In the 1960s, the U.S. got very close to nuclear war with the USSR. But war was avoided in the nick of time, without any shots fired.
Here’s a transcript of our conversation:
Brittany: Hi, Connor.
Connor: Hi, Brittany.
Brittany: So, as we continue to deal with the uncertainty of war, I’m almost like sick of talking about it, but it is all anybody’s talking about, and I think it’s really important for us to talk about it and to look at history and learn from our mistakes of the past. And sometimes I think we can actually take some lessons of things that were done. I don’t wanna say, well, cuz I don’t think anything in war is than well but done better than things have been done, maybe even in our very near history. So there’s a lot of fear over nuclear weapons right now, which I said correctly for the first time ever. I say nuclear and it drives people nuts. I believe the correct pronunciation is nuclear, right? nuclear.
Connor: I say nuclear.
Brittany: I say nuclear too until somebody like a professor’s like it’s nuclear. I’m like, okay, So either however you say it. So, nuclear weapons are weapons that do a lot of damage at one time. You know, we heard them called weapons of mass destruction at one point because that is exactly what they are. They do a lot of, destruction. But the crazy part about them is the damage can actually last long after the bombing stops. So when we dropped the bombs in, Japan, there was lasting damage. We did a lot of damage there that people were still paying for, I believe was it? Babies were even born with some defects because these are heavy-duty weapons. So this is not, this is not a good thing. And in 1962, you know, many nations were now starting to acquire nuclear weapons. And it was during the Cold War, meaning a war that isn’t a hot war. Hot war, meaning that there was no active battle, there were no real shots being fired even though there were a few instances. And we’ll get to that. But, it was kind of like what I call poking the bear. So every, you know, there was the communists on one side and then kind of capitalists on the other side, and they were just poking each other and prodding each other to see who was gonna, you know, it was like a game of chicken. Who was gonna start the war first. So the Soviet Union, which is now it’s less com it’s to say it’s Russia. Now there’s more to it. But for all intents purposes, the Soviet Union is now what we call Russia. So Russia and the United States were a big part of the Cold War. And, you know, one of them represented this, this communist collectivist kind of society. And the other I always like to say was more individualistic and capitalist because we all know that America is not far from perfect. So right. Basically, the United States was placing what was called ballistic missiles, which were, you know, weapons, these weapons of mass destruction in, European countries, but they were facing the USSR or the Soviet Union. So the USSR responded, Soviet Union, by agreeing to put missiles in Cuba. Now, Cuba had asked for this, and at first, they were on the fence about it, but then there was an incident, which I’m gonna make a Connor discuss in a minute. They kind of changed things. So basically, if you guys have ever seen the meme with Spider-Man, like all the different Spider-Man pointing their fingers at each other, that’s what was basically happening. So all these different countries where Russia and America were putting these different weapons in other countries, all pointing at each other, basically saying, if you make a move, we will completely destroy you.
Connor: That doesn’t sound great,
Brittany: It wasn’t great
Connor: And this went on for a while too, but it really kind of escalated. I mean, I, recall watching like footage and listening to the radio, news reports about this. Like, people were terrified. And up until this point, the Cold War, as it was called, had not been hot, right? In other words, there weren’t active, you know, missiles flying and bombs being dropped and people dying. It was a lot of kind of diplomatic or kind of relationship. people were opposing things and doing things and saying things, but, you know, people weren’t actually dying. And so that’s where kind of the Bay of Pigs incident comes in. The CIA which is like the spies and the American government, is the central intelligence agency. And you can’t see me, but I’m putting intelligence with Air Force. Because the more you learn about the CIA, the more you question their intelligence. But, the CIA came to the president at the time who was John F. Kennedy, and before he became president, the CIA had come up with this plan where they would take all these Cuban exiles, these people who were from Cuba but had left. And they would train them, I think it was about 1400 of them. They would train them on invading their homeland. They wanted them to go fight Fidel Castro who had come to power, I think like one year prior, maybe two, by overthrowing the previous dictator Fulgencio Batista. So now we have Fidel Castro in charge, and the CIA says, we want to train all these Cuban people to go invade Cuba and to be able to help overthrow, Fidel Castro. And so they were trained and, and by the US military, and J F K authorized the invasion plan, but he wanted to disguise the support from the Americans. He didn’t want Cuba to really know that it was the Americans who were doing anything. And so they chose this place, this Bay of Pigs because it was this swampy area where they were hoping that a landing of all these people at night, you know, might not encounter a lot of soldiers. They hoped that the darkness and the remoteness of the location would hide US involvement. but one of the problems is that location left them, I think it was like 75 or 80 miles away from any help if anything went wrong. Well, things did go wrong. There were gonna be two strikes against these Cuban air bases, and then the 1400 people would go under the darkness of night. And so they, what they did is they took these big bomber planes from World War II. So these were like decades old, these old planes, and they painted them to look like Cuban Air Force planes. So they wanted cub, the Cubans to think that these were Cuban planes. And it didn’t really work that well. And, you know, news started to break off these attacks. Pretty soon everyone, you know, locally knew that it was the US planes, and this revealed that the Americans were supporting the invasion. So they actually canceled the second strike. Well, the Cubans were now ready for the invasion at the Bay of Pigs when all these exiles trained by the United States showed up.
