be more seriously considered by mainstream media too—and, by extension, mainstream readers.

Read the 2014 cover story about a new trend in the world of marijuana, here in the TIME Vault: The Rise of Fake Pot

TIME Sports

See Triumphant Photos of Boston Marathon Runners Through History

The annual event, which takes place on April 20 this year, has been running for more than a century

The 119th Boston Marathon, taking place on April 20, 2015, is sure to be an occasion for remembrance of the tragic crimes that were committed at the race two years ago. As the city continues to recover from that wound, it’s also worth remembering that the marathon has long been a symbol of perseverance, in which runners can conquer obstacles both personal and societal. Here’s a look back at some of those victories.

Read about the history of the Boston Marathon, here in the TIME Vault: A Long Running Show

TIME Crime

The Meaning of the Oklahoma City Bombing Anniversary

May 1, 1995, cover of TIME
Cover Credit: RALF-FINN HESTOFT Timothy McVeigh on the May 1, 1995, cover of TIME

The deadly act of domestic terrorism took place 20 years ago, on April 19, 1995

When a truck bomb blasted through a federal office building in Oklahoma City on a Wednesday morning 20 years ago — April 19, 1995 — it was the deadliest terrorist attack in the history of the nation to that point.

Though fingers pointed many directions in the immediate aftermath, it didn’t take long for investigators to find Timothy McVeigh. As TIME reported in a special issue devoted to the crime — with McVeigh’s face on the cover, alongside the words “The Face of Terror” — only a little more than an hour had passed since the bombing when he was pulled over for a traffic stop and arrested for driving without tags and insurance, and for carrying a concealed weapon. Two days later, the rogue driver was determined to be the same man who was suspected of masterminding the attack.

McVeigh and his accomplices’ possible link to antigovernment organizations immediately drew additional scrutiny to the subject, and offered some insight into the twisted mind that planned such a crime—and why it happened when it did:

Although the Michigan Militia, along with members of other groups, has moved quickly to repudiate any connection with McVeigh or the bombing, the significance of the date on which it took place–April 19–was not lost on those familiar with the patriot movement. Says Ron Cole, a former leader of the Branch Davidian sect who describes himself as a patriot: “It’s a date that has a significance like no other day of the year.” On April 19, 1775, the Battle of Lexington–the opening salvos in America’s Revolutionary War–began. On April 19, 1993, the siege at Waco ended in flames and despair. On April 19, 1995, Richard Wayne Snell, a member of the white supremacist group The Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord, was executed for the murder of a Jewish businessman and a black police officer. And when Timothy McVeigh rented the Ryder truck, he used a forged South Dakota driver’s license on which the date of issue was listed as April 19, 1993. “He probably meant that he woke up on that day,” says Cole. “I can see his perspective on that.”

In the years since, Oklahoma City has tried to make that date stand for something very different: rather than an example of separatism, they’ve made April 19 a date to remember a community coming together to help one another, living by the idea they call the “Oklahoma Standard.”

Read more from TIME’s special 1995 issue about the bombing, here in the TIME Vault: A Blow to the Heart

TIME faith

How the Vatican and Cuba Came Together

Jan. 26, 1998
Cover Credit: GERARD RANCINAN The Jan. 26, 1998 cover of TIME

John Paul II visited the island in 1998

The Vatican’s statement on Friday that Pope Francis is “considering” a visit to Cuba when he is in North America in the fall has brought new attention to the special relationship between the island nation and the Catholic leader. The Pope has been credited with encouraging the recent signs of rapprochement between the United States and Cuba, something his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, also spoke in favor of during a 2012 trip to Cuba.

Though Cuba has historic ties to the Catholic religion, that special relationship is really only two decades old: It was around 1995 that Fidel Castro began working on what ended up being Pope John Paul II’s 1998 visit to Cuba.

The anti-religion stance of strict Marxism had kept Cubans away from religion for decades and the crumbling of the Soviet Union only led Cuba to dig in, with hopes of proving the ideology’s endurance. At the same time, however, that period of enforcement was one of economic hardship, perhaps contributing to a rise in interest in both spiritual help and religious charity. “In 1991 Castro rescinded the ban against Christians’ joining the Communist Party,” writer Johanna McGeary explained, “and in 1992 he declared Cuba a secular, not an atheist, state.”

That change had been a long time coming:

The idea of a papal visit has actually intrigued Cuba’s leader for nearly two decades. It is not so strange as it might seem: from the very start of his revolution, Castro has sought political pilgrimages from the influential and famous as a sign of international approbation. And Castro has never feared talking to his adversaries. Although he barred Christians from the Communist Party, nationalized Catholic schools, expelled foreign priests and nuns, he never shut down the churches or prohibited religious worship or broke relations with the Vatican.

In 1979 Castro met some liberation-theology priests in Nicaragua and, says Wayne Smith, former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, “decided that social justice, greater equality and caring for the poor were not very different goals from those of the Cuban revolution.” So he invited the Pontiff to stop by during a Mexican tour that year, but the “technical layover” Castro offered held no appeal to John Paul II.

By 1985 it seemed to Castro that signs of nonconformity and a search for new ideas were infecting the populace. Little by little, people were going back to church. So he spent 23 hours talking to a Brazilian Dominican friar, Frei Betto. The subsequent book, Fidel and Religion, became a national best seller. Here was the apostle of Marxism expounding on his Catholic upbringing and attitudes toward religion. He recalled his devout mother and his rigorous parochial education. He had been baptized and was taught biblical history and Catholic catechism. At his upper-class Jesuit high school he absorbed the determination and discipline of these militant teachers who prophesied in his yearbook that he would make a brilliant name for himself.

While he called Christ “a great revolutionary” whose teachings coincide with the aims of socialism, Castro insisted that “no one could instill religious faith in me through the mechanical, dogmatic methods that were employed. I never really held a religious belief.” Later on, he said, “I had other values: a political belief which I forged on my own, as a result of my experience, analysis and sentiments.” Nevertheless, the rebel wore a small cross on his guerrilla garb in the early days of the revolution. In the book, he astonished Cubans with the extent of his religious knowledge and the flattering comparisons he drew between Christianity and Marxism. “Karl Marx,” he said, “would have subscribed to the Sermon on the Mount.” Christians, he added, had been excluded from Cuba’s government not for ideological reasons but for historical mistakes in supporting the prerevolution status quo. Suddenly the subject of religion was no longer taboo.

Castro’s goals in eventually inviting the Pope for the 1998 visit were complex, and the results at first seemed modest. Large crowds had turned out to see John Paul II but no major news was made by either side. (Another contributing factor in the lack of news made by the visit: that was the same week President Clinton denied having sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky.) But today, many years later, it’s clear that the papal visit of 1998 did change something. It restarted a relationship between Cuba and the Vatican — a relationship that just might get another chapter very soon.

Read the full story, here in the TIME Vault: Clash of Faiths

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