Cuban missile crisis | Foreign Policy (external - login to view)
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962, the nerve-wracking peak of the Cold War. To commemorate this event, Foreign Policy is tweeting the Cuban missile crisis in real time, chronicling the days, hours, and minutes when the world stood on the brink of nuclear destruction. Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once noted that history is "lived forward" but "understood backward." Join us as we retell the story of the Cuban missile crisis as it was actually experienced by John F. Kennedy, Nikita Khrushchev, and Fidel Castro -- forward rather than backward, in all its cliff-hanging excitement and unpredictability. Michael Dobbs, a Foreign Policy blogger and author of One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War, will draw topical lessons from the gravest national security crisis of the Cold War. How much does a president know when he makes decisions that could affect the lives of millions? Does he control events, or do events control him? Could we be faced with an Iranian missile crisis in October 2012? Is there a way back from the brink?
What the president didn't know -- and when he didn't know it | On The Brink (external - login to view)
What did the president know and when did he know it?" was the question made famous by Watergate. During the two years I spent researching the Cuban missile crisis, I came to feel that a more appropriate question about the man waiting for that 3 a.m. phone call in the White House would be: "What didn't the president know and when didn't he know it?"
Confronted with grave national security crises, we comfort ourselves with the image of a near-omniscient commander-in-chief able to draw on the vast resources of the world's most powerful military machine. The historical record suggests a more realistic -- and human -- picture of presidents stumbling about in the semi-darkness as they attempt to master the chaotic forces of history. With rare exceptions, it is difficult for them to bend history to their will: the most they can do is avoid the obvious pitfalls. As Abraham Lincoln remarked at the height of the Civil War, "I do not control events, events control me."
In my book One Minute to Midnight, I tried to integrate the debates in the White House with a minute-by-minute account of events in the rest of the world. The disconnect was often jarring. Information flowing into the ExComm (the committee of "wise men" established by John F. Kennedy to handle the crisis) was often incomplete, misleading, or simply wrong. The president often had only a vague idea of what was happening in Cuba and the Soviet Union. Neither he nor his opposite number in Moscow, Nikita Khrushchev, exercised full control over his own armies. And yet somehow, for all their mistakes and near-fatal miscalculations, they managed to avoid blowing up the world. (More, later, on how they accomplished this.)
What Was at Stake in 1962? - By Rachel Dobbs | Foreign Policy (external - login to view)