Cuban Missile Crisis + 50 Years – please share your memories or lessons learned

–Kevin Martin, Executive Director

For me, the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis has a very personal angle. On this day fifty years ago, I was still in my mother’s womb, and she, like many people at the time, thought a nuclear war might well be imminent. She was afraid she’d never get to see her first child be born. Luckily, the crisis passed (and many government officials do in fact attribute luck, as much or more than any smart decisions by Kruschev or Kennedy, with averting catastrophe).

I was born several weeks later (a month premature, but stress about possible nuclear war didn’t cause that, according to my mom, Linn Martin), and, perhaps fittingly or ironically, I grew up to be a peace and disarmament activist. (Maybe my Mennonite and Quaker heritage, and outrage at Ronald Reagan’s sabre-rattling foreign policy, had as much to do with my career choice as did my being born after the missile crisis.)

While the Cold War never should have justified the insane nuclear weapons buildup between the U.S. and Soviet Union, people at the time (and now, looking back) would have said there was a substantive reason for it, namely the global competition of idealogies and geo-strategic interests between the two superpowers. Yet it was, in large measure, the mere existence of the weapons themselves (and their placement, by both the U.S. and Soviet Union, dangerously and provocatively close to the other’s territory) that caused the crisis.

Today, that fact is even worse. While we have far fewer nuclear weapons in the world, the U.S. and Russia still have thousands of warheads poised to be launched against the other, or some other country, on a moment’s notice. Why? There is no good reason to continue to hold humanity hostage with these grotesque weapons, other than the other side has them. So there is no “strategy” behind our nuclear arsenals, they have become, through inertia and apathy, self-justifying. Why do we have ‘em? Because they do. Why do they have ‘em? Because we do.

Peace Action, of course, does not accept this situation, and will initiate some exciting new campaigns early in the new year to press the case for the global abolition of nuclear weapons. For now, I’d love to hear your reflections on the Cuban Missile Crisis, both remembrances and lessons learned, or not, and their applicability for today. (So one need not to have been born at the time to share your comments.)

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One Response to Cuban Missile Crisis + 50 Years – please share your memories or lessons learned

  1. On Saturday, November 10, 2012, Jonathan Granoff, renowned author and speaker on nuclear disarmament will be the featured speaker at New Jersey Peace Action’s (NJPA) 55th Annual Soup Luncheon at Bloomfield High School from 11:45am to 4:00pm.

    The Soup Luncheon takes place shortly after the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis (October 14 – October 28, 1962) and just a few days after the elections of November 6th, both of which will inform Jonathan Granoff’s presentation “At This Critical Moment: What Next for International Security?”

    In his September 30, 2012 Huffington Post article Ronald Reagan, Republicans and Nuclear Weapons Jonathan Granoff writes “Listening to today’s candidates – at any level-one would not know that, historically, Republicans have been instrumental in advancing arms control, nonproliferation, and nuclear disarmament. That is, until the recent Bush administration. In fact, active Republican leadership was essential in obtaining the Biological Weapons Convention, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, the Strategy Arms Reduction Treaty, and the Chemical Weapons Convention, to name but a few. However, the current Republicans running for offices, both high and low, have forgotten this legacy of success in making America and the world safer based on the U.S. value of the rule of law.”

    After a recent Presidential debate where both President Obama and Governor Romney agreed on almost every foreign policy issue, NJPA is even more convinced that all diplomatic avenues must be explored to prevent the use and proliferation of nuclear weapons and move instead toward their total abolition. And nowhere is that position more critical than in addressing international concerns about Iran.

    In their foreign policy debate on October 22nd, both President Obama and Governor Romney stated that a nuclear capable Iran is problematic. However, neither candidate spoke about stepping up negotiations and diplomacy. Instead they tried to outdo each other in their support for “crippling sanctions,” sanctions that indiscriminately punish Iranian people for alleged missteps of their government. Neither candidate ruled out military intervention.

    Have our leaders learned nothing from the Cuban Missile Crisis about preventing nuclear war? Fifty years ago, the whole world was on edge. One wrong word or action from a party to the conflict might have unleashed the terrible destructive power of nuclear weapons. The Russians ultimately backed off, not because of the threat of more forceful action, but because through negotiations and diplomacy, a compromise was reached. The United States declared never to invade Cuba in exchange for the Soviets’ dismantling of their offensive weapons in Cuba, returning them to the Soviet Union, subject to United Nations verification.

    Then Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, spoke eloquently of how the crisis was averted in Errol Morris’s 2003 documentary, “The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara.” The lesson here: Know your enemy and empathize with them. “We must try to put ourselves inside their skin and look at us through their eyes,” he said.
    The goal then becomes crafting a resolution to the conflict that allows all parties to “save face” so when crisis is averted, each party can face their own people without recrimination. Such negotiations require listening and compromise – we give away something meaningful to get something meaningful in return, a lesson the U.S. appears to have forgotten in dealing with Iran.
    NJPA opposes a so-called pre-emptive strike against Iran. We know what happened in Iraq, the lives lost, billions of dollars spent and damage to our international reputation. Max Fisher, in the October 25th issue of The Guardian in his article titled “The U.K. thinks a strike on Iran would be illegal, denies U.S. access to its bases” writes:

    The British attorney general has circulated legal advice to the prime minister’s office, Foreign Office and Defense Ministry warning that a preemptive military strike on Iran could violate international law, the Guardian’s Nick Hopkins reports… Iran does not currently meet the legal threshold for a “clear and present danger” that would merit such an attack.

    NJPA believes an important first step toward resolving this situation peacefully and legally is passage of H.R. 4173, the Prevent Iran from Acquiring Nuclear Weapons and Stop War Through Diplomacy Act. The ultimate goal is creation of a nuclear-free Middle East and then beyond.

    Since 1940 the United States has spent over $5.8 trillion dollars on nuclear weapons and their support systems. During that time over 400 million people perished from poverty-related causes and pollution. Each year 14 million people around the world continue to die from these preventable causes, including 130,000 annually here in the U.S. We must continue our work to “move the money” from nuclear weapons spending and toward community programs. Perhaps then, we can avoid further loss of human life.

    To hear Jonathan Granoff speak at NJPA’s Soup Luncheon, make your reservations now at http://www.njpeaceaction.org.

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