NECC Observer

The student news website of Northern Essex Community College, Haverhill and Lawrence, Mass.

Deja vu all over again

As the 60th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis rapidly approaches, it might be a good idea to consider what lessons can be drawn from it – especially since even President Biden has warned that “Armageddon” is a possible outcome of the current situation in Ukraine.  I can testify that many people at the time in 1962 felt that the Last Judgment was indeed at hand.  For example, unwilling to see a mushroom cloud appear over Boston, a psychiatrist friend of mine flew to Australia and remained there until the crisis was over.  Many of my friends said goodbye to each other, convinced that the end was near.

Our official mythology is that a handsome young president bravely stood up to the reckless Russians and forced them to stand down.  The reality is more complicated.  Ending the crisis required Kennedy to offer the Russians an “off ramp” by promising not to invade Cuba (which had been invaded by the US in 1961) and to pull our missiles out of Turkey if they would remove their missiles from Cuba.  (For the details, see the CNN series “Cold War.”)  For all his bravado at the outset of the crisis, Kennedy proved flexible enough to avoid nuclear war – which he estimated had up to a 40% probability of breaking out.

How does this apply to Ukraine?  However unprincipled the Russian invasion, it arose out of Russia’s historically based fear of being surrounded by hostile Western powers.  Ending the current crisis would, at a minimum, require guarantees of neutrality for Ukraine (i.e., no NATO membership) along with some accommodation for Russian interests in the region.  The only way out is by negotiation, which neither side seems willing to consider.  Things have reached a point where a recent column in the Wall Street Journal warned that we may have to actually consider sacrificing New York to save Kyiv!

As someone who lived through the Cuban missile crisis, I am struck by our apparent denial of the ramifications of the crisis in Ukraine.  Are we afraid?  Fear is a rational response to a life-threatening situation.  We need to have the courage to recognize our fear and to chart a course away from nuclear annihilation.  That would require acknowledging our vulnerability and doing the unthinkable:  signing and ratifying the January 2021 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and resisting the temptation to use, or threaten to use, weapons that have the capacity to end human life on this lovely, fragile habitation we call Earth.



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