[i]"Within the past week, unmistakable evidence has established that a series of offensive missile sites are now in preparation on that imprisoned island."[ei]
In October of 1962 President John Kennedy had good reasons to be skeptical of the American Military High Command’s judgment. Every day his painful back reminded him of the useless intelligence mission he was on in August 1943 in the South Pacific when his small PT boat was crushed by a Japanese destroyer. Fifteen months earlier the military and the CIA had tried to hoodwink him into backing a failed invasion of Cuban expatriates that were under trained and ill equipped. Due to careless security Castro’s Army was waiting to slaughter them on the beaches at the infamous Bay of Pigs.
[i]"These ballistic missiles are capable of striking most of the major cities in the Western Hemisphere ranging as far north as Hudson BayCanada and south to Lima, Peru."[ei]
Just last week North Korea again walked away from talks to stifle their nuclear weapons program. They’ve consistently tested medium range missiles that could control the sea lanes between Korea and Japan. After exploding their first atomic weapon, they promptly started doing business with Syria and Iran. Which one of these rogue states will develop the first missile that can hit anywhere in the Western Hemisphere?
[i]"The presence of these large, long range and clearly offensive weapons of sudden mass destruction constitutes an explicit threat to the peace and security of all of the Americas."[ei]
There’s a mad man controlling Iran’s Parliament who has pledged the destruction of Israel. The ineffective United Nation’s embargo of that troubled country is a farce played out in the face of the insatiable global thirst for oil. Syria is largely protected by Saudi interests. In Korea we must abide by the wishes of our allies in South Korea and Japan. If the crazed dictator in Pyongyang goes over the top their cities are the first to get incinerated.
[i]"Nuclear weapons are so destructive and ballistic missiles are so swift that any substantially increased use or any sudden change in their deployment may well be regarded as a definite threat to peace."[ei]
Kennedy knew what he was facing. He, his family and friends would be vaporized, along with 40 million other Americans, within minutes of the missiles leaving Cuba. Evacuation threatened to cause panic. He stayed in Washington.
[i]"Our policy has been one of patience and restraint, as befits a peaceful and powerful nation which leads a worldwide alliance. We have been determined not to be diverted from central concerns by mere irritants and fanatics."[ei]
Advice George W. Bush should have heeded. The irritant known as Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction. Now five weary years later we don’t seem any closer to leaving that troubled country than we ever have been. But in our core ethics can we leave that country in turmoil? Or is it in turmoil because we are still there?
[i]"Our goal is not the victory of might, but the vindication of right; not peace at the expense of freedom, but both peace and freedom, here in this hemisphere and around the world."*[ei]
For thirteen days in October of 1962 the world stood on the edge of annihilation. Retired military leaders from the Soviet Union and the U.S. met on the 25th anniversary of the crisis. There it was discovered that the Soviets, at one point, were an hour away from launch. After the crisis of the missiles of October the whole world’s nuclear protocol changed. Communications, diplomacy and cool heads helped prevent accidental destruction and ultimately ended the Cold War. All of that went up in radioactive smoke two years ago when North Korea successfully detonated its first atomic bomb.
Kennedy’s healthy skepticism of the military based on his own military experience prevented unimaginable horror 46 years ago. Soon we will have the opportunity to elect the next President of the United States. Someday in the next 48 months, our lives, our families’ lives, even civilization as we know it may depend on the voters of November.
Albert Paschall is Senior Fellow at The Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, a non-profit educational foundation based in Harrisburg. Somedays is syndicated to leading newspapers and radio stations in Pennsylvania. *President Kennedy’s speech excerpted from Thirteen Days, a Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis by Robert F. Kennedy