There have been numerous books published on the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. I have not read one of them. There’s another one just out: “One Minute to Midnight,” by Washington Post writer Michael Dobbs. I will not be reading it.
The reason authors keep writing these books and publishers keep publishing them is obvious: How close the world came to a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union! Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., historian and adviser to President Kennedy, termed it “the most dangerous moment in human history.”
But I’ve never believed that. Such a fear is based on the belief that either or both of the countries was ready and willing to unleash their nuclear weapons against the other. However, this was never in the cards because of MAD — Mutually Assured Destruction.
By 1962, the nuclear arsenals of the United States and the Soviet Union had grown so large and sophisticated that neither superpower could entirely destroy the other’s retaliatory force by launching a missile first, even with a surprise attack. Retaliation was certain, or certain enough. Starting a nuclear war was committing suicide. If the Japanese had had nuclear bombs, Hiroshima and Nagasaki would not have been destroyed.
Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev was only looking for equality. The United States had missiles and bomber bases already in place in Turkey and other missiles in Western Europe pointed toward the Soviet Union. Khrushchev later wrote:
The Americans had surrounded our country with military bases and threatened us with nuclear weapons, and now they would learn just what it feels like to have enemy missiles pointing at you; we’d be doing nothing more than giving them a little of their own medicine. … After all, the United States had no moral or legal quarrel with us. We hadn’t given the Cubans anything more than the Americans were giving to their allies. We had the same rights and opportunities as the Americans. Our conduct in the international arena was governed by the same rules and limits as the Americans.
Virtually every president from Truman on has been exhorted by one Dr. Strangelove or another, military or civilian, to use The Bomb when things were going badly, such as in Korea or Vietnam or Cuba, or to use it against the Soviets directly, unprovoked, to once and for all get rid of those commie bastards that were causing so much trouble in so many countries. And not one president gave in to this pressure. They would have been MAD to do so. Which is why all the scary talk of recent years about Saddam Hussein and Iran and all their alleged and potential weapons of mass destruction was just that — scary talk. Hussein was not, and the Iranians are not, MAD. The only modern-day leaders I would not make this assumption about are Osama bin Laden and Dick Cheney. The latter is a genuine Dr. Strangelove.
In a few weeks we’ll once again be marking the anniversary of the two nuclear bombings of Japan. Remarkably, the bombings are still highly controversial. I believe that the evidence clearly shows that the Japanese were already defeated and trying to surrender, thus obviating the need for the bombings. My essay on this can be found at http://members.aol.com/essays6/abomb.htm
The Cold War was a marvelous era for Armageddon humor. Here is US General Thomas Power speaking in December 1960 about things like nuclear war and a first strike by the United States: “The whole idea is to kill the bastards! At the end of the war, if there are two Americans and one Russian, we win!” The response from one of those present was: “Well, you’d better make sure that they’re a man and a woman.”
WILLIAM BLUM is the author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, Rogue State: a guide to the World’s Only Super Power. and West-Bloc Dissident: a Cold War Political Memoir.
He can be reached at: BBlum6@aol.com
 Washington Post Book World, June 24, 2008, review of “One Minute to Midnight”
 “Khrushchev Remembers” (London, 1971) pages 494, 496
 Fred Kaplan, “The Wizards of Armageddon” (1983), p.246. For many other examples of Cold War absurdity, see WILLIAM BLUM, “Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire”, chapter 12: “Before there were terrorists, there were communists and the Wonderful World of Anti-Communism”