Friday, June 06, 2014

CNN "The Sixties" continues with "The World on the Brink": Kennedy faces Khrushchev, the Berlin Wall, and the Cuban Missile Crisis


Thursday, June 5, 2014, CNN aired the second of its revised series “The Sixties: The Decade that Changed the World” with “The World on the Brink” (link), focusing on the international crises of the Kennedy administration.
  
The documentary, saying that Kennedy had really run to the right of Nixon on opposing communism in the 1960 election,  started with the faulty intelligence that led to the Bay of Pigs fiasco.  Early in his presidency, Kennedy had a meeting with Nikita Khrushchev, who announced “We will bury you.”

I recall, that a VA and US Government midterm exam at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington VA in January 1961 (right before the Kennedy Inauguration") had consisted of a single essay question: "Compare Democracy and Communism"/  
  
The Soviets at the time believed that the way to catch up to the US was to surround US hegemony with crises all over the world.  The Soviets were further behind in missiles than we thought, even though they seemed to have edged us with a “one run victory” into space in 1957 with Sputnik.  

The communists started putting up the Berlin Wall on August 13, 1961.  That particular week turned out to be important to me personally, for other reasons.  Kennedy thought that the Berlin Wall could tactically relieve some of the pressure from the Soviets, as they could imagine they had contained the west.  Nevertheless, various crises came back in October 1961. 

The documentary then shifts with an account of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1961 (see this blog, Oct. 23, 2012).  The coverage emphasizes how close we came to nuclear war and how voices of the JCS became ragged in meetings after the quarantine and blockade of Soviet ships was introduced.

An early sign of trouble had been the building of soccer fields, instead of baseball outfields, in Cuba, suggesting that Russians were coming.


As I’ve noted, I was a patient at NIH at the time, but going to GWU in Washington in the evening.  I saw the Oct. 22 speech in the Student Union while having supper.  Other patients at NIH then had no clue as to what was going on, unless I brought it up.

I was not aware of the extent to which ordinary Americans had prepared fallout shelters and striped grovery stores dry during the crisis.  My own parents, even in Arlington VA, did not do this.  Yet, the government had encouraged citizens to stock fallout shelters, even with Geiger counters.   These were the days of "duck and cover."
     
The documentary looks ahead to the Kennedy Assassination (a previously aired episode, to be re-aired next week).  The show takes the position that JFK probably would not have been as aggressive about Vietnam as was LBJ.  After Kennedy’s death, the Domino Theory became accepted, creating the environment that led to the controversial male draft, but with student deferments, creating a big moral issue for its own time.  The deferments would be replaced by a lottery in 1969, but I would go in 1968. 

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