Remembering A Nuclear Crisis


I was drafted in 1960, thankfully when we were not at war with anyone. Shortly after being discharged from the U.S. Army in the Summer of 1962, there was the Cuban Missile Crisis with the Soviet Union that was the biggest international crisis I have ever experienced that involved the very real possibility of World War III.

John in Okinawa with a Hawk launcher

During my service I was trained as a Hawk missile mechanic (see photo at right). Naturally, I was eligible to be called up as a reserve during the crisis but it never happened. I had re-enrolled in college and remember taking breaks between classes in the school’s basement, seriously wondering when we’d hear missles from Cuba landing in the neighborhood.                                                                                                           


The other day, I came across this photo (below) from and I was reminded of the Crisis and how scared we were as a nation, deploying Hawk missiles on the Florida beaches!!  


There was a lot of tension during the Cuban missile crisis, so much so that the US Army deployed anti-aircraft Hawk missiles on a Florida beach in Key West. Photo was taken October 27, 1962.


So why am I writing about this 1960s crisis now, in 2018? What does this have to do with anything other than another walk down memory lane for me?

It seems to me that there are similar tensions going on here in the U.S. today, with fear driving most of them. Instead of Hawk missiles on the beaches of Key West we are building walls along the Mexican border. Instead of hiding in basements we are distracting ourselves whenever possible so we don’t have to feel our fears. 

During the Cuban Missile Crisis we had reason to be afraid. The threat was real; tensions between the USSR and the US were at an all-time high. But the fear that resides in our culture nowadays seems more imagined. Not that there’s no basis for concern; there are plenty of things that require our attention. But do we need to live in fear about them?

Today we are glued to media so we can get the latest updates on how “the crisis” is going, how bad are things today compared to back then. This crisis has been going on much longer that the 13 days of the U.S./USSR standoffs in 1962. You can make a case for fear being part of our social context for many decades, far longer than in 1962 or even the forty year Cold War. 

When fear is the context for our reality, what we experience as “real” changes and we start seeing things that prompt fear everywhere we look, causing us to jump at the sight of our own shadows sometimes.