Of missiles, antimissiles and human targets

There are some events whether of regional, national or international significance, that carve a niche in our memories and remain there for the rest of our conscious lives; that is, assuming they also have personal meaning and import. For many of us who were past the age of reason forty-five years ago, there were key events taking place during that month of October 1962 which created situations that forever altered our lives.

Here in the Pacific Northwest (U.S.) October 12 ceased to symbolize the arrival of that man, Columbus, to the Americas becoming instead a date, an anniversary of another arrival: the Columbus Day Storm – an unprecedented natural disaster in these parts, with wind gusts up to 170 mph, which left 46 people dead and over one billion dollars (current value) in damages. On this anniversary, the conversation always centers on where you were that day; not on Columbus’ possible ancestry, or on the three caravels.

Uganda’s independence and Algeria’s entry into the UN were certainly noteworthy events for the people of those nations during that October; however, two international events literally shook the world then, one with a critical temporal dimension and the other religious in nature. Three days after Pope John XXIII had convened the Second Vatican Council which heralded changes far beyond liturgical Catholicism, the world was threatened with nuclear war: the beginning of the Cuban Missile Crisis – better known as “Caribbean Crisis” to the Soviets, and “October Crisis” to the Cubans.

That crisis lasted two weeks… between October 14, when a U-2 flight over Cuba took photos of Soviet nuclear weapons being installed; and October 28, when Khrushchev announced that he had ordered the removal of Soviet missiles from Cuba, thus ending the stand-off. What wasn’t said publicly at that time, and kept secret in the brokered agreement, where UN Secretary-General U Thant had a little known but very important interceding role was the quid-pro-quo which included the removal of all US nuclear missiles from Turkey. That erroneously vested Kennedy with hero-status and made Khrushchev a goat… something which would mar his remaining two years in power.

Two decades later a similar fate to that of Khrushchev would befall on the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. A reformer for a better life for the Soviet people under the banner of Perestroika-Glasnost, like his predecessor Khrushchev, he would come to be considered by many as a loser to his American counterpart, then Ronald Reagan; many of his countrymen even tagging him as traitor and hangman of Soviet communism.

Well, Putin is not about to be the third casualty against the unilateral I-do-as-I-please attitude of America’s leader; and what he got from Bush at Heiligendamm (Germany) last June at the G8 meeting, or a month later at the Bush compound at Kennebunkport (Maine) was a plate of poorly flavored tofu passed on to him as lobster. But Putin, his palate intact, diplomatically told Bush to retrieve the plate and take it to the chefs at the Pentagon; that anti-missile defense the US intends to activate in Eastern Europe, a Cuba-Florida distance away from the Russian Federation, is in many ways a very poor reenactment of the Cuban Missile Crisis. This upcoming Polish Missile-Interceptor Crisis sounds like an appropriate name, for the subterfuge of using the “Iranian danger” has as much credibility as Bush becoming recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Bush has misspent the entire allowance Putin gave him right after 9/11, which appeared to be both sizeable and tendered in good faith. Subsequent events involving the conflict in Iraq, America’s bellicose attitude with Iran and a uniquely-narrow definition by Bush of the “global war on terror” have made the Russian leadership take a 180 degree turn. And with an emerging, prosperous economy and the necessary in-house human talent and natural resources to be self-reliant, it is little wonder that Putin would put the man in the White House on notice that, unlike the European vassals, his nation would not take a subservient role to the United States.

There has been a long parade of high-ranking Russian military and diplomatic officials who have made their nation’s position in matters of national security crystal-clear; from the mouths of Kislyak, Lavrov, Baluyevski and many others, the message has been uniform: don’t tread on us, America. Sending this past week Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates as envoy-caterers of the same tofu plate was not only foolish in Bush’s part but idiotic for both secretaries to consent as emissaries.

As undignified as it may have appeared for Rice and Gates to be waiting for 40 minutes, and to have that meeting initiated by a long Putin monologue, it was a more than fair diplomatic treatment by Putin to two waiters who are bringing back, reheated, the plate he had sent back to the kitchen barely three months before. Another mandatary may have proceeded in a less polite fashion, telling Condi that her Cyrillic flair was at par with her boss’ Tex-Mex inflections, or something to that effect. But Putin kept his cool!

Ok, so Khrushchev got the shorter end of the stick to Kennedy because he was bright enough to realize that being out-gunned 5 or 6 to 1 is not such great odds! And little doubt Gorbachev was slightly naïve, if idealistic, to give in to Robbing-hood Reagan! But for the looks of it, it doesn’t appear as if Putin is going to be America’s “strike three.”
America has finally deiced the Homo sovieticus and a second round of the cold war.

The sad part to the entire commentary is that people always end up being the ultimate target: in Cuba, in the US, in Europe, in Russia and “its environs,” and in much of the Middle East… most anywhere where people prefer to find peace and social justice without the interference of superpowers and their missiles, whether the warheads carry biological, conventional or nuclear weaponry.