Saturday, October 22, 2011

One Minute to Midnight

October 22 is an important day in Cold War Era history. On October 15, 1962 pictures from US spy planes were given to President John F. Kennedy that showed Soviet-built missiles based in Cuba, a volatile country with a revolutionary communist government just a short distance from Florida.

The U2 Spy Plane image of Soviet missiles in Cuba
 On October 22, the president announced in an extraordinarily important speech that marked a climax in Cold War tensions that the US had identified the medium-range missile being built in Cuba and that our government would not tolerate such a violation of the Monroe Doctrine. He stated that any nuclear action by the Soviets in Cuba, regardless of the target of the attack, would be considered an attack on the United States and instituted a naval blockade against Cuba. The president was lauded for his strong, no-nonsense, courageous positioning and handling of the crisis in his speech when the world was on the brink of nuclear war.


The phrase "one minute to midnight" is thrown around a lot when people talk about the Cuban missile crisis. It is a reference to the Doomsday Clock, a index published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists by the University of Chicago that measures how close the world is to all-out nuclear war (midnight). The Cuban missile crisis certainly brought the world close to nuclear war, but neither the United States nor the USSR wanted to engage in a nuclear world war over the island nation of Cuba.

So, contrary to popular belief, the clock remained at 7 minutes to midnight during the entire Cuban missile affair. The clock has never landed on one minute to midnight, in fact. The closest the clock ever got was two minutes to midnight in 1953 when the United States and the USSR both tested nuclear bombs within a short time frame and the nuclear arms race really took off.

Graph of the Doomsday Clock's Minutes to Midnight.

The Cuban missile crisis ended on October 28, 1962, to the relief of the entire world, when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev announced that the Soviet Union planned to dismantle the missile sites in Cuba. A strategic victory was won for the United States, the Monroe Doctrine, and President Kennedy while a proverbial victory was won for reason, logic, and humanity as a whole. The human race had, at least for the moment, avoided the promises of mutual assured destruction in a nuclear war between the superpowers, a phrase fittingly made into an acronym: MAD.

1 comment:

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