Saturday, October 13, 2012

Cuban Missile Crisis redux

Apparently, the way to celebrate a 50th anniversary is to poo-poo:
I have seen other tweets along the same vein.  Leslie Gelb has an interesting post, arguing that we have the history wrong since the US did make a big concession: essentially trading missiles in Turkey for the Soviet missiles to be withdrawn from Cuba.  This is not really news since we have long known about this, but he has a point that the "do not compromise" stance that was apparent (if not real) might have been important for a generation or two.

For me, I think the Cuban Missile Crisis, whether or not it "explains" current events, is super-important for a variety of reasons, including:
  • It was the closest we came to nuclear war.  Thus, it does have implications for today.  How much practice do we have at nuclear crisis management?  How many experiences can we look back upon and use to figure out likely reactions and likely mistakes?  More than one, but the one here is the most documented.  So, we should keep on learning from it.  What has been amazing is how much the various participants have been willing to meet with scholars over the years to figure this out.
  • Speaking of which, it was well documented.  Rarely do you have a case study where you have heaps of information from more than one side, but we have essentially all three sides (US, Soviet, Cuban) on this one.  
  • Shouldn't we study non-war as much as we study war?
  • It was a key turning point in the Cold War, which may seem like it has faded into history but is still relevant.  The Soviet Union is gone, but there are plenty of other dyads--pairs of countries--locked into Cold Wars. 
  • It may have been the first time Mutants changed history in a big way.
 So, excuse me if I think that however flawed our original understanding of this crisis might have been, looking back in the rear view mirror at this one makes heaps of sense to me.  But then again, perhaps I am captured by Cold War nostalgia since a scholar who claimed we would miss the cold war is in Ottawa this week.

Update: See Amy Zegart for a strong piece on how to learn from the intel failures of the crisis.

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