— Nearly 60 years ago this week, we were one argument away from nuclear war
Lessons from the Cuban Missile Crisis remain important, yet Americans largely ignore foreign policy.
Benefiting from more than a half century of hindsight, the Pulitzer-winning historian Martin J. Sherwin delivers a well-researched and reasoned analysis of nuclear weapons’ impact from 1945 to 1962 in “Gambling With Armageddon.” The book should become the definitive account of its subject. Sherwin has three themes. First, history proves that the disadvantages of nuclear weapons outweigh their advantages. Yes, the A-bomb brought a quick end to World War II, but Dwight Eisenhower and Robert Oppenheimer both believed Japan’s defeat was imminent without the bomb. And while it tipped the balance of power until the Soviets developed their own nuclear weapon in 1949, this brief American advantage produced no geopolitical gains. Sherwin, the author of a book on the legacy of Hiroshima, argues that President Eisenhower’s threat to use “massive retaliation” in the 1950s also moved no needles, though it did ramp up the arms race. Then when Kennedy began his term with the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, it emboldened Nikita Khrushchev to introduce nuclear missiles into Cuba to protect the lone Communist outpost in the West. Kennedy’s effort to get them removed led to what Sherwin calls “the most devastating event in world history … that somehow didn’t happen.” He concludes that “the real lesson of the Cuban missile crisis … is that nuclear armaments create the perils they are deployed to prevent, but are of little use in resolving them.” (Talmage Boston for New York Times)