Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bad Days in American History: October 22, 1962

47 years ago today, the Cuban Missile Crisis began. Specifically, Kennedy gave his public warning to the USSR and Cuba on this date in 1962.

It's amazing not only how close the world came to nuclear war, but how absolutely blinded by Cold War rhetoric the Kennedy administration was. That the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed that attack and invasion was the only solution to the problem is mindblowing. I know that the Cold War seems like a long time ago and the choices people had to make at that time very different from the present, but that no other option was seriously on the table, even though Cuba and the USSR hadn't actually attacked the United States boggles my mind.

I mean when Robert McNamara is the person on your foreign policy making sense, as he believed the 40 missiles in Cuba didn't change the equation between the US and USSR that much, you know everyone else is totally insane. And McNamara possibly deserves more credit than anyone during the missile crisis. He kind of blew that capital though.

Of course, the United States hardly deserves all the blame for the situation. The Soviets way overplayed their hand (as Khruschev knew). And Castro's willingness to allow his nation to be completely destroyed in the name of ideology is completely insane. Increasingly, I think the 20th century will be known as the century of ideology, which will not be a complement. Whether capitalism, communism, or fascism, people in the 20th century were willing to do things that were completely insane in the service of ideologies they believed explained all the world's problems and would lead their nation's people to glory. All one can do is shake their heads. I wonder if Bush-style neoconservatism and extremist capitalism isn't the last ideology. Maybe not, but is there really much difference between Cheney and Castro or Mussolini when it comes to how they see the world?

In any case, at least cooler heads prevailed in the fall of 1962, but the situation hardly speaks well of Kennedy's foreign policy or the state of the world at that time.