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  • Morning Bell: Nuclear War Averted, 50 Years Ago This Week

    Fifty years ago, the world came to the brink of nuclear war.

    On October 14, 1962, U.S. policymakers learned that the Soviet Union was building missile bases in Cuba, which would have allowed Moscow to attack anywhere in the continental United States within minutes. An international crisis followed, and while the crisis did not end in a nuclear exchange, it is important that U.S. policymakers never forget lessons the crisis taught us.

    The most important one is that it is very difficult to manage allies once they are nuclear-armed.

    Nuclear-armed allies are one thing; nuclear-armed enemies are another. As Iran builds its nuclear capability, the lessons of the Cuban Missile Crisis resonate in a fresh way.

    Today, The Heritage Foundation looks back at that crisis of 50 years ago with a blog series on its lessons for missile defense, presidential leadership, crisis management, and avoiding escalation.

    In this morning’s first installment, Heritage experts Michaela Bendikova and Baker Spring remind us that “Fidel Castro and Che Guevara encouraged the Soviets to use ballistic missiles stationed in Cuba to attack the U.S.”

    Peter Brookes and Audrey Beck will examine President John F. Kennedy’s leadership during the crisis, “a prime example of strong leadership—under intense pressure—that may have avoided an apocalyptic nuclear war.” This serves as a sober reminder that such crises fall on the shoulders of Presidents.

    While schoolchildren were being taught to “duck and cover” in the case of an attack, the Cuban Missile Crisis “inculcated among two generations of American policymakers a concern about the potential for inadvertent escalation and accidental war,” as Dean Cheng will explain.

    The U.S. faces a number of crises around the world right now. From Syria and Turkey to Libya, Afghanistan, and Iran, “the Obama Administration’s policies for nuclear arms control, disarmament, and limited defensive capabilities are inadvertently serving to undermine the NATO security umbrella and increase the appetite for nuclear weapons in allied countries,” Bendikova and Spring note.

    Though 50 years may have passed, there are many dangerous similarities between then and now. As Ray Walser warns:

    The toxic mix of nuclear weapons, rage against the U.S., and a readiness to embrace martyrdom for a cause—either sacred or secular—represents a danger in the world of October 2012 just as it did in October 1962.

    Reflecting on the crises we have weathered provides key lessons for handling today’s crises and evaluating our country’s leadership. As JFK observed, “Domestic policy can only defeat us; foreign policy can kill us.”

    Quick Hits:

    • Felix Baumgartner skydived from 128,100 feet to become the first person to break the sound barrier—without traveling in any type of vehicle.
    • Protestors of the idea of funding cuts to PBS are planning a “Million Muppet March” for November 3 in Washington, D.C.
    • “The 14-year-old Pakistani girl who was targeted and nearly killed by the Taliban for supporting education for girls has been flown to the United Kingdom for medical treatment,” reports ABC News.
    • The Rolling Stones aren’t done yet—the group will play four 50th anniversary gigs.
    • Heritage’s Emily Goff explains why Big Bird’s taxpayer subsidies need to go.
    Posted in Security [slideshow_deploy]

    32 Responses to Morning Bell: Nuclear War Averted, 50 Years Ago This Week

    1. Andrew says:

      So JFK is a conservative hero now?

      • jude ricardson says:

        Get a life! I was discharged from the Navy in ’62. The fear was real. Right or Left we had a president capable of making crucial decisions. I was glad that Kennedy was my Commander in Chief. I would not serve under the present president.

        • Norm of Denver says:

          ABSOLUTELY! I was serving as a crew chief on a B-52 in the Strategic Air Command during the Cuban affair! We sit nuclear loaded for 92 days and am I glad Kennedy was there and not Obama! Most do not realize how close we came to seeing the end of the world as we know it! For weeks after the papers quit talking about it several Soviet Subs with nukes circled the island with unmonitored captains with open discretion to use their arms! I bet a lot of folks did not know that tidbit!

      • Gary Roney says:

        Actually if you compare Reagan and JFK's policies (strong military, economic policies, and foreign policy) JFK would be considered a Republican today. THe Democrats just cannot handle the facts.

