Thursday, July 1, 2010

Cuban Missile Crisis

A while back I wrote this piece:
‘On one of my retirements a reporter interviewed me. He asked what was my most memorable education event. My response surprised him as well as myself. It was 1962 – the Cuban missile crisis – and I was in my third year teaching, Morrinsville College. In the staff-room we'd listened to the radio broadcast of Kennedy’s ultimatum to Kruschev. “Get those missiles out of Cuba or else.” Fierce quarrels broke out between life-long colleagues, some teachers backed Kennedy and others expressed concern that the end of the world was close.’

‘ The bell rang and I went off to my class, School Certificate History. I had made arrangements to give them a mock exam on the causes of World War One. Heads down they frowned their way worryingly through the task – this was serious. I sat at my desk looking at them, vulnerable, unknowing, chockablock with country vivacity. They were so young. The exam may not happen this year.’

‘ The reporter asked why had that particular incident sprung to mind. It was one of the few times in my life that I had a flash of pure compassion. I was not thinking of myself. I was thinking of them not being given the chance of growing up.’

‘ Not like when I was a student at RH, the university hostel, and I lay in my bed listening to the radio, Russian tanks in Budapest and British bombs on Port Said and my thoughts were, this is the beginning of World War 111. The Cold War was an ever-present backdrop for most of my working life. Anne and I were in Europe when the Berlin Wall came down. We watched on TV the end of an era.’

Reading Beinart about the Cuba missile crisis means I now know more background information about the incident. It was serious. At one stage White House officials were given a sealed envelope containing secret instructions on what to do in a nuclear engagement – by helicopter to a mountain hideout in Maryland, they could each take one secretary. [The science fiction writer could have a feast on the implications]

At the beginning apparently Kennedy wasn’t fazed – they already had enough weapons to bury America. But his officials and Bobby Kennedy argued he had to act tough. He was even advised to invade. He didn't, he didn't want to start World War 111. In the end both sides blinked. To the American populace it appeared Kruschev had backed down. But so had Kennedy, a secret agreement not to invade Cuba and a removal of American missiles from Turkey. In a game of bluff and bluster, common sense and old-fashined balance of power had won out.

[Another aside. I understand American fears about missiles in Cuba. That makes Iranian fears about missiles in Israel, Pakistan, China, Russia and American Indian Ocean bases also understandable] .

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