Brittany: Yeah, that’s the funny part. Trained by, trained by us.
Connor: Yeah. And, so there was this big battle. I think Fidel Castro sent something like 20,000 troops to the beach. And, the Air Force in Cuba shot down all these planes and like it was bad and it did not go well. And so some of them, the exile folks, they escaped to the sea, but most of them were rounded up. They were imprisoned by Fidel Castro. It, like for I think almost two years that they were imprisoned, about a hundred of ’em were killed as, as part of this whole thing. And so during all of this controversy, right, these, this, over a thousand people are in captivity by the Cuban government. And so the United States tried to negotiate a deal with Fidel Castro, and eventually, they settled on like 50 million worth of baby food in medicine in exchange for the prisoners. Cuz this communist country, like any communist country, their economy is just in shambles, right? People can’t get what they need. And so ultimately they traded for medicine and baby food in exchange for letting all these prisoners go. And that ended the Bay of Pigs. crisis, which is kind of concluded right after the Cuban Missile Crisis did the missile crisis. I mean, man, this was when like, people were really scared because they were so nervous about these missiles being fired from nearby Cuba into the United States. It felt like, you know, the whole world was gonna end. I mean, people were talking about World War III and Apocalypse and all these things. Everyone was on edge. And so after these negotiations, in which again, all these prisoners from the Bay of Pigs were still in prison at this time, they finally reached, a deal, an agreement between President John F. Kennedy and Khrushchev, who was the leader of the USSR in basically what we now call Russia. And so, you know, they would, as part of this, removed the nuclear missiles from Cuba, right? And then the Americans would remove nuclear missiles from Turkey and Italy, which was, you know, nearby, the Soviet Union and able to attack them. the agreement was that the United States would never invade Cuba without, you know, direct provocation. And, they, I think they even created what they called a nuclear hotline between the United States and the Soviet Union so that there was kind of direct communication because if any one of these countries fired off a nuclear missile, right? Like then the other would retaliate and it would just, you know, all of a sudden, like you’ve got mass apocalypse. And so they established this communication and I think it’s fair to say we got pretty close. Yes, but we avoided a nuclear war. And so everyone was super tense and that was kind of the all things Cuba. In fact, if you listen to the podcast, and if you remember the episode that Britney and Emma did together as part of this was operation when a lot of the public in America did not support going to war in Cuba, there was not a lot of, support for doing that. And so the joint chiefs of staff, these are the guys in charge of the whole military, they proposed to John F. Kennedy, the same president we’ve been talking about, that they would go kill Americans and they would pretend that it was Cubans that did it because they wanted to upset Americans enough to get them to change their views so that they would then support going to war against Cuba. So we talked about that in the past episode a couple of episodes ago. We talked about propaganda, right? These were the things where the government is trying to manipulate us. And it happened in Cuba that even though we came close to nuclear war, the government was having to manipulate people and literally proposed killing Americans, which I find just horribly disgusting from people who have sworn an oath to uphold the constitution and protect people. But this shows you the lengths to which they were willing to go in that time to try and do what they thought, right? That quote of the ends justify the means. Their ends were, oh, we gotta do whatever it takes to stop these missiles in Cuba. So that means killing Americans and lying about it and doing all this propaganda. Then that’s, you know, what we gotta do. But I mean, that’s what dictators throughout history have always done. They always claim that they have these important goals. And okay, if that means we gotta round up the Jews that like, it’s ridiculous when people are willing to set aside what’s right and what’s true, right. In order to get what they want. And so that’s what happened in Cuba. I think it’s fair to say some of that’s probably happening today too.
