Al Seymour

Reflections on 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis

World tension continues to mount over the threats by North Korea, which is striving to develop a rocket with the power to deliver a nuclear warhead to American soil, despite open condemnation from leading nations around the world.

The threat has been taken seriously and a large American armada has made its way to the region, which can be interpreted only as a warning to Kim Jong Un that any act of aggression by his forces would be met with a powerful military response.

After a bombing response from the United States to the chemical attack by the Assad regime in Syria that killed many, including children, the world is watching with a degree of anxiety as the international climate becomes heated to a point where it is a reflection of the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, when the Soviet Union attempted to set up launching sites on America’s doorstep, putting it in the crosshair of a potential nuclear attack.

The move touched a nerve with President John F. Kennedy, who alerted the nation that he would be making a statement of the highest urgency. It was carried on all major news networks to inform the people of America, and indeed the free world, that if ships continued en route to Cuba from the Soviet Union, loaded with missile parts, America was prepared to take whatever action was needed to meet the threat. The full might of its military power was to be used in the protection of its people, no matter the cost.

Just beginning a spell in broadcasting at the ZFB studios, I recall listening to the President deliver that address via the Voice of America radio station, and wondering whether our very existence was under threat. Everyone knew that a nuclear war, in the words of the President, “would leave both sides in ashes”.

Kennedy implemented a naval blockade around Cuba to prevent the delivery of deadly weapons, and the world held its breath to see who would blink first because the Soviet ships showed no signs of changing course. However, the President’s words clearly indicated that America was willing to go the full distance in protecting its Constitution and values, including use of the full might of its armed forces.

There was a global sigh of relief when the Soviet ships finally turned and made their way back to their home port, and the world knew for the moment that sanity had prevailed, leaving a window of opportunity for the two nuclear giants to review the situation in the interest of mankind, and to find ways to coexist in a manner that avoided starting anything that would change life on Earth.

Fast forward to 2017 and once again the world is on edge as Russia and the US flex their military muscle in light of situations that have brought the relationship between the pair to what a Russian official described as the lowest point since the end of the Cold War. At a Pentagon news conference, Defence secretary General James Mattis made it clear that America would not sit idly by while chemical weapons are used on innocent people. He emphasised that he had no evidence that Russia was implicated in the deadly attack, but there was no doubt the Syrian Government initiated the operation, using weapons that have been banned since the First World War. The general also said making use of chemical weapons would carry a heavy price.

There have been numerous reports that Russia has been trying to mislead the world over what happened in Syria, and Russian officials are fuming at the action taken by the US against the Assad Government. In fact, news sources reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin decided he would cancel a planned meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, sending a signal that Russia is in no mood to negotiate the fate of Syria, which remains a Russian ally, despite having attacked and killed thousands of its citizens for opposing the Government.

However, attention is also heavily focused on North Korea, with Kim vowing to use nuclear weapons if they feel threatened by American naval forces a short distance away. It is a situation that ignites memories from that Cuba confrontation when in much of the world, people were looking at their children playing, and then up in the sky, hoping that the unthinkable would remain just the unthinkable.

We can only pray that, during this Easter season of renewal and hope, it is abundantly clear that there are no winners in a nuclear clash — that should be reason enough to cool diplomatic tensions.

The world can only watch and wait.