Cuban Missile Crisis ‘News’ Gave Us a Preview of the Internet Age

An original October 1962 news photograph of President John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy taken as tensions grew during the Cuban Missile Crisis sold for $527 at an August 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

“I am prepared to wait for my answer until hell freezes over.”

An unusual statement, especially at an emergency session of the somber United States Security Council, and uncharacteristically bellicose for the speaker, U.N. Ambassador Adlai E. Stevenson. It simply was the most dangerous time in the history of the world … the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

Stevenson

Ambassador Stevenson was interrogating Soviet U.N. representative Valerian Zorin while accusing them of having installed nuclear missiles in Cuba, a mere 90 miles from the U.S. coastline. Tensions were sky high. The Joint Chiefs had recommended to President John F. Kennedy an airstrike, followed by an immediate invasion of Cuba using U.S. military troops.

Then with the world’s two superpowers eyeball to eyeball, as Dean Rusk commented, the other guy blinked. Cuba-bound Soviet ships stopped, turned back, and the crisis swiftly eased.

Over much of the world, and especially in Washington and New York, there was relief and rejoicing. With crucial backing from the United Nations and the Organization of American States (OAS), nuclear war was averted. Success in avoiding a war of potential global devastation has gradually clouded the fact that the United States came perilously close to choosing the military option.

The arguments of those who fought for time and political negotiations have been blurred and gradually obscured by widespread euphoria. Even for Ambassador Stevenson, the sweet taste of success soon turned sour. First, there was the death of his dear friend Eleanor Roosevelt, quickly followed by a vicious personal attack on him that he never fully recovered from.

When Mrs. Roosevelt reluctantly entered the hospital, it was thought she was suffering from aplastic anemia. But on Oct. 25, 1962, her condition was diagnosed as rare and incurable bone-marrow tuberculosis. She was prepared and determined to die rather than end up a useless invalid. Her children reluctantly decided Stevenson should be allowed one last visit to his old friend, although daughter Anna warned she might not recognize him.

On Nov. 9, two days after her death, the U.N. General Assembly put aside other business and allowed delegate after delegate to express their personal grief and their country’s sorrow. It was the first time any private citizen had been so honored. Adlai told friends that his speech at the General Assembly and the one he gave at her memorial service were the most difficult and saddest times of his life.

Then a harbinger of a brewing storm started on Nov. 13 when Senator Barry Goldwater issued a sharp attack on Stevenson by implying he had been willing to take national security risks to avoid a showdown with the Soviets. The Saturday Evening Post followed with an article on Cuba that portrayed Stevenson as advocating a “Caribbean Munich.” The headlines at the New York Daily News screamed “ADLAI ON SKIDS OVER PACIFIST STAND ON CUBA.”

For months, Washington was abuzz with rumors that it was all a calculated effort by JFK and Bobby to force Stevenson to resign as U.N. ambassador. It was all innuendo, half-facts and untrue leaks, but it was still reverberating a quarter of a century later when the Sunday New York Times magazine, on Aug. 30, 1987, published a rehash of all the gossip.

In truth, all we were witnessing was a preview of things to come: the internet age of “Breaking News” (thinly veiled opinions parading as facts), 24/7 cable TV loaded with panels of “talking heads,” and a torrent of Twitter gibberish offering a full banquet of tasty goodies for any appetite.

Stevenson, born in Los Angeles in 1900 – the year his grandfather ran for vice president on a losing ticket with William Jennings Bryan – lost his own bid for the presidency twice (1952 and 1956). He died of a heart attack in 1965 in London while walking in Grosvenor Square – finally getting some peace.

The rest of us will have to wait.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Even with United Nations, War and Terrorism Persist

charter-of-the-united-nations-and-statute-of-the-international-court-of-justice
This 1945 copy of Charter of the United Nations and Statute of the International Court of Justice, signed by John F. Kennedy, Henry Cabot Lodge and Adlai E. Stevenson, sold for $2,375 at an April 2014 auction.

“… To save succeeding generations from the scourge of war …” — From the United Nations Charter

By Jim O’Neal

Edward Stettinius, chair of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations conference in San Francisco, signed the U.N. Charter in 1945. President Harry Truman was in attendance and later signed the document by which he ratified the charter of the United Nations.

The charter established the structure of the United Nations and outlined its guiding principles to prevent war, affirm fundamental human rights, facilitate international peace and security, promote improved living standards, and support social progress and economic advancements (whew!).

The United States, Britain and the USSR were the primary designers of the decision-making structure. The General Assembly consisted of all member countries. The Security Council, which was responsible for international peace and security, originally had 11 members, six of which were elected to two-year terms. Five – the United States, Britain, USSR, France and China – were permanent members, and each had veto power on Security Council resolutions.

Disagreements based on national interests plagued the discussions at the April conference, but they did not prevent the formal U.N. formation. There was also considerable debate about the voting process and veto provisions. Finally, on June 25, the delegates unanimously adopted the charter and the next day they all signed the document.

After the permanent members of the Security Council and most other members ratified the charter, the United Nations was officially established on Oct. 24, 1945. The world had entered a new period of international collaboration determined to avoid a repeat of the two wars that had caused so much devastation in the first half of the 20th century.

Alas, these lofty aims did not last long as the Cold War soon started, followed by major conflicts in Korea, Vietnam (twice), Afghanistan, etc. When we look around the world today, it’s estimated that the United States has Special Forces in over 70 countries (at least) and ad hoc terrorism is a routine, daily occurrence in many places. A new Cold War is gradually taking shape and even nuclear proliferation is back in the news.

Maybe conflict is in our DNA.

One thing is certain. Assuming the United Nations survives, they will have plenty to do for a long time.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].