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'The Missiles of October' may be a harbinger of things to come

Richard G. Carter | 10/19/2012, 1:35 p.m.
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After serious and contentious debate, the president and his team voted to impose a naval blockade by warships--preventing Soviet vessels from delivering additional weapons and other military supplies. However, a blockade is often considered an act of war.

The next night, JFK addressed the nation on TV. He said there are Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba, he had imposed a quarantine of offensive weapons coming to the island and an attack on America would be met with a full retaliatory response against Russia.

Making "The Missiles of October" even more engrossing was casting lead roles with astounding look-alikes. Included were William Devane (JFK); Howard Da Silva (Khrushchev); Martin Sheen (Robert F. Kennedy); John Dehner (Dean Acheson); Dana Elcar (Robert McNamara); Larry Gates (Dean Rusk); James Olson (McGeorge Bundy); John Randolph (George Ball); and Michael Lerner (Pierre Salinger).

During its gripping 153 minutes, "The Missiles of October" recalled JFK's anguish, Khrushchev's gruff obstinacy, RFK's loud outbursts, American military leaders pushing for bombing Cuba and sinking Russian supply ships, fierce infighting among American and Soviet decision-makers and UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson (Ralph Bellamy) unveiling incriminating reconnaissance photos of Soviet offensive missiles in Cuba.

A highlight was Stevenson's famous reply to his Russian counterpart's comment that "You will have your answer in due course." To wit: "I am prepared to wait for my answer until hell freezes over, if that's your decision."

A day before the crisis was resolved, American Maj. Rudolph Anderson's U-2 was shot down over Cuba by a Soviet surface-to-air missile, prompting an angry outburst by Khrushchev against his own military. Although outraged, JFK kept his cool.

In the end, of course, Khrushchev--in return for Kennedy's pledge not to invade Cuba--ordered that Soviet nuclear long- and medium-range missiles, surface to-air missiles and rockets be dismantled and destroyed. Khrushchev's request that America's obsolete Jupiter missiles in Turkey also be withdrawn was rejected by Kennedy.

"The Missiles of October"--illustrating a triumph of U.S. brinkmanship--is a must-see. As Secretary of State Rusk noted when Soviet ships turned back, "We went eyeball-to-eyeball, and I think the other guy just blinked." And that's the name of that tune.