Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Life You Save May Be Your Own – President Kennedy announces an air and naval blockade of Cuba

On October 22, 1962, President Kennedy announced an air and naval blockade of Cuba, following the discovery of Soviet missile bases on the island. On the 22nd, President Kennedy updated the country on what was later termed the Cuban Missile Crisis. Listen to his address to the American people here courtesy of the Miller Center of Public Affairs.

Here is a newsreel of the address:

Notice he doesn’t pull any punches in letting the American people know the extent of the danger of the situation. The Cuban Missile Crisis stemmed from September of 1962 when the Soviet Union and Cuba placed nuclear missiles in Cuba. When American surveillance became aware of the arms build up in Cuba, it did everything it could to insure their removal. The crisis was one of the tensest moments in the Cold War which almost led from a war of unveiled threats to nuclear war. On October 28th, the crisis finally came to a close when President Kennedy and the United Nations Secretary-General reached an agreement with the Soviets to dismantle the missiles in exchange for a no-invasion agreement.

What’s fascinating about this crisis is how close the United States came to being the target of nuclear weapons. Less than two decades after the United States commissioned the Manhattan Project to build nuclear bombs for use in the Second World War, the United States almost became a victim of its own technology. According to Robert McNamara in the Fog of War documentary, it was only “luck” which prevented the Cuban Missile Crisis from escalating into war. Watch a clip of Fog of War in which McNamara discusses the dangers of combining nuclear weapons controlled by human beings with human infallibility. It’s also interesting to note the McNamara says when he encountered Castro in 1992, Castro revealed that he urged Khrushchev to use nuclear weapons against the United States during the crisis even if it decimated Cuba in the process.

[Image via Wikimedia]

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