Tensions between the US and North Korea are high
In 1962, the US and Soviet Union faced off over nuclear weapons
The 13-day standoff became known as the Cuban missile crisis
The tension between North Korea and much of the rest of the world over the communist country’s reported nuclear capabilities is, objectively, not great. It evokes another famous standoff between the US and communist powers: The Cuban missile crisis.
After the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, relations had only grown colder between the US and communist allies Cuba and the Soviet Union. In an attempt to deter the US from attempting another invasion, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro planned to bring Soviet nuclear missiles to Cuba.
While President Donald Trump has thus far kept his remarks regarding North Korea short, they’ve packed a punch. When Kennedy chose to address the nation on October 22, 1962, regarding Soviet missile sites being constructed in Cuba, he took a slightly more verbose approach.
You can view part of his speech in the Instagram video above. Intelligence had started coming in days earlier, marking the beginning of the crisis behind the scenes. Kennedy’s speech made it the public’s collective nightmare.
“It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union,” Kennedy said.
Trump promised “fire and fury” if North Korea threatened the United States, and while he wasn’t as alliterative, Kennedy was without question serious.
Nuclear weapons in Cuba meant that Miami was geographically closer to nukes than it is to Tallahassee. At the time, the US had missiles in Turkey, which made Russia feel threatened. There was no obvious way to de-escalate the tension.
Kennedy also ordered more surveillance, called for bolstered defenses at Guantanamo Bay and asked Khrushchev to stop threatening the US. As is often the case, asking firmly didn’t do much. The Soviets called the quarantine aggressive and accused the US of meddling. A US reconnaissance plane was shot down over Cuba, and the military eventually went to DEFCON 2.
By October 28, after several tense written exchanges and a secret meeting between Attorney General Robert Kennedy and the Soviet ambassador, the conflict was solved diplomatically. The US promised not to invade Cuba and the Soviets promised to take their missiles back. Privately, the US also agreed to pull its Jupiter missiles from Turkey, which had been demanded by the Soviets, though the missiles were due to be pulled anyway.
The threat of nuclear war, for good reason, makes tensions run incredibly high. While there are very few exact details that map out onto both the Cuban Missile Crisis and the current concerns about North Korea, the same fear runs through both.
Perhaps a reminder that these situations can be solved through very terse letters – although probably not tweets – is something everyone needs right now.