Cuban Missile Crisis, 50 Years Later; It's Time to End U.S. Vulnerability to Threats

Article excerpt


If the phrase missile gap rings a bell, you probably remember one of the most frightening periods of the Cold War era: when the United States and Soviet Russia, 50 years ago this week, came perilously close to launching World War III.

Not that it would have been a long war. Considering the relatively new nuclear capabilities of both nations, the horrifying prospect of leveled cities, mass casualties and general chaos loomed as what became known as the Cuban missile crisis took place. How that crisis unfolded in October 1962 was dictated largely by how World War II had ended. The United States had dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, and conventional wars fought by armies in the field suddenly seemed obsolete. The fact that a nation's leaders could lay waste to an enemy simply by pushing a button forever altered the way leaders could broker conflicts.

The result: Proxy wars ignited in global hot spots, such as Korea in the early 1950s, as the freedom-loving West sought to oppose communist expansion worldwide. So when Cuba, just 90 miles off the coast of Florida, became the seat of a communist government in 1959, that set off some serious alarm bells in the United States.

The U.S. attempted to unseat the Cuban government through covert operations such as the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. Then came news that shocked U.S. officials: The Soviet Union was helping the Cubans build secret bases for missiles capable of reaching the United States. Every duck-and-cover exercise and every air-raid drill seemed like the prelude to a horrifying reality.

Thus began the tensest standoff in modern history, with President Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev each attempting to stare down the other. Kennedy ordered a blockade of Cuba to prevent any more offensive weapons from going in and demanded that the missiles there be dismantled and removed. The world waited - and prayed. …