    2. Brian says:

      If the Intel was known within 24 hours, well why did the story be let out that nobody knew.

    3. Todd says:

      That was back when the Democrat party was pro-America and not the socialist organization we see today. And Andrew, Yes, JFK was a conservative, especially compared to the fools who are in the democratic party today. You need to listen to some of his speeches about limited government and reducing taxes. If the dems were not so hell-bent on destroying this country and would go back to what they used to be, this country would be much better off.

    4. John M. Quinn says:

      There are men who dodged Russian missiles, in their U-2 aircraft, to get necessary photos of those missile sites. Major Rudolph Anderson was the only casualty of those photo missions when a missile hit his plane. Some of those pilots are still living. One is a friend who lives in Venice, Florida, Gerald McIlmoyle BGen USAF Retired.
      These were honorable efforts by individual members of our Armed Forces.

    5. Bob Marshall says:

      Why not mention that the U.S. has placed ICBM's in turkey along the Russian front first? That fact always seem to be omitted. i was one of the many marines on a ship that was to be part of the invasion fleet.

    6. Art Meadows says:

      Before we give President Kennedy too much credit, we should realize that the Missile Crisis could have been avoided by a courageous decision to support the so-called Bay of Pigs Invasion at an earlier time. I was at Eglin AFB in April of 1961, supporting a USAF missile test program. There I saw, up front and center, the thousands of troops and countless military aircraft, both helicopters and fixed wing, assembled and ready to move on Cuba. Revisionist history would lead us to believe that this was to be a small covert CIA operation, but it was much bigger than that. Unfortunately, the invasion was thwarted by our government, under John F Kennedy, when fear of international reprisal overcame honorable commitment, which resulted in the withdrawal of support to the Cuban exile forces leading the attack. The rest is sad history as many Cuban patriots were executed and imprisoned by Fidel Castro and later the Soviet dictator, Khrushchev, was emboldened to increase the shipment of arms to that country. This finally eventuated the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, which gave Kennedy a chance to save face. However, that would not have happened except for previous unfortunate decisions.

      • RogCol says:

        You are right, Art. But, to give credit where credit is due, he did back down the Ruskies. And Reagan put the final nail in their coffins. Strength through projection of power won then and COULD win today.

    7. Philip Doolittle says:

      All the above reply's considered, We are almost in the same situation Today, But with more and powerful weapons. As a country most people DO NOT even think of this but are more concerned about their next government check or benefit. Those of us who lived and were involved in the situation are the only ones Now aware of this possible situation. How do we educate the sheeple about this End of civiliation situation ?

    8. I remember something from then even though I was only 4 1/2 years old. My Father and I had gone to Sunday School. His job was a shipping dispatcher at Western Electric. My Mother called the church and my Father pulled me from my class and drove with me to the warehouse. We went into the office and he signed and completed some paperwork and we watched while a decoder (which was a ship to shore teletype with encryption capacity and was the size and shape of a regular teletype machine) was loaded onto a truck and shipped to Houston. My father worked about 70 or 80 hours during the week of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I guess at 4 1/'2 people are not worried if you have a security clearance.

    9. usmc1063 says:

      In 1962 I was 14 years old and I remember those days well. It was a very scarie time and I remember the President coming on TV and talking to the American people. Back then everyone I knew was prepaired for the worst. People had gardens and canned their food for the winter as well as a freezer full of meat. We also had a cistern for our water supply.As a boy I learned to live off the land for fresh meat so we had guns and ammo in our house. It seemed that everyone in my smalltown was on the same page. Yet in the end we all still prayed very hard that nothing would happen. Back then we understood the threat and we knew who and where our enemies were. We didn't back down we stood up to the threat and won. Today well we have a lot of panty-waist running the country. We have a President who bows to our foe's and beg's forgiveness for our so called wrongs. Men like this invite trouble. Men like this don't have a clue to what America is about. Even though JFK had many faults he still stood up straight and was a real American.

