Category Archives: Cold War

Vietnam Operation Popeye Weather Control

Vietnam Operation Popeye Weather Control

The podcast 99% Invisible had a story about weather control. That story inspired the following.

Vietnam Operation Popeye Weather Control

Vietnam Operation Popeye Weather Control

Weather control is an attractive idea. Warmth when we want it; rain when we need it. Light wind? Sure. No snow? Why not.

The 19th century’s Industrial Revolution led many to believe that if we could control and increase production so efficiently, why can’t we control nature, too? Beyond the ceremonial rain dance. Beyond prayer and sacrifices to the gods.

Vietnam Operation Popeye Weather Control

Civil War impetus

During the American Civil War, some thought that its large battles had affected the weather and the idea of shooting cannons, setting off fireworks, exploding hydrogen balloons might cause rain.

The US Department of Agriculture experimented with this idea in Texas in the 1890s. It worked since it rained, but some suggested that it rained because it was the rainy season in Texas anyway.

Sporadic attempts continued with no actual success.

Vietnam Operation Popeye Weather Control

Weather Race

Like the impact of the Industrial Revolution, the development of the atomic bomb again led us to feel we had conquered the unconquerable and renewed the idea of weather control.

So before the so-called Space Race of the 1960s, the US joined the Weather Race. Communism had arrived and the Cold War was around the corner.

Of course, the race wasn’t just for a gold medal to the winner of weather control. The military advantages were immense.

Vietnam Operation Popeye Weather Control

Irving Langmuir

Vietnam Operation Popeye Weather Control

In July 1946, Irving Langmuir, the 1932 Nobel Prize in Chemistry awardee, and his assistant Vincent Schaefer discovered that moisture that normally stayed  vaporous below freezing, would turn into ice crystals when they super-cooled it with dry ice.

And on November 13 of that year at the General Electric Research Laboratory in Schenectady, New York Langmuir, and Bernard Vonnegut discovered that silver iodide could be used with dry ice as a nucleating agent to seed clouds.

Seeding clouds involved inserting large quantities of a nucleating agent into clouds to facilitate the formation of ice crystals. The intent of this process was to cause the clouds to produce rain or snow.

Vietnam Operation Popeye Weather Control

Dr. Felix Hoenikker

Side note: Langmuir was the inspiration for Bernard’s brother Kurt Vonnegut’s fictional scientist Dr. Felix Hoenikker in the novel Cat’s Cradle.  The character’s invention of ice-nine eventually destroyed the world. Kurt had briefly worked at GE as well.

Vietnam Operation Popeye Weather Control

GE out; Langmuir still in

While GE was initially interested in the science of weather control, the worry that chemically-induced snow storms causing damage and the likelihood of subsequent litigation persuaded them to curtail such research.

December 11, 1950 Charleston Daily Mail (Charleston, WV) ran a short article about Langmuir:

“Rainmaking” or weather control can be as powerful a war weapon as the atom bomb, a Nobel prize winning physicist said today.

Dr. Irving Langmuir, pioneer in “rainmaking,” said the government should seize on the phenomenon of weather control as it did on atomic energy when Albert Einstein told the late President Roosevelt in 1939 of the potential power of an atom-splitting weapon.

“In the amount of energy liberated, the effect of 30 milligrams of silver iodide under optimum conditions equals that of one atomic bomb,” Langmuir said.

While further experimentation continued—Langmuir was particularly interested in neutering hurricanes (Project Cirrus in 1952)—none proved effective and critics pointed out that they could explain any proffered “proofs” with more logical and meteorological explanations.

Vietnam Operation Popeye Weather Control

President’s Advisory Committee on Weather Control

In August of 1953 the United States formed the President’s Advisory Committee on Weather Control. Its stated purpose was to determine the effectiveness of weather modification procedures and the extent to which the government should engage in such activities. Captain Howard T Orville chaired the committee.

