“..The world stood still 50 years ago during the last week of October – from the moment when it learned that the Soviet Union had placed nuclear-armed missiles in Cuba until the crisis was officially ended -
- though unknown to the public, only officially.
The image of the world standing still is the turn of phrase of Sheldon Stern – former historian at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library -
- who published the authoritative version of the tapes of the ExComm meetings where Kennedy and a close circle of advisers debated how to respond to the crisis.
Those meetings were secretly recorded by the president – which might bear on the fact that his stand throughout the recorded sessions is relatively temperate compared to other participants – who were unaware that they were speaking to history.
Stern has just published an accessible and accurate review of this critically important documentary record, finally declassified in the late 1990s.
I will keep to that here.
“Never before or since,” he concludes, “has the survival of human civilization been at stake in a few short weeks of dangerous deliberations” -
- culminating in “the week the world stood still.”
There was good reason for the global concern.
A nuclear war was all too imminent – a war that might “destroy the Northern Hemisphere,” President Dwight Eisenhower had warned.
Kennedy’s own judgment was that the probability of war might have been as high as 50%.
Estimates became higher as the confrontation reached its peak and the “secret doomsday plan to ensure the survival of the government was put into effect” in Washington -
- as described by journalist Michael Dobbs in his well-researched bestseller on the crisis..”
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