World teetered on brink of war

Fifty years have now passed since the Cuban missile crisis.
In some ways, I feel that it couldn’t have been that long ago. It still plays in my mind that the world almost found itself in a full nuclear war—and that it would have affected everyone.
Our home had only a black-and-white television at the time. Yet almost daily, NBC, with Chet Huntley and David Brinkley in their report, and Walter Cronkite on CBS, we watched in fascination as the United States and Russia seemed to be inching their way to war.
Adlai Stevenson, who was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, perhaps is best remembered that during the missile crisis, he demanded of the Soviet representative a “yes” or “no” answer to the question if his country was installing missiles in Cuba.
With no answer coming from the representative, Stevenson stated, “I am prepared to wait for my answer until Hell freezes over.” It summed up the blunt talk between the two superpowers.
On television, we watched as the U.S. sent its navy to sea, presenting a blockade of Cuba. The Soviet Union, meanwhile, kept their supply ships moving to Cuba.
The U.S. army, marines, and air force were deployed to Florida. Pictures of missile launchers were shown on the beaches of Florida all the way to the Keys.
As Grade 7 students, we were sure that war was imminent. And we didn’t know what that would mean for our futures. Stories about what a nuclear war would mean filled pages of newspapers and magazines like Time and Newsweek, and radio stations kept us up to date with the latest developments in the creep to war.
Today we know that the Soviet Union already had placed nuclear warheads on the Cuban island. We know that it could have been possible for the launchers to be ready within 72 hours to fire missiles at the United States.
We also now know that U.S. president John Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev both were working back channels of diplomacy to get themselves and their nations from blundering into war. They realized the huge catastrophe that could unfold on the world.
As a 12-year-old, I didn’t know any of this nor did my classmates. We just wondered about our future, not in years, but in the immediacy of days.
We were scared.
The crisis lasted for 13 days, until the Soviet Union turned their supply ships around and announced the removal of missiles from Cuba. Not known was that in order to get that agreement from the Soviet Union, the U.S. agreed to remove its obsolete missiles from Turkey.
Khrushchev and Kennedy then created the “Red Phone,” or “hot line” that created direct communications between the two nuclear powers.
During the crisis, it had taken the United States 12 hours to receive and translate the document from the Soviet Union. Both nations understood that direct communications between the two nations were imperative.
The hot line continues to this day, although the original “red phone” has been replaced.

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