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I've never known that kind of fear.

All my life global nuclear war has been a spooky, but distant, part of history. I came of age as the Soviet Union fell, and Iran's alleged ambitions and North Korea's few warheads have been the only parallels for me. Not much comparison by any measure to the full might of the Soviet arsenal.

But I'm thankful to say my education on history was not absent this terrifying chapter. Though honestly I did forget about it; it was my dad's e-mail that spurred this on.

The wiki is here, or if you want my take, follow me.

It was a geopolitical, thermonuclear primate dominance-display. That's how I've come to think of the entire Cold War, and of war in general for that matter. Both the Soviet Union and the United States had to show they had the biggest cojones. The Soviets were said to have more ICBMs, even though they didn't, but the United States built more ICBM's anyway to close the "missile gap". The US had "splendid first-strike capability" against the Soviet Union with all their ICBMs, so the Soviets built more medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles. Finally they put some of these shorter-range missiles into Cuba, within range of the American mainland.

Kennedy responded, not with the full invasion of Cuba as his Joint Chiefs of Staff advised(!), but with a "quarantine". It was really a blockade, but because the term "blockade" would construe an act of war by international law, the action was referred to as a quarantine. Allowing through only those vessels not containing offensive weaponry.

Along with the implementation of the blockade, the United States' strategic forces were brought to DEFCON 2, the highest level throughout the Cold War. From the wiki:

For the only confirmed time in U.S. history, the B-52 bombers were dispersed to various locations and made ready to take off, fully equipped, on 15 minutes' notice. One-eighth of SAC's 1,436 bombers were on airborne alert, some 145 intercontinental ballistic missiles stood on ready alert, while Air Defense Command (ADC) redeployed 161 nuclear-armed interceptors to 16 dispersal fields within nine hours with one-third maintaining 15-minute alert status. Twenty-three nuclear-armed B-52 were sent to orbit points within striking distance of the Soviet Union so that the latter might observe that the U.S. was serious.
This buildup did not go unanswered from Moscow, though not with hardware. It was perhaps obvious from the beginning that the Soviets wouldn't survive a nuclear conflict with the Americans at that time, if anybody would at all. Nikita Khrushchev certainly seemed to know it. On October 26 Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev sent President John Kennedy a lengthy letter, including this:
Mr. President, we and you ought not now to pull on the ends of the rope in which you have tied the knot of war, because the more the two of us pull, the tighter that knot will be tied. And a moment may come when that knot will be tied so tight that even he who tied it will not have the strength to untie it, and then it will be necessary to cut that knot, and what that would mean is not for me to explain to you, because you yourself understand perfectly of what terrible forces our countries dispose.

Consequently, if there is no intention to tighten that knot and thereby to doom the world to the catastrophe of thermonuclear war, then let us not only relax the forces pulling on the ends of the rope, let us take measures to untie that knot. We are ready for this.

That letter, of course, was sent and recieved in total secrecy because it would be perceived as weakness, and it is well known how any whiff of weakness within the Politburo is dealt with. That letter, though, was one of many communications that took place over the following days which eventually led to Khrushchev pulling the missiles out of Cuba, and Kennedy rescinding the quarantine and returning American forces to normal alert status. For my part I thank the lucky stars that we had two people at the top of both sides' power sructures who were relatively sane, even though the people immediately under them were not.  

Khrushchev fell from power two years later. They wanted a war. And damn the consequences.

Sounds familiar.

And that brings me to the choice Americans have in this election. We are no stranger here in the United States to top-level officials who want war and who will do anything and spend anything to get it. In fact that contingent of our leadership has seen woeful successes of late.

Now once again we have international crises both brewing and taking place right now. Non-nuclear, maybe, maybe not. They are certain to be incredibly costly once the butcher's bill finally comes.

Do we want a President who thinks before he acts, and is willing to sit down at the negotiating table, but who will also not hesitate to strike hard when the situation requires it?

Or do we want a man who shoots off his mouth in the midst of a deadly international crisis, who says things like this

It's disgraceful that the Obama administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.
while the blood of the American Ambassador to Libya and his comrades was still drying in Libyan soil? Do we want a President who will likely not hesitate to take aggressive action toward Iran and Syria? Do we want a President who wants to tighten the noose of war?

If you want the latter, you want the name of the United States of America to continue to be associated with aggression, foolhardy action and chest-beating rhetoric.

If you want the former, you want our name to be synonymous with freedom and peace, as well as strength, as it once used to be.

Contribute to Obama for America here.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (6+ / 0-)

    "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent." - Isaac Asimov

    by Hammerhand on Sat Oct 20, 2012 at 01:39:58 PM PDT

  •  I thought (4+ / 0-)

    the movie, Thirteen Days -- The Cuban Missile Crisis,

    did a good job of showing what JFK was up against.

    High Stakes, doesn't begin to describe it.

    Are you ready to Vote? Are you still 'allowed' to Vote?
    -- Are you sure?

    by jamess on Sat Oct 20, 2012 at 02:31:13 PM PDT

  •  Very good diary - from one who lived through it. (4+ / 0-)

    I was in high school in the DC suburbs, and we practiced going into semi-underground spaces in the school, the most likely places to survive a blast. Though not very likely at all, of course. We had to stand up during the drills b/c the space was not large enough for us to spread out at all.

    One thing we were told at some point - no idea when this was, I'm afraid - was that the Soviet Union had more megatonnage than we did, and notably, bigger bombs. I was told later (much later), and it is not unlikely, that they needed bigger bombs because their missiles were inaccurate and they had to incinerate a bigger target area to be sure they got what they intended to.

    You are so right about that primate display. We are a young species and do show some promise. I just hope we live through our adolescence.

    We all understand that freedom isn't free. What Romney and Ryan don't understand is that neither is opportunity. We have to invest in it.
    Julian Castro, DNC 4 Sept 2012

    by pixxer on Sat Oct 20, 2012 at 02:56:56 PM PDT

  •  Let there be no doubt. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    foresterbob, 207wickedgood

    When the President of the United States appears on live television to tell Americans and the world:

    It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere
    as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.
    That was JFK's speech October 22, 1963, almost to the day 49 years ago.
    We watched that on live television and we all knew of the thousands of ballistic nuclear missiles; the world was literally on the brink of World War III.
    Decades later, reading details of those days in October is really frightening; we came so close, so very close.
    There is no way, none, that an impulsive man like Romney would have made
    a calm series of decisions, sometimes against his own military, that were
    required to prevent nuclear holocaust.
    He's already shown his impulsiveness by calling a press conference during the crisis in Libya. The job is simply too big, and the man is too small.
  •  The Cuban missile crisis (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    is one of the oldest news events that I can personally remember.  It was scary for a kid, not knowing whether we'd all be vaporized, or killed slowly by radioactive fallout.

    Fortunately, very fortunately, Kennedy ignored the advice to invade Cuba.  An invasion would almost certainly resulted in some sort of nuclear exchange.

    And you're right; the last person we need in the Oval Office is someone who would shoot first and ask questions later.  In the case of nuclear war, there is no "later."

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