Hold the Line. (War Isn't Always On Time.)"
October 16, 2012 4:28 PM   Subscribe

Based on Robert Kennedy's book Thirteen Days, with a stunning cast and a riveting screenplay, broadcast a scant 12 years after the event... The Missiles of October.

This scared the hell out of me when I was 13.

Six years later I was combat aircrew, flying recon patrols for the Navy squadron that was first on the scene, on the first day of the blockade.

Props for the Jed Bartlet prototype.
posted by timsteil (20 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Totally unnecessary event. We had already planted missiles on Russia's border. JFK actually didn't know that prior to discovering the missiles in Cuba. We provoked them not the other way around. I believe ours were Thors which were unreliable turkeys who were placed there to make our allies feel good.

The Russians won that one, because we secretly agreed to remove the Thors and not attack Cuba as we were planning before the incident. The Russians got everything they wanted out of the deal. With our assurances of not attacking Cuba paved the way for Russia to get out of an untenable situation.
posted by shnarg at 4:55 PM on October 16, 2012

this film was a favorite of my friends and i growing up in the '70s. it has really great performances, and it gives a good feel for how complex the situation actually was. both sides did not have full control over their own forces, and both sides had internal conflicts that affected how the situation was resolved. the drama was, for me, heightened by the intentionally sparse set design. this is a film i can rewatch over and over.
posted by bruceo at 5:09 PM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I haven't seen this, but did see the Roger Donaldson/Kevin Costner pic Thirteen Days, and wonder if it would be a good companion piece to this movie. Though I suppose it's a remake. (Thirteen Days is rather good, at least the scenes without Costner, whose character, Kenny O'Donnell, is minor at best but Costner clearly had the O'Donnell parts expanded to get more screen time. Still, a decent movie.)
posted by zardoz at 5:46 PM on October 16, 2012

Thirteen Days (the more recent Kevin Costner movie) is indeed a bit of a remake, although with some additional declassified details and (if memory serves) focuses much more on the events as seen through Ken O'Donnel's eyes, with a lot less Jack & Bobby than Missiles featured.

I had forgotten this was the 50th anniversary this week, though coincidentally I watched Joe Dante's delightful "Matinee" yesterday, whose events are framed by the crisis, and include one or two great snippets from Adlai Stevenson's tour de force presentation to the U.N.
posted by ShutterBun at 9:09 PM on October 16, 2012

Kenny O'Donnell, is minor at best

Possibly he was of minor impact to these events themselves, but as far as clout in the Kennedy White House, O'Donnel was second only to Bobby (and JFK himself, natch)

In any case he was absolutely the best person to bear witness for us viewers.
posted by ShutterBun at 9:13 PM on October 16, 2012

The Russians won that one,

Everybody won that one.
posted by ShutterBun at 9:16 PM on October 16, 2012

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, my father had a federal civil service job in logistics at a U.S. Air Force base in France. One day during the crisis some MPs came and basically pulled my father from our house on the base in to work (seriously freaking out my mother). Turns out, as he told me about 10 years later, his base was one of the ones large enough to accommodate the U.S. missiles that were in Turkey, and so he was needed to help plan the pullout of the missiles to his base if his base wound up being used. They wound up not using his base (I think the French president, Charles de Gaulle, would not go for it), but for a number of years Dad was one of the few who knew the truth about the deal we made to pull our missiles out of Turkey. He said, if I remember correctly, it had not been considered that big a deal to do that, since we were already planning to get rid of the missiles in Turkey anyway, so it was felt it was more important to get the deal worked out to get the missiles out of Cuba, and to avert a potential catastrophic conflict. He always wondered why the truth of that story did not come out sooner or get more attention. The Leslie Gelb article - The Myth That Screwed Up 50 Years of U.S. Foreign Policy - that kirkaracha links to, is really interesting in that regard.
posted by gudrun at 11:06 PM on October 16, 2012

The NY Times had a recent editorial about the Cuban Missile Crisis which questions the value of this 1960s myth created of and by Kennedy: JFK standing "eye-to-eye" against Khruschev and the Soviet leader "blinking" in the face of steely and muscular American resolve.

Robert Kennedy's account, of course, predates what historians have been able to uncover which shows how out of control the whole situation was:

"By Saturday, Oct. 27, the two leaders were no longer in full control of their gigantic military machines, which were moving forward under their own momentum. Soviet troops on Cuba targeted Guantánamo with tactical nuclear weapons and shot down an American U-2 spy plane. Another U-2, on a “routine” air sampling mission to the North Pole, got lost over the Soviet Union. The Soviets sent MiG fighters into the air to try to shoot down the American intruder, and in response, Alaska Air Defense Command scrambled F-102 interceptors armed with tactical nuclear missiles. In the Caribbean, a frazzled Soviet submarine commander was dissuaded by his subordinates from using his nuclear torpedo against American destroyers that were trying to force him to the surface."