      • Rick Sturm says:

        I was too young to vote in 1962 or even drink, but I would have voted for him,just as I have voted for Obama. War is hell and no war is ever worth it. I won't vote Republican because because they want war first — not as a last resort. All these years I admit that I was proud of our president for winning his game of chicken, but I watched a show about it just yesterday. Many secrets have been made known about Kennedy over the years and the show yesterday revealed even more for me. Unlike some other secrets that left me feeling bad about him, these secrets actually made me feel better. It seems that both Kennedy and Kruschef realized that they did not want a nuclear war. They then hammered out a deal whete they both came out winners. Those Turkish missils were dismantled as part of our bargain.

        I was in Navy boot camp in San Diego, and we speculated as to whether we would cut boot camp short to fight that war and whether we were in range way out there. I'm real glad it turned out like it did.

        I learned later that my ship, the USS Stickell DD888, was the first ship to the blockade.

      • robbo_106 says:

        I was on a ship, British Merchant Service, docked in Vera Cruz, Mexico, when all this kicked off, we couldn't get the Mexican gov. to supply us with a pilot to leave port, (under Lloyds Rules & Reg's), there was so much radio traffic between the British Gov. & British Royal Navy at the time, eventually we were given RFA status ( Royal Fleet Aux.), meaning we didn't require a pilot, eventually we undocked and headed seaward at Full Speed Ahead, with two Mexican gunboats chasing us, after leaving Mexico, we were stopped at sea, just North of Cuba, by a USA Destroyer / Cruiser, which tied up alongside and checked everyone on board, we were each given a signed slip of paper (official), I had that slip of paper for many years, untill some overzealous Border Control Agent confiscated it from me at the Detroit border crossing, I remember well the site of so many war ships, stretching from one end of the horizon to the other, we knew then that something "Big" was happening, we didn't actually find out untill we arrived in Canada, being a young man at the time, in my early 20's, I was all "gung ho", just like our young Heroes of today, JFK had many faults, as do all the Chiefs, but I must say "Well done Mr. President", and thank you for averting another World War. Faugh~A~Ballagh.

    10. Message to Iran and any other nation on record as wanting to kill us : If you acquire nuclear weapons , we will completely destroy your country with a massive preemptive nuclear strike . We will not waste American lives and treasure in another unwinnable conventional war . We will not rebuild your country .

    11. Robert Calabro says:

      History has taught us many lessons. two lessons stand out. Over the centuries, totalitarian and authoritiran govts have always used diplomacy to stall for time. They talk, while they continue to arm themselves. There is no greater example than Iran. We need to destroy their nuclear program now. It would be an intelligence nightmare to try and track the proliferation of nuclear weapons fro Iran through syria and into the hands of Hezballah and other terroist orginizations. We must never forget that the terrorists only have to be right once, we have to be right 100% of the time. that is a lot of pressure to put on the intelligence agencies! Regards Robert Calabro

    12. Regarding the global situation today. We have all these nations wanting to go nuclear and Obama wants to decrease the number of our nuclear weapons to 300. This would put us on parity with Pakistan.

    13. John Beck says:

      Heritage nails it again, but some of the comments deserve further discussion. Even though President Kennedy was a Democrat, he was willing to defend the United States from an evil enemy that threatened not just our way of life, but our very existence. With nuclear weapons pointed at us, it revealed President Kennedy's existential protection for the country he led. Today, the slow motion positioning of our adversaries for advantage over our country (it can even be argued that our adversaries are positioning themselves to unleash an attack, such as North Korea and Iran) doesn't seem to be met with the same resolve as President Kennedy had. There seems to either be a naive attempt at appeasement; or, a purposeful attempt at "leveling the playing field" internationally in order to lesson "America's unfair advantage." It's one thing to entertain those positions during academic debate and discourse; but it's entirely another thing to, as the leader of our country, to take steps to hollow out our pillars of strength; i.e. our military, our economy, our mores, our form of self-government, etc. Doing that borderlines treason. One must wonder why the electorate doesn't revolt to an even greater degree, to this type of activity. It all makes sense when considering the push for open borders, the control of academic institutions and content, and control of the media which we (hitherto) have taken our signals from. The Fabian Socialists are the pioneers of long-term change when that was all that could be done; and Saul Alinsky championed the "Rules for Radicals" method of fast-break when that situation presented itself.

