In 1963, John (Jack) Kennedy, the youngest President ever elected, through a series of missteps and miscalculations and foreign policy inexperience, had taken the United States to the brink of nuclear war with the USSR. The positioning of American nuclear missiles in Turkey, on the border with the USSR, had elicited a tit-for-tat response from the Russian. Nuclear missiles and launch sites were being constructed in Cuba. Sen. John McCain recalled those days last week:
Sen. Biden referred to how Jack Kennedy was tested in the Cuban Missile Crisis. My friends, I had a little personal experience in that. I was on board the USS Enterprise. I sat in the cockpit of a flight deck on the USS Enterprise off of Cuba. I had a target. My friends, do you know how close we came to nuclear war? America will not have a President who needs to be tested. I’ve been tested my friends.
How many people heard this McCain remark reported in the media? What should have been on the front page of the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post was ignored. Because, young voters – going to the polls for the first time, that is how close this nation came to destruction. You’ll never hear about the days of the “Cuban Missile Crisis” in the news during this election. Not one word will be spoken about food shortages as worried Americans removed every canned item from the shelves as they stocked their improvised home fall-out shelters. Nor will you hear about three minute air-raid siren tests that had average citizens looking at their watches in fear, or plans for the large-scale evacuation of the cities of New York and Washington, DC.
While Barack Obama was still in diapers, John McCain sat in the cockpit of his plane off the coast of Cuba with a target destination for his bombs – at the orders of a an inexperienced President who had stumbled into a nuclear “line in the sand” with the USSR. While anyone doing research on the days of that crisis will find many sites that trumpet the event as if it was somehow a victory for the young brothers Jack and Robert Kennedy, the truth is that in exchange for the guarantee of the removal of American nuclear missiles from Turkey, the Russians agreed to remove their nuclear missiles from Cuba.
Hopefully, by presenting to bright-eyed young students, with freshly issued voter registration cards and the possibility of deciding this election, some actual history and not some empty slogan like “Hope!” or “Change!” the words of George Santayana, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” will have some added (throw) weight.
ADDITIONAL: In October 1967, John McCain was shot down over North Vietnam. Badly injured, he was captured, tortured, and spent the next five years as a prisoner of war. His wounds left him with physical limitations which continue to this day. The roots of the American involvement in South Vietnam? President John F. Kennedy, starting in May 1961:
The youthful Kennedy administration is inexperienced in matters regarding Southeast Asia. Kennedy’s Secretary of Defense, 44-year-old Robert McNamara, along with civilian planners recruited from the academic community, will play a crucial role in deciding White House strategy for Vietnam over the next several years. Under their leadership, the United States will wage a limited war to force a political settlement. (The History Place – Vietnam War)