I remember sitting in Mr. House’s civics class in St. Cloud’s South Junior High School, watching the wall clock’s minute hand tick forward, waiting for the world to blow up.
Why did our parents send us to school that day? A thought kept nagging at me: If we have to die, why can’t we die at home?
All of us students were visibly worried, twitchy, ill at ease. As he lectured, old Mr. House shuffled back and forth across the floor, pacing slowly, his words drifting like dust into nowhere.
We were not listening; we were just waiting, waiting . . .
That November day in 1962 was the awful depth of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a month-long Soviet-American confrontation that very nearly led to a worldwide nuclear catastrophe.
In that classroom, all of us knew that a U.S. naval blockade of Cuba could well trigger a nuclear war that afternoon. The doomsday clock was ticking loudly. Later that day, we learned to our vast relief that Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev had backed down; he and President John F. Kennedy had come to an agreement. The Soviets, who had placed nuclear missiles in communist Cuba, would withdraw those weapons. In exchange the United States of America would remove missiles it had placed in Turkey and Italy. A global sigh of relief. Humanity had narrowly escaped the most dangerous moment in world history.
In recent weeks, I keep waiting again, with a creeping uneasiness. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is ratcheting up stand-off tensions much like those of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Russian “leader” Vladimir Putin, famed for his displays of macho behavior, is furious his invasion is not going so well. Putin is humiliated, snorting like an impotent bull. Russians who have been lied to about the so-called victory in Ukraine are waking up to the quagmire that it really is, realizing Putin’s vanity bid for glory is nothing but a fool’s folly. It’s as bad as the Russian invasion of Afghanistan years ago. That did not go so well either. But, alas, power-mad villains never learn their lessons.
Stung by failures, Putin and his generals have enabled spiteful bombings and all manner of sadistic murders of civilians. As the invasion goes from not so well to worse, Putin has begun spouting off about the possibility of using nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
Meantime, Ukrainian military forces are pushing back, forcing Russians to retreat even from areas Putin decreed as Russian property after bogus Russian-devised elections took place in those four areas two weeks ago. Those elections really WERE fake!
Just this morning, as I’m writing this, there is news a bomb destroyed part of a 12-mile-long bridge. The bombing was likely done by Ukrainian saboteurs. Putin ordered that bridge to be built some years ago. It connects Russia to Crimea, a country just south of Ukraine, and has been used to transport military supplies from Russia into Ukraine.
Just imagine Putin’s squirming humiliation that “his” bridge was bombed. He is bound to intensify the war, if only just to inflict more death and destruction as a revenge tactic to make himself feel better, the way dictators, megalomaniacs and bullies always do.
I keep seeking shreds of optimism about the Ukraine-Russia horror story. My hopes brightened a bit when I learned last week that the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to a peace group in Ukraine, another peace group in Russia and to an imprisoned human-rights activist. It is a reminder there are so many good people in this world working for peace, democracy and freedom.
One good outcome spawned by the Cuban Missile Crisis is the “red phone” emergency hotline between American presidents and Soviet leaders. It is an option that could help prevent apocalyptic disaster in the nick of time. I keep waiting, hoping if that phone line has to be used, it will be used to good effect, that it will save this world one more time.