50th anniversary of the beginning of the Cuban Missile Crisis

By Tuesday, October 16, 2012 No tags 0

This is an auspicous date in history as it reflects the beginning of the crisis that is, to the best of our knowledge, the closest that the superpowers ever came to nuclear confrontation. In the United States, the John F. Kennedy Junior library has created a video that explores a parallel universe in which there was a confrontation between the US and the USSR that resulted in the destruction of the American city of New Orleans, a US invasion of Cuba that is met by tactical nuclear weapons and the US retaliation agains the USSR (see www.cloudsovercuba.com for an excerpt).

While many historians scoff at what are called counter-factuals such discussions can be very thought-provoking for students and give them another medium in which they can think critically about how events did turn out. Our students can look at the counter-factual outcomes and consider the ramifications of both the alternate and actual decisions made by those in power.

Even when considering the actual outcome of the war, students often face multiple perspectives on an event. A story that appeared in the Miami Herald (a center of anti-Castro sentiment) was headlined: Fidel Castro Recruited Nazi Death Squad Leaders During Missile Crisis. The accuracy or relevance of such claims should be considered before anyone uses this as a relevant source to explain away Castro and his regime in Cuba.

At the same time, most of the world is revisiting this crisis and making links to potential Iranian proliferation. Further confusing events in the US is that tonight there is a Presidential debate in which the Missle Crisis may or may not make an appearance.  Just as Munich taught the world about appeasement, the Missile Crisis taught Americans about brinkmanship, show of force and acceptable damages. How these concepts are used in the current era remains to be seen but the world is now governed by people who have, at best, a vague recollection of 1962 and most people have no memory of the event.

It is a reminder of the importance of history. In the 1984 movie Red Dawn (yes, I am referencing a movie whose claim to fame is that it was the most violent movie ever when it was created) when asked why World War III began, one character says, “Maybe people just forgot what war was like”. Revisiting the Missile Crisis should serve as an example of why we spend time educating the youth of today on the events of the past.

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