The Leadership Test of the Cuban Missile Crisis

My Monday column applies the Cuban Missile Crisis test to the current presidential candidates.

Fifty years ago yesterday, an American U-2 reconnaissance flight snapped a series of damning photographs of offensive Soviet nuclear missile sights being installed on the island of Cuba, some 90 miles from the Florida panhandle. The series of events that followed could very well have precipitated a nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States, with a subsequent death toll of around 100 million people on each side. In a word: Armageddon. In the context of modern population figures, that's one out of every three Americans alive today, say nothing of the Soviet death toll.

At any point during those 13 days in October 1962, events could have careened wildly out of control. If just one round of ammunition had been fired in anger, and if news of this aggression had leaked out, it could have rapidly escalated into the unthinkable. If the Kennedy administration had been bullied into an invasion by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Soviets would've surely invaded West Berlin in retaliation, then NATO would've been forced to retaliate against the Soviet invasion and it's highly unlikely that nuclear weapons would've been spared, and World War III would've been engaged.

In fact, we only learned in the last ten years how dangerously close we came to such a scenario... [continued]

Continue reading here.

  • bphoon

    I shudder to think of what would happen if the wingnuts were in control in similar circumstances.

  • The Florida panhandle is much further than 90 miles from Cuba, Bob. ūüėČ

    • Sorry — 120 miles. I made the correction in the original post.

  • GrafZeppelin127

    One of the pilots who flew those U-2 spy missions over Cuba in 1962 was a young naval aviator named Roger Chaffee. Less than five years later, on January 27, 1967, he was in the right-hand couch of an Apollo command module atop a Saturn 1B rocket on launch pad 34 at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Chaffee was the “rookie” of the crew that included veteran astronauts Gus Grissom and Ed White. They were doing a countdown rehearsal for the first manned flight of the Apollo program, unofficially designated Apollo 1. At 6:31 pm a fire broke out inside the capsule. Within a minute Grissom, White and Chaffee were dead.

    White was interred at his alma mater, West Point, while Grissom and Chaffee received full honors and burial at Arlington National Cemetery. While Grissom and White were remembered for their accomplishments, Chaffee was eulogized for all he might have accomplished. Few knew or remembered that he had already accomplished a great deal.

    • muselet

      Thank you for this. I didn’t know Roger Chaffee was a U-2 pilot, all I knew was that he died in the Apollo fire (this from someone who was a space geek as a kid).


      • GrafZeppelin127

        By coincidence, I was just re-reading Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger’s book about Apollo 13 this morning and it was mentioned.

  • muselet

    Richard Nixon was more bellicose than John Kennedy‚ÄĒand was a borderline sociopath‚ÄĒbut he wasn’t nuts. He certainly would have taken Lyman Lemnitzer’s lunatic scheme seriously, but in the end I think he would have rejected it. Exactly what Nixon would have done, I prefer not to contemplate.

    Cooler heads prevailed, yes, but the US and USSR essentially bumbled their way out of the Cuban Missile Crisis. That should be a lesson to us all, but it probably won’t be.


  • trgahan

    I think the current crop of GOP leaders across the board act like they do only BECAUSE there is no threat like the Soviet Union ca. 1962. They can warhawk so much because A) no other country can directly attack (terrorist activity aside) our country, B) No county seems interested/capable of fighting a ‚Äútraditional‚ÄĚ war like a WWII, it is all proxy fights in third world countries and C) the middle and upper classes of America have largely been exempted from the suffering and sacrifices of war.
    Romney and his ilk would just make sure Dubai wasn’t attacked and live in that slave labor built libertarian paradise while the radiation clouds cleared lower Manhattan.

    • Brutlyhonest


    • You’re definitely on to something. The creation of an enemy by government leaders is a well known method to foment fear among their citizens and a fearful citizenry is an easily manipulated citizenry. The modern GOP are experts at it.

  • Ned F

    I’ve made this argument to many a deaf ear. But, I’ve never heard of Operation Northwoods, that’s true madness, incredible.