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A Crisis is a Crisis is a Crisis: More New Evidence on the Dangers of the “Eyeball to Eyeball” Myth.

October 23, 2012

Robert Wright and Peter Kornbluh discuss the apocalypse.

Archivista Peter Kornbluh recently appeared on to discuss the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the US’s current posturing over Iran’s nuclear intentions.

Kornbluh asserts that the two events –half a century apart– make clear that inflexible rhetoric and intimidation by the United States typically increases our opponent’s recalcitrance.

This can most clearly be seen in Secretary of State Dean Rusk’s assertion that we survived our closest brush with Armageddon during the Cuban Missile Crisis by staring our opponents eyeball to eyeball until they blinked, perpetuating the belief that fortitude saved the day.

Of course, the mythical “eyeball to eyeball” scene never happened in real life.

Despite never having happened,  the “eyeball to eyeball” myth remains the most dangerous and pervasive relic of the Crisis. Especially considering, as Kornbluh reminds us, that what really saved the day in October 1962 was the flexible diplomatic space that decreased tensions before they reached critical mass.

Robert Kennedy paces the room at a meeting during the missile crisis.

A further reminder of what we did not know fifty years ago can be found in Walter Pincus’ recent article in the Washington Post which reports that at the time of the Missile Crisis, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev didn’t actually believe in the “first strike” mentality as we had long assumed and continued to assume.

As relations with Iran continue to become more tense, it may be wise to remember Robert McNamara’s key lesson from the Missile Crisis: Empathize with your adversary.

Curious? Disagree? Learn more about the Cuban Missile Crisis tonight with two hours of special PBS programming, beginning at 8 ET. The programs feature interviews with NS Archive staff, and rely heavily on documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. Afterwards, bring the discussion back here and let us know what you think about the Cuban Missile Crisis’ current relevance.

  1. October 24, 2012 6:41 am

    Interestingly there’s a comment about Castro: “In the letter, Castro “proposed that we ourselves should be the first to start an atomic war,””.
    While in an article this week Castro denies having anything to do with the the crisis.
    I suppose an old man might be forgetting a few details.


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