Earlier this week, I was walking on the treadmill and watching the evening news on the television.
This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis. The media has been covering this historical event with in-depth regularity, so I’ve been attempting to gather my thoughts on how I would approach this week’s column.
Out of the blue – and this was the first time I’d heard about it – the TV reporter announced there was a new book out titled, “Elizabeth Taylor: Nothing Like a Dame.”
Along with other spicy tales, the book alleges that Taylor had a tryst with President John F. Kennedy.
I thought to myself, here I am, planning to write about Kennedy, and the media has him down in the lower 40.
However, readers, I will do my best to elevate Kennedy and his relevance to this week’s column, to the upper 60.
After several attempts by the U.S. to overthrow the communist regime of Fidel Castro, the Soviet Union began building bases in Cuba for medium-range ballistic nuclear missiles and intermediate-range ballistic nuclear missiles.
These missiles had the ability to strike most anywhere in the continental United States.
Records indicate that on Oct. 14, 1962, a U.S. Air Force spy plane captured photographic evidence of Soviet missile bases being built in Cuba.
Expectedly, Kennedy and Premier Nikita Khrushchev locked horns, in what some say was a quest to be the world power.
After 12 days of worldwide tension, the Cuban missile crisis was resolved.
Essentially, the Soviet Union agreed to dismantle its nuclear weapons in Cuba and return them to Russia, and in exchange, the U.S. promised never to invade Cuba.
Had not the U.S. and Soviet Union resolved the crisis, and instead, engaged one another in nuclear warfare, some historians guesstimate that as many as 200 million people, Russian and American, could have perished.
But have you ever heard of the Berlin wall crisis of 1961?
To take a look at this pivotal moment in American history is to offer a better understanding of how Kennedy endured two immeasurable tests over the course of only one year.
After World War II, the Soviet Union controlled much of East Germany, and the U.S., British and French controlled West Germany.
In a quest for better lives, many young professionals – teachers, physicians, engineers, attorneys and other skilled workers – escaped from East Germany to West Germany via Berlin.
The brain drain of professionals had become so damaging to the political credibility and economic viability of East Germany that closing this loophole and securing the Soviet-imposed eastern and western Berlin frontier was imperative, according to several scholars.
The Berlin wall was constructed in August 1961, and it completely cut off East Germany from West Germany.
Khrushchev continued to present demands, saying he would end existing four-power agreements guaranteeing American, British and French access rights to West Berlin.
Initially, all three countries balked at Khrushchev demands.
Ultimately, Kennedy capitulated to the permanent division of Berlin, and in some eyes, lost credibility with both the Soviet Union and his own American constituency.
In a speech to the United Nations, on July 25, 1961, Kennedy said: “Every man, woman and child lives under the nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment. ... The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us.”
The nuclear arms race was at the forefront of both the Berlin wall crisis and the Cuban missile crisis. Could it be that Kennedy was a visionary who put the future well being of the human race ahead of what political pundits would write about him?