Billed by historians as the 14 days that almost brought the world to the brink of nuclear Armageddon, did humanity ever learned vital lessons from the Cuban Missile Crisis?
By: Ringo Bones
Strange as it seems to the younger generations who just heard it being billed by historians as a very important milestone in the Cold War era superpower struggle between the United States and the then Soviet Union, for the rest of us, the Cuban Missile Crisis is more than just a “minor geopolitical inconvenience” that ruined everyone’s Halloween celebrations back in 1962. Even though the bulk of that iconic historical event lasted 14 days, the crisis reached its peak on October 27, 1962 – and to those who had experienced it first-hand, it seems like the closest humanity has ever came to an all-out nuclear exchange between the Cold War era superpowers. But are the vitally important lessons learned from the Cuban Missile Crisis still register in the consciousness of everyone 50 years later?
Like the Sino-Indian War of 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis might only get a low-key 50th Anniversary observance this Halloween of 2012. And given that Al Qaeda does not yet have a Military-Industrial-Complex that rivals that of the former Soviet Union, the younger generation that can be bothered to Google it on Wikipedia will probably harbor the perception of the Cuban Missile Crisis as a rather unique but quaintly esoteric event of the second half of the 20th Century that pales in comparison to the current threats that we face in our day-to-day post-9/11 world. But is it really nothing more to our younger kin than a thrilling historical backdrop of the movie X-Men First Class or some other elaborately produced video game?
Imagine yourself making plans for Halloween which will arrive in two weeks time back in 1962, and then on the evening news, the press just dubbed the geopolitical “commotion” in the Caribbean as the Cuban Missile Crisis and Def Con 2 has just been sounded and if you live near a US Air Force base, the roar of those older, noisier turbojet engines revving up can be quite hard to ignore. The crisis escalated within the following days when the Soviet Union and the new Fidel Castro’s Cuban government repeatedly deny the existence of intermediate-range nuclear ballistic missile bases in Cuba that had just been established by the Soviet Union despite a few high-altitude reconnaissance photos taken by U-2 spy planes proving the contrary. And the Kennedy administration drew a line in the sand declaring that it would not tolerate the development of Soviet bases with such offensive military capabilities in the Caribbean just 90 miles from US soil.
Following a dramatic speech by President Kennedy in which he delivered an ultimatum to the Soviet Union and declared a “quarantine” of Cuba, the Soviet Union eventually acknowledged the existence of the bases and agreed to the removal of the missiles after a 14-day standoff that almost sent the entire world to the brink of an all-out nuclear war. Complicating the events, then Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was almost ousted in an attempted coup by a bunch of disloyal high-ranking Soviet military personnel. But as judged by history, cooler heads did prevail – though the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 did cast a long shadow for the rest of the Cold War.
During the Carter administration, the progress of a second round of strategic arms limitation talks – called SALT-II back then – in the US Senate was brought to an abrupt halt when in late August of 1979 the Carter administration belatedly discovered a Soviet combat brigade in Cuba. U.S. – Soviet tensions reached their peak once again in September 1979, when the United States strongly protested the alleged combat brigade of 3,000 Soviets in Cuban soil. The USSR replied that in fact no Soviet combat units were present in Cuba. What the U.S. intelligence reports had disclosed, said Moscow, were the same military advisers that had been openly training the Cuban armed forces for 17 years. Members of the US Senate and Congress were skeptical of the Kremlin’s reassurances back then.