Constructing National Interests: The United States and the Cuban Missile Crisis

Constructing National Interests: The United States and the Cuban Missile Crisis

Constructing National Interests: The United States and the Cuban Missile Crisis

Constructing National Interests: The United States and the Cuban Missile Crisis

Excerpt

The notion of the national interest permits the state to jettison its erstwhile
concern with life to assert and pursue concerns higher than life.

—WENDY BROWN, MANHOOD AND POLITICS

When you’re asking Americans to die, you have to be able to explain it in
terms of the national interest
.

—HENRY KISSINGER, QUOTED IN KELLY,
“‘AMICABLE DIVORCE’ COULD TURN NASTY, EXPERTS SAY”

MAKING THE MEANING OF MISSILES

For most Americans, at least, the so-called Cuban missile crisis of October 1962 plainly revolved around the Soviet deployment of nuclear-capable missiles in Cuba. But is this really so obvious? Though the Soviet installation of medium-range ballistic missiles in Cuba provided a referent to which the Kennedy administration and others could articulate the notion of a “crisis,” of a severe threat to U.S. national interests, the mere fact of the missile installation does not, and cannot, determine that meaning. To be sure, the detonation of a nuclear warhead in a populated area will result in the loss of human life. This consequence derives from thermonuclear physics and human physiology. The U.S. objection to the missiles in Cuba, however, was not based on such general claims about the threat that any nuclear weapons pose because of their physical properties. After all, the maintenance and legitimacy of the U.S. nuclear arsenal . . .

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