As scary as the fictional Kennedy account is, the truth was even worse. There is some comfort however in the observation that:

"As the two superpowers geared up for a nuclear war, the chances of something going terribly wrong increased exponentially. To their credit, both Kennedy and Khrushchev understood this dynamic..."

Kennedy had seen some combat in WW2 so he knew a little bit of what war was about. Khruschev was at Stalingrad. Both of these men - the Soviet leader in particular - had an understanding of the fog of war and the terrible consequences that can come from miscalculation and this made them cautious and sanguine and careful which is what really served everyone so well in the end.

Guys like Obama and Romney have absolutely no concept of this and that scares the crap out of me more than anything.
posted by three blind mice at 1:16 AM on October 17, 2012

The "Eyeball-to-Eyeball" Myth and the Cuban Missile Crisis's Legacy (by the author of One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War)

While I get the fact that the events of the 13 Days may be somewhat mythologized, having read Caro's Passage to Power, Castro in his narrative of the Cuban Missile Crisis doesn't really contradict Dobbs' central thesis, that "(Kennedy and his team) act not out of malevolence, incompetence or machismo. Kennedy, Khrushchev and their advisers emerge as men desperately seeking a handle on a situation no one wanted and no one could resolve.."

Caro demonstrates again and again that Kennedy was improvising as he went along, and frequently bended the rules to give his adversary more time.

Dobbs also basis much of his argument on his own analysis of where the ships actually were. Fascinating, but he's just one man, and when revising history, most historians rely on peer review for this sort of research. But I definitely want to read Dobbs' books now.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:54 AM on October 17, 2012

My mother was in the Navy and stationed here at NAS Jax during the missile crisis and has talked about it just in the last few years. She was a nurse and at dinner she and several friends made plans to go to the beach in the morning, when they woke up all the men were gone from the base except for MP's guarding the gates and one doctor. They were all told that they were confined to base until further notice. Nobody knew where they went for several hours until they were told in small groups privately that the nation was at war with Cuba and to prepare for the casualties, specifically radiation wounds. I asked her if she worried about her family (who were all in Tampa) and she said no, they just all really expected to die and she just hoped it would be quick and painless everyone. It's amazing to me how fatalistic everyone was-but they were given reason to believe that Florida was going to be hit with an atomic bomb at any minute.

Oddly enough, after the crisis, my mother received orders for Bethesda and was on duty when JFK was shot and was again confined to the hospital when they brought the body back from Dallas. She rode in one of the decoy ambulances that met Air Force One. THAT story is tear inducing when she tells it.
posted by hollygoheavy at 7:17 AM on October 17, 2012

The Jupiters in Turkey were obsolete, and their management a cause for concern, but Turkey felt that having them - and thus being a nuclear power by proxy - was both a deterrent to Soviet aggression and an assertion of national prestige. In terms of the ability to launch nuclear attacks on Russia, decommissioning them made very little difference, as the US had plenty of long-range missiles. Cuba was all about Russia's lack of long-range missiles - the R-12s on Cuba had an effective range just long enough to reach New York City, whereas they were so short on long-range missiles that at the height of the crisis they were commandeering the R-7 rocket at Baikonur.
posted by running order squabble fest at 10:27 AM on October 17, 2012

Any time I feel down, or if I just want to scare myself, I can wonder how a Nixon Administration would have dealt with all of this. Believe me, that's a quick pick-up.

Here's a link to info about the most interesting book I've seen lately on the Crisis...
posted by dr. zoom at 5:13 PM on October 17, 2012

What no one knew at the time, and wasn't declassified until 2001, is that there were four Foxtrot class subs that left Russia bound for Cuba, with authority to fire nukes, without Kremlin approval.
posted by timsteil at 8:11 PM on October 17, 2012

Well, FSVO nukes. The Foxtrots had nuclear-tipped torpedoes rather than ballistic missiles - it was that weird period where everyone was playing with battlefield nukes (there were also Luna class platform-mounted nuclear rocket launchers on Cuba, for use in conventional warfare, and the interceptors put on alert on the 22nd October had nuclear-tipped anti-aircraft missiles).

So, the B-59 Foxtrot-class which was cornered by the US Navy could have blown up the destroyers above it (and quite possibly started World War III in the process), but it couldn't have launched a strike on an American city, as the Polaris subs could have.

(Another reason, of course, why decommissioning the missiles in Turkey was a fairly painless concession: liquid-fuel, ground-based rockets on the enemy's borders were a very vulnerable launch platform. If your enemy had solid-fuel rockets or air superiority, they could probably hit your launch sites on the ground while they were fuelling up. And if you had enough submarines, you didn't really need nations in general, much less specifically Turkey, to exist any more to ensure a retaliatory strike...)
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:29 AM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Much ado about something at least, no?
posted by ShutterBun at 3:33 AM on October 18, 2012

The Man Who Saved the World
posted by homunculus at 9:30 PM on October 23, 2012

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