Ukraine: A Cuban Missile Crisis in Reverse
Tuesday February 24, 2015
In a rather ghastly 19th century experiment, a biologist by the name of Heinzmann found that if he placed a frog in boiling water, the frog immediately leapt out but that if he placed the frog in tepid water and then gradually heated it, the frog stayed put until he was scalded to death. Are we like the frog? I see disturbing elements of that process today as we watch events unfold in the Ukraine confrontation. They profoundly frighten me and I believe they should frighten everyone. But they are so gradual that we do not see a specific moment in which we must jump or perish. So here briefly, let me lay out the process of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and show how the process of that crisis compares with what we face today over the Ukraine.
Three elements stand out in the Cuban Missile Crisis: 1) relations between the USSR and the US were already "on the edge" before they reached the crisis stage; each of us had huge numbers of weapons of mass destruction aimed at the other. 2) the USSR precipitated the Crisis by advancing into Cuba, a country the US had considered part of "area of dominance" since the promulgation of the 1823 Monroe Doctrine. 3) some military and civilian officials and influential private citizens in both countries argued that the other side would "blink" if sufficient pressure was put on it.
Allow me to point out that I had a (very uncomfortable) ringside seat in the Crisis. I was one of three members of the "Crisis Management Committee" that oversaw the unfolding events. On the Monday of the week of October 22, I sat with Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Under Secretary George Ball, Counselor and Chairman of the Policy Planning Council Walt Rostow and Under Secretary for Political Affairs U. Alexis Johnson and listened to President Kennedy's speech to which we all had contributed. The account Kennedy laid out was literally terrifying to those who understood what a nuclear confrontation meant. Those of us in that room obviously did. We were each "cleared" for everything America then knew. And we each knew what our government was seeking -- getting the Russian missiles out of Cuba. Finally, we were poised to do that by force if the Russians did not remove them.