Case Study: Cuban Missile Crisis
Thirteen days beginning in late October 1962, were, according to historian Arthur Schlesinger, “not only the most dangerous moment of the Cold War, it was the most dangerous moment in human history.”1 Noam Chomsky agreed with that assessment.2 Decisions of a new magnitude of importance were made. One can look back on all of history and find other times and events when some change in outcome or different choice would have led to monumental alterations in the direction of life on earth. While other crises had been dramatic, as Schlesinger added, “Never before had two contending powers possessed between them the technical capacity to blow up the world.”3
The Cuban missile crisis was the most dangerous event in the Cold War, the struggle that was born as World War II came to an end and two great powers remained: the communist Soviet Union and its Red Army; and the more democratic and capitalist United States, with its monopoly on the atomic bomb. Each side viewed the other as the embodiment of evil and strove to demonstrate the superiority of its system to the rest of the world, as well as to develop the military capability needed to advance its international interests against the other. The Soviets set up puppet communist states in all the areas they liberated from Axis control at the end of World War II. Germany was divided into sectors, with the Soviets controlling the east and the Western Allies controlling the west. Berlin, located in the Soviet sector, being similarly divided.
A crisis came in 1948, when the Soviet Union blockaded Berlin to try to force the Allies out of West Berlin and the Allies responded with a huge airlift to keep West Berlin’s two million residents supplied with the necessities of life. The airlift continued for more than a year. The following year the United States joined the first peacetime alliance in its history as NATO was formed to halt westward Soviet advancement. That was also a year for communist gains. America’s monopoly on atomic weapons vanished with Russia’s explosion of an atomic bomb; and China,