October 16-28 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis—universally regarded by historians as the single most dangerous moment in the Cold War.
For 13 days, President John F. Kennedy faced off with Nikita Khrushchev, chairman of the Soviet Union.
John F. Kennedy
The Soviets had shipped nuclear missiles to Fidel Castro, the “Maximum Leader” of Communist Cuba—and Kennedy demanded their removal.
To secure this, he ordered the United States Navy to impose a blockade of Cuba. And to back up that threat, he put U.S. military forces on “DefCom 2”—the stage just below that of launching all-out nuclear war.
And the Soviets, with the second-largest nuclear arsenal in the world, were equally poised to launch Armageddon.
For almost two weeks, the world held its collective breath.
Would the Soviets try to run the Navy’s blockade of Cuba?
If so, would a shooting incident between American and Russian ships in the Pacific lead to all-out nuclear war?
Would the Soviets launch a pre-emptive strike against the United States?
Had any one of an infinite number of miscalculations happened, life as we know it would have vanished.
Historians generally agree that the crisis was resolved successfully, but its legacies remain furiously alive. Fifty years later:
- Cuba remains legally off-limits to American tourists and is widely seen as an island of terror, and
- The Cuban refugees who have flocked to south Florida since 1959 have long imposed a blackmailer’s stranglehold on American Presidential politics.
Few American politicians have had the moral courage to openly acknowledge the latter. One of these is Republican Presidential candidate Ron Paul, who realizes that the Cold War is over-–and the United States should recognize it.
This rare moment of political courage came during the GOP Presidential debate in Tampa, Florida, on January 23, 2012.
Moderator Brian Williams: “Let’s say…that Fidel Castro has died. And there are credible people in the Pentagon who predict upwards of half a million Cubans may take that as a cue to come to the United States. What do you do?”
Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum played to the huge-–and politically influential-–Cuban community in Florida, and especially Miami.
All three pledged to continue the decades-old policy of refusing to trade with Cuba or open diplomatic relations while it was ruled by a nominally Communist government.
And all three draft-dodging “chickenhawks” were eager to prove how “tough” they were–at the risk of other men’s lives.
Former Speaker of the House Gingrich: “A Gingrich presidency will not tolerate four more years of this dictatorship.”
Former Massachusetts Governor Romney: “I will work very aggressively with the new leadership in Cuba to try and move them towards a more open degree than they have had in the past.”
And former U.S. Senator Santorum: “The sanctions have to stay in place, because we need to have a very solid offer to come forward and help the Cuban people.”
But Texas Congressman Ron Paul had a vastly different answer:
“No, I would do pretty much the opposite. I don’t like the isolationism of not talking to people. I was drafted in 1962 at the height of the Cold War when the missiles were in Cuba. And the Cold War’s over.
“And I think we propped up Castro for 40-some years because we put on these sanctions, and this–only used us as a scapegoat. He [Castro] could always say, anything wrong, it’s the United States’ fault.
“But I think it’s time…to quit this isolation business of not talking to people. We talked to the Soviets. We talk to the Chinese. And we opened up trade, and we’re not killing each other now.
“We fought with the Vietnamese for a long time. We finally gave up, started talking to them, now we trade with them. I don’t know why…the Cuban people should be so intimidating.
“I don’t know where you get this assumption that all of a sudden all the Cubans would come up here.
“I would probably think they were going to celebrate and they’re going to have a lot more freedom if we would only open up our doors and say, we want to talk to you, and trade with you, and come visit….
“I think we’re living in the dark ages when we can’t even talk to the Cuban people. I think it’s not 1962 anymore.
“And we don’t have to use force and intimidation and overthrow of a–in governments. I just don’t think that’s going to work.”
Paul’s answer reveals–and leaves out–a great deal.
Those truths will be explored in detail throughout this series of articles on the American obsession with Cuba.