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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Lessons From the Cuban Missile Crisis

By Rocky Wilson
Author of Sharene:
Death: A Prerequisite For Life

In 1962, the world came the closest it’s ever been to nuclear war. For seven days that October, the Soviet Union, from nuclear missile sites based in Cuba, looked eye-to-eye at U.S. nuclear weapons pointed back at them. Yet, what lessons from the Cuban Missile Crisis have been learned?

First, a brief walkthrough of events leading to the showdown, then a breakdown of those seven days when both U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev were pressured by respective administrative officials to trigger nuclear weapons, and finally a look at what those days have taught us.

* 1959, Fidel Castro overthrows previous Cuban dictator, Fulgencio Batista
* 1960, Cuban pilots receive military jet training in Czechoslovakia, a Soviet ally
* October 15, 1962, a U.S. U-2 surveillance plane photographs several Soviet missiles under construction in Cuba

Tensions between the Soviet Union and the U.S. already were high, as witnessed by the Great Berlin Wall erected by the Soviets in August, 1961.

Furthering Soviet worries leading to the crisis was the fact that the U.S. had more missiles than they did, including missiles based 150 miles from her border, in Turkey. Setting up nuclear weapon sites in Cuba, 90 miles from U.S. shores, would neutralize the U.S. military advantage.

The seven days of crisis:

* October 22, President Kennedy, on public television, tells the American public about the situation in Cuba, announcing he will implement a naval blockade to prevent additional weapons being shipped to Cuba.

* October 23, The Organization of American States unanimously supports the U.S. decision to quarantine Cuba.

* October 24, Armed Soviet ships en route to Cuba, on orders from Khrushchev, stop short of the blockade.

* October 25, U.S. has nuclear weapons and bombers readied to attack Cuba or the Soviet Union.

* October 26, Khrushchev informs Kennedy in a letter that Soviets would remove their missiles in Cuba if Kennedy publicly guarantees U.S. will never invade Cuba.

* October 27, U.S. U-2 surveillance plane inadvertently flies from Alaska into Soviet air space, causing both superpowers to react with fighter planes carrying nuclear-tipped missiles that never meet; and a U-2 plane is shot down over Cuba. In a second letter, Khrushchev repeats the contents of his Oct. 26 letter, and also demands the U.S. remove its missiles from Turkey.

* October 28, Khrushchev backs down, and orders the dismantling of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba.

History later recorded the U.S. intelligence community had greatly underestimated the number of Soviet and Cuban soldiers prepared to fight to the death in the event of a U.S. invasion of the island, which most U.S. military advisor's had urged Kennedy to proceed with.

Lessons from the Cuban Missile Crisis resulted in a quick response to a huge threat to the safety of mankind. Within nine months of the conclusion of the crisis, the U.S. and Soviet Union agreed to ban nuclear testing in the atmosphere.

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