Vietnam Operation Popeye Weather Control

The May 28, 1954 cover of Collier’s magazine showed a man quite literally changing the seasons by a system of levers and push buttons. Orville wrote the article. In it he said, “if investigation of weather control receives the public support and funds for research which its importance merits, we may be able eventually to make weather almost to order.

The July 6, 1954 edition of Minnesota’s Brainerd Daily Dispatch said:

It may someday be possible to cause torrents of rain over Russia by seeding clouds moving toward the Soviet Union.

Or it may be possible — if an opposite effect is desired — to cause destructive droughts which dry up food crops by “overseeding” those same clouds.

And fortunately for the United States, Russia could do little to retaliate because most weather moves from west to east.”

Vietnam Operation Popeye Weather Control

Project Stormfury

Despite the lack of concrete observable results, interest continued. Project Stormfury began in 1956 and continued the attempt to control or mollify severe weather.

Vietnam Operation Popeye Weather Control

Captain Howard T Orville

Vietnam Operation Popeye Weather Control

In a January 1, 1958, article in the Pasadena Star-News Captain Orville warned that “if an unfriendly nation solves the problem of weather control and gets into the position to control the large-scale weather patterns before we can, the results could be even more disastrous than nuclear warfare.”

The May 25, 1958, issue of The American Weekly ran an article by Frances Leighton using information from Captain Howard T. Orville. Leighton wrote,

“Behind the scenes, while statesmen argue policies and engineers build space satellites, other men are working day and night. They are quiet men, so little known to the public that the magnitude of their job, when you first hear of it, staggers the imagination. Their object is to control the weather and change the face of the world.

Some of these men are Americans. Others are Russians. The first skirmishes of an undeclared cold war between them already have been fought. Unless a peace is achieved the war’s end will determine whether Russia or the United States rules the earth’s thermometers.”

Vietnam Operation Popeye Weather Control

Vietnam Operation Popeye Weather Control

Kennedy’s Weather Race

September 25, 1961: President Kennedy spoke at the UN.  Among his various points, he stated: We shall propose further cooperative efforts between all nations in weather prediction and eventually in weather control. (text of entire speech)

Less than a year later, on May 27, 1962, Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson presented the graduation address at his alma mater, Southwest Texas State University (today Texas State University) in San Marcos.

Among various points, Johnson spoke about weather control and stated that, “..to control the weather and ultimately he who controls the weather controls the world.”

Vietnam Operation Popeye Weather Control

Committee on Atmospheric Science

In November 1963, the Committee on Atmospheric Science appointed a Panel on Weather and Climate Modification “to undertake a deliberate and thoughtful review of the present status of activities in this field.” 

The Committee issued its report in October 1964. In it the Committee stated that, “We conclude that the initiation of large-scale operational weather modification programs would be premature. Many fundamental problems must be answered first….We believe that the patient investigation of atmospheric processes coupled with an exploration of the technical applications may eventually lead to useful weather modification, but we emphasize that the time-scale required for success may be measured in decades.

Vietnam Operation Popeye Weather Control

Project Popeye

Despite such pessimism, Project Popeye happened nonetheless. Due to the weak science and questionable results, the military kept the project secret.

August 10, 1966:  the Joint Chiefs of Staff proposed a weather modification program for selected areas of Laos. The Command of US Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (COMUSMACV) and the Commander in Chief of US Pacific Command (CINCPAC) concurred. (see Global Security dot com for more)

September 1, 1966:  the Joint Chiefs of Staff granted approval of the project and issued  the execute order on September 17, 1966.

September 29 1966 — October 28 1966: the US military began Project Popeye in a strip of the Laos panhandle east of the Bolovens Plateau in the Se Kong River valley. Naval personnel eventually conducted 50 seeding cloud experiments. Project leaders claimed that 82% of the clouds produced rain within a brief period after having been seeded and that one of the clouds drifted across the Vietnam border and dropped nine inches of rain on a US special forces camp over a four hour period.

They declared the project a success and