Today’s article is a guest post from one of my dear friends Marcus Walker. In this article Marcus takes a historical look at the Cold War and what is happening today in regards to North Korea and their threats to use nuclear weapons against the U.S.
I’ve known Marcus since childhood, and really think he is a sharp guy with a great sense of humor. Somehow in light of a dark situation he finds a way to add humor to this whole thing. I hope you enjoy.
It’s 1962. Americans are listening to Bobby Vinton, smoking like tire fires, and worrying about Communism. Communism is perceived as the cold blooded, godless antagonist to American democracy, an ideological pandemic so sinister that its hypothetical infiltration into American culture would result in the cancellation of The Twilight Zone. And here’s the kicker: For the past thirteen years, the Soviet Union has stood alongside the United States as two of the only nations (with the UK and France being the others) to successfully develop and test nuclear weapons.This leads to several terrifying leers into the abyss of a nuclear winter, but none more so than what happens in October of 1962. Soviet Chairman Nikita Khrushchev covertly stations missiles (some with nuclear warheads attached to them) on the island of Cuba, and hopes to have them fully operational and pointed at Bob Hope’s head before the US discovers them. Exactly why Khrushchev does this virulently debated and not totally clear, but this had to be the most brazenly passive aggressive and potentially consequential act in the history of civilization.
The US finds out. Uh oh.
On October 16, President John F. Kennedy is shown aerial photos of Soviet missile sites in San Cristobal, taken by a U-2 spy plane. After defecating in his pants, he calls in his top advisers and inquires about options.
There are three plausible ones.
1. Drop bombs on Cuba.
2. Deploy a naval blockade to the island, preventing the Soviets from shuttling in any more weaponry and theoretically buying some time, though there’s no way to really know because JFK doesn’t even know if the nuclear missiles are operational or not.
(Starting to see why we call this the Cold War? Any basic fact is ambiguous and any sense of certainty is a risky bargain.)
3. Order a US military invasion of Cuba.
After losing sleep and barely eating for days, fretting endlessly about the possibility of doing the wrong thing, October 22 proves to be the tipping point. Kennedy defies the generals, congressional leaders, plus any fervent patriot who believes an act of aggression of this magnitude from the Soviets needs to be dealt with as brutally as possible, and orders a blockade (euphemistically relabeled a “quarantine”) of Cuba. Then, he goes on national television, tells the American people what’s been found, and calls Khrushchev’s gamble a “clandestine, reckless, and provocative threat to world peace”. He orders Khrushchev to remove the nukes from Cuba, and threatens retaliation if that doesn’t happen. Khrushchev has known this was coming for a few hours now, but the diarrhea running down his leg is probably still warm.
Over the next several days, Kennedy and Khrushchev are literally communicating via snail mail (!). Perspectives are considered. Compromises are made. Politics gonna politics. After bringing the world to the precipice of Armageddon, both sides agree to pack up and go home.
The way Kennedy handles this situation makes him an enemy to a lot of people, a weakling, a pampered rich kid who didn’t have the guts to respond with the blood lust many nationalistic American reactionaries were thirsty for.
Let there be no doubt, though: JFK was a hawk. Rumors of his desire to fully withdraw from Vietnam were likely greatly exaggerated. Every president is a hawk at this point. It’s only a matter of degree. But things get interesting when the nuclear arsenal gets involved. Here, we aren’t talking about progressive ideals (“We must bomb this village in order to save it”) or neoconservative ones (“We must go to war to defend American freedom”). We’re talking about instantaneously eradicating millions (MILLIONS) of people out of existence. The highest of high stakes.
This is what makes Kennedy’s naval blockade so admirable. Realizing that Khrushchev had put him in a position where he had to do SOMETHING, he devised a measured response that was appropriately aggressive without dropping a single bomb. He didn’t want nuclear war. Neither did Khrushchev. Instead of overreacting and abusing his power, he opted for a more nuanced approach, looking Khrushchev in the eye and calling his bluff.
“Hey, just so you know, we know what you’re doing. I’m going to send my big scary Navy ships out to Cuba to menacingly stare at you guys while you pack your shit up and leave. Your refusal to do this would be unwise. Your move, Chairman.”
Harry Truman threatened to use nuclear weapons so frequently, it might as well have been a Brett Favre comeback rumor. Richard Nixon once drunkenly bragged to two congressmen, “This little burglary (Watergate) was such a waste of time … I could go back to my office right now and make a phone call, and in 20 minutes 60 million people would be dead.” The difference between callousness and sensitivity in regards to nukes can be a rather telling window into a man’s soul.
Delusional North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un has a nuclear weapons test tentatively scheduled. The government of North Korea has declared that they are “ready for war”, with specific fantasies of launching a nuclear bomb at the United States, totally unaware that they are a hollow cargo cult, with the resources to go to war with any superpower for a about 15 minutes. However, in the nuclear age, you can snuff out a lot of life in fifteen minutes.
America has a man in the Oval Office that is openly intrigued at the prospect of using nukes, purely from a businessman’s perspective. We have them, right? So why aren’t we using them? He also seems to make snap decisions based on whatever narrative Fox News is spinning that day.
Two narcissistic children could determine the fate of a disproportionately large chunk of human life, and there are no behavioral or psychological patterns from either of them to suggest that this isn’t a real possibility.
It’s in play.