All News & Blogs
The consequences of the Cuban Missile Crisis
IN HIS VIEWPOINTS cover feature, Wayne Colton, who lived it, superbly describes the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Fifty autumns ago, the world did indeed come as close as it has ever come to nuclear holocaust. At Defcon 2, the hammer is cocked and the finger is on the trigger, a squeeze or a twitch from explosion. The hammer in this instance was eased back to rest--sparing millions an eternal rest.
The "millions" reference is hardly hyperbole. On the U.S. side alone, 875 warplanes were loaded with atomic weapons and ready to fly, while 90 nuclear B-52s were already in the air. Hundreds of atomic warheads were activated on missiles in silos and on submarines. Robert Kennedy, notes Paul Johnson in "Modern Times," feared 60 million American deaths, while his brother John's adversary, Nikita Khrushchev, foresaw a global toll of "500 million human beings."
The Soviet Union, as Mr. Colton writes, "blinked." The U.S. Navy stopped the further delivery of Soviet missiles to a hostile country 40 miles from American territory, and Khrushchev, his bluff called, ordered the missiles already in Cuba removed.
Part of the quid pro quo for the Soviet defanging of its Caribbean viper was President Kennedy's pledge not to invade Cuba (the first U.S.-backed assault, the 1961 Bay of Pigs, defined fiasco). This insurance policy for Fidel Castro would demonstrate the caroming consequences of historical inaction--or prove that such inaction is a kind of action in itself.
Castro, a politically inoperable cancer, would through the decades metastasize--supporting Marxist insurgents in South and Central America and dispatching troops to Africa to advance Soviet aims. The dictator's high-water mark came in the 1980s, when communist regimes ruled Nicaragua and Grenada. But in Ronald Reagan, Castro encountered an American president who was more than his match. Reagan used the contra rebels to hobble and ultimately defeat the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, and he de-Castroized Grenada by invasion.
Castro's survival also had a favorable Cold War result for America. Between the U.S. embargo, the dictator's own ruinous economic policies, and Cuba's goitrous military, one of the richest countries in Latin America became church-mouse poor. The Soviets' financial support of its basket-case client helped drain Moscow's own economy, whose enfeeblement was one factor in the great implosion of the Evil Empire.
Too, the no-invasion deal flooded the U.S. with more than a million industrious refugees--in fact, almost a fifth of the whole 1960s Cuban population. And, who knows, it may have produced a future U.S. president, not of JFK's party but of his pro-freedom persuasion. Keep an eye on Marco Rubio, one human fragment of the fallout from missiles that didn't explode.