    14. Wes Evans says:

      If Kennedy had backed the bay of pigs invasion and defeated Castro the Cuban missile crises would never have happened. Nor would much of the political unrest and civil wars of central America.

    15. Leith Wood says:

      Remember, American planes were stopped from flying to Cuba during the Bay of Pigs. We did not give it our all. Obama has failed totally in dealing with Iran over nuclear arms. We must vote Obama and his cronies out and save our country. There is no later.

    16. Ron says:

      Again, another reminder that the United Nations is totally inept at peace negoiations and that the USA has a long and successful record of negoiating peace and without the UN. WE need to amend the UN Charter to allow the USA to keep its sovereignty, its military, arms, and self determination to resolve problems in the world today and tomorrow.

    17. charlie says:

      I will wait until the piece lauding Kennedy appears but it sounds like Brookes and Beck have taken the Kool- Ade.

      When Khrushchev met with JFK at the summit, he saw a small, weak, sick kid and decided to take the measure of him.

      So, in essence, it was weakness on our part that encouraged him to place the missles in Cuba!!!

      People don't like to talk about this because of the myth.


    18. PaulE says:

      JFK was certainly the last Democrat president that believed, to a large extent, in the core American values that this country was founded on. He wasn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but when compared to the likes of LBJ, Carter, Clinton and Obama, he clearly understood what was needed to keep America safe.

      Since JFK we've had the opportunity to witness how the Democrat Party has progressed (pun intended) its move towards the left at an accelerated pace. Today JFK couldn't even be a part of the Democrat Party, as he would be viewed as some sort of rabid conservative throwback completely out of touch with the party's current principles. In reality, the only common denominator between the Democrat Party of JFK's time and that of today's Democrat Party is the name itself. If the Democrat Party wanted to be really honest with the American people, which I don't even think they would remember how to, it would properly rename itself either the Democrat Socialist Party or the Democrat Communist Party.

      If the Cuban missile crisis were playing out today, with Obama in the White House, the result would be far different from what transpired 50 years ago. The great appeaser would end up not only allowing the Russians to establish a nuclear missile base in Cuba, but he would probably also agree to further unilateral disarmament of our own nuclear arsenal as a show of "good faith" that the United States doesn't pose a threat to world peace. Talk about how times have changed.

    19. albertmaslar says:

      Fifty years of cold war and the nuclear devices aimed at each other were not fired. An object lesson for war-hawks today who cannot wait to reprise the Bush II mistake of pre-emptive war with Arab Muslims that can never end. Why not emulate the fifty-year patience now and surprise surprise…Peace might break out.

    20. John H. says:

      I was in the USAF during the crises as well. All leaves were cancelled and all of us placed on stand by. In 2008, Obama made his apology tour showing the world how weak kneed he was and acknowledging how financially desperate we were, (and still are). Since 2008, the Russians have made three air incursions into U.S. territory in California and Alaska with fully armed bombers with nuclear bombs. During July and August there was a two week incursion into territorial Gulf Waters within sight of land. They were not detected until they were leaving the area. This was a nuclear attack submarine. This was a poke and prod of our national defenses and response times and you don't engage in such acts except for nefarious reasons. As was pointed out about the timing of the nuclear missiles from Cuba to America, the nuclear missiles from the attack submarine was definitly down to minutes, if not seconds, from any point in America. If we need to support Israel against Iran then all Russia has to do is park in our back yard again and make us an offer we can't refuse!

    21. charlie says:


      I don't doubt you, but I would love to see a source because some of the people I talk with will not accept a blogger's claim.

      Can you provide something in the public realm?


    22. Charlie says:

      Paul E,

      My point is not so much a criticism of JFK's handling of the crisis once it developed; rather, it is his character and weakness and lack of preparation for the summit that LED MR K TO BELIEVE HE COULD PUSH US AROUND.

      It is evidence that the only thing that works with these monsters is Peace through Strength and when we depart from that posture as we are doing now, we risk everything.


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