Brittany: Yeah. It’s, very scary. And you know, I think one thing, like you put it out, you know, we got really close, but, we didn’t quite get there. And that’s what I wanna talk about now. So there’s a lot of reasons to be critical of JFK, cuz I believe the Bay of Picks did happen under his watch. I could get him to a whole JFK CIA thing, but I will not, I digress. but he also did some good things, some good things economically. but again, that’s a topic for the day. So he did some good things here, and that is that he used restraint instead of jumping right into aggressive acts of war. And I’m not saying that there weren’t things that were bordering on that, right? Just putting the weapons in Turkey in Italy where you put them, that was pretty aggressive. But he didn’t order, you know, airstrikes and there wasn’t combat going on, which unfortunately so many presidents don’t even think twice before doing, especially in something as tense as, you know, a nuclear war. So he brokered a deal with an aggressive communist country without, you know, guns being fired in actual combat. And we don’t see that often. And that’s something I think is very interesting because nowadays it’s like, we just wanna use our force and we just wanna, we crave war. And I say, we, not us, the government craves war. And so that is one thing I always kind of admired about Kennedy. And again, there’s a lot to criticize. But even the Vietnam War, he was very hesitant. I didn’t think we should be there. And again, there’s a lot of conspiracies on that end too, but so I do think that is worth, you know, credit where credit is due. I also wanna mention one more thing that’s interesting about nuclear weapons and why it’s, almost, and this is something that ties into today. Now obviously they’re very scary, but with all the countries having them, there is this thing called, you know, mutually assured destruction. is what they call it. And it’s an interesting theory because let’s say Russia were to, you know, to bomb us with a nuclear weapon, we would retaliate. Cause it wouldn’t take out all of the United States at once, right? We would retaliate and then everybody dies. And it’s like, maybe there is a leader that is crazy enough to do that. I really hope not. But if one goes off the whole, you know, then everybody goes down. And so there is this, what mutually assured destruction means is that if we all have these, it’s kind of like the, what’s the gun quote? an armed society is a polite society, right? Right. It kind of goes along with that where we have to use restraint because we’re all mutually assured that we are going to be destroyed if we don’t. So I always thought that was really interesting. Yeah.
Connor: Yeah. I think JFK is criticized as you point out rightly for a lot of things. But, yeah, when was, the last time that we saw a president, like, you know, issuing restraint like this? I mean, I think Trump did in some cases, but he also dropped the mother of all bombs, you know, and had his own kind of aggressions and things like this. It’s really interesting because I think there’s some comparisons between what was happening in America during the Cuban Missile Crisis and what’s happening with the Russia, Ukraine stuff. There’s a lot of concerns about Russia and the nukes that they control and World War III breaking out and all these things. And so I think it’s instructive for us to learn a little bit about history, to understand what was happening, in Cuba, and recognize that some of those same issues are happening today. So what can we learn from the past if we learn a little bit more about how the government behaved at that time, what the American public thought, and how their opinions were shaped by the media or by these kind of propaganda efforts like Operation Northwood. It makes me, I think, pause a little bit to think about what’s happening in our day, right? We, know about that quote, those who don’t learn from the past or condemned to repeat it. And I think it’s important too that we think about, why, or rather, what we can learn from the past in this instance so that we don’t have to repeat going through similar controversies in our day. It is obviously great that we avoided nuclear war. It is great that there was that de-escalation, right? So rather than escalating the conflict and things building and getting worse, we kind of were able to, you know, clamp it down and, restrain things and not have that happen. but learning about, you know, the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis, it makes you really understand, I think, a little bit more what’s happening in our day. Obviously, the circumstances are different. We’re not saying they’re the same or even super similar, but it’s kind of the pattern that we start to see. It’s the approach that people take. It’s the attitudes of the ends justify the means, right? That, oh, well, we don’t want World War III, therefore we’re gonna do all these corrupt things. Well, it’s like, well, wait a minute, then all we’re left when we don’t get World War III is just all corrupt things. Like, it’s good that we’ve done a World War III, but that’s not to say it would’ve happened anyways, right? But now we have all this corruption in our government because you felt justified in doing it. So lessons learned. Hopefully, as we do more homework, as you guys look into this a little bit more, learn about that. Think about what you can learn from the past so that we can help prevent those mistakes from happening in our day. Thanks for being subscribed, Brittany. Until next time, we’ll talk to you later.
Brittany: Talk to you later.