FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Lessons on North Korea From the Cuban Missile Crisis

Photo by Jaume Escofet | CC BY 2.0

Nearly 55 years ago, in October 1962, I was a college student who’d just turned 20.

The Cuban Missile Crisis began the day after my birthday, and it seemed entirely possible that I (along with tens of millions of other people) might die in nuclear fire and fury before I got to 21. But Russia blinked first, and we survived — though we came closer to World War III than most of us realized.

But now I have to wonder, is there a chance I won’t make it to my 75th birthday this year because of a nuclear war?

Living on the West Coast, we’re said to be within range of North Korea’s missiles. But I’m more afraid of our own impulsive president than of the allegedly irrational Kim Jong-Un.

President Trump’s insistence on getting North Korea to de-nuclearize with threats, force, and sanctions can only lead to war. That’s because Kim Jong-Un is being entirely rational in his determination to keep his nuclear arsenal.

In recent years, the Kim dynasty has based its survival in a hostile world on the fact that North Korea is a nuclear state. Kim Jong-Un isn’t crazy to think the U.S. would have a go at “regime change,” as it did in Iraq and elsewhere, if he lacked nuclear arms.

Indeed, U.S. leaders openly discuss whether a “decapitation” strike is possible.

Kim no doubt also recalls that after the U.S. invaded Iraq (which lacked nuclear weapons), Saddam Hussein died on the gallows. And that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who eliminated Libya’s nuclear program under Western pressure, was later overthrown with U.S. help and tortured to death.

That’s as personal as it gets. Don’t think we’re going to sanction North Korea out of being a nuclear state.

But can’t we bomb Kim Jong-Un’s nuclear arsenal out of existence?

Not really. We can’t be confident a first strike would destroy all of North Korea’s nuclear bombs, because we don’t know where they all are. And any strike would unleash a gigantic war that might well go nuclear — and could kill millions even if it didn’t.

There’s also increased risk to our own cities: In the chaos of war, when it becomes every man for himself, a North Korea military officer might well decide it was time to get rich selling Kim’s nukes to a terrorist organization. Then the fire and fury could scorch Dallas, Phoenix, Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles.

A showdown isn’t necessary. Our country and Russia have long had missiles and bombs sufficient to kill a hundred million of each other. But mutual deterrence held us back even in the tensest of times.

Deterrence applies to North Korea too. We want to deter them from attacking our country or anyone else with their nukes. They want to deter anyone from trying to change their government, kill their leaders, or obliterate their nation. A deal on this basis beats nuclear war.

Yet Trump prefers to rely on increasingly provocative threats. With both sides competing to raise the tension, a misunderstanding or accident could trigger a succession of tit-for-tat reactions that end in nuclear warfare.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Soviet Premier Khrushchev privately offered President Kennedy what proved to be wise advice for them both. Don’t “pull on the end of the rope in which you have tied the knot of war,” Khrushchev wrote, “because the more the two of us pull, the tighter that knot will be tied.”

We need to tell the people in Washington that we don’t want the knot of war tightened any more. Our government must turn to negotiations.

Mitchell Zimmerman is an intellectual property lawyer who devotes much of his practice to pro bono work. 

Distributed by OtherWords.org

More articles by:

December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front
Jasmine Aguilera
Lessons From South of the Border
Manuel García, Jr.
A Formula for U.S. Election Outcomes
Sam Pizzigati
Drug Company Execs Make Millions Misleading Cancer Patients. Here’s One Way to Stop Them
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Agriculture as Wrong Turn
James McEnteer
And That’s The Way It Is: Essential Journalism Books of 2018
Chris Gilbert
Biplav’s Communist Party of Nepal on the Move: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian
Judith Deutsch
Siloed Thinking, Climate, and Disposable People: COP 24 and Our Discontent
Jill Richardson
Republicans Don’t Want Your Vote to Count
John Feffer
‘Get Me Outta Here’: Trump Turns the G20 into the G19
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail