At Week’s End: History repeats itself



May 19, 2017 - 12:00 AM

As is its wont, history repeats itself
For two weeks in October 1962 the world was on the brink of nuclear war.
Cuba’s Castro, in power for three years, was delighted to flex his muscle with newly placed nuclear missiles, compliments of his patron, the U.S.S.R. More were on the way.
John Kennedy, in perhaps his finest hour as president, called the Soviet bet, which led to freighters bearing the red star stopping in their wakes and turning about. Missiles already in Cuba, and clearly identified by aerial photographs, soon after were packed up and sent home.
Of course it wasn’t as simple as that. Long hours of diplomatic posturing preceded the Soviet back-down.
During that time I was a sophomore at Pittsburg State and worked nights at the Pittsburg Sun, back when the city had morning and evening newspapers.
Associated Press dispatches came by teletype. If an AP editor deemed a news item important, he drew attention with a bell in the teletype machine. For several days the bell rang often, but not nearly as much as when Kennedy was assassinated a year later in Dallas.
School children were tutored in what to do if a missile, carrying a nuclear warhead, was launched from Cuba. Then, we didn’t have the electronic and computer capabilities of today and plotting a missile’s path and intended target took some time, if done at all.
Consequently, kids living anywhere within range of the Cuba-based missiles were instructed to take cover, much as if a tornado were approaching their school. They learned to dive under desks or race to interior hallways to snuggle  as closely as they could to walls.
During the height of the crisis, fallout shelter signs were placed anywhere a basement or other underground refuge was available. Canned goods were sntached from grocers’ shelves; home larders were packed with non-perishable foods.
Hardware stores saw an uptick in sales of survival items, such as battery-powered radios, kerosene lanterns and all sorts of powerful flashlights. Gun and ammunition sales perked, much as they do whenever the NRA threatens government will crack down on guns.
When the Soviet bluff was called the Cuban crisis faded. Leaders knew all too well a U.S. retaliatory strike would have been devastating.

TODAY we face another nuclear crisis with unstable leadership in North Korea.
Whether Kim ever will make good on any of his threats is unknown, and one that we rightly are taking seriously.
An attack against South Korea or Japan would trigger instant response by the U.S., and one involving U.S. territory could result in North Korea being removed from the map, along with millions of innocent folks already suffering from Kim’s fascination with military might.
Isn’t it distressing we can’t funnel the many billions of dollars spent to find ways to better kill each other into programs and projects to give each other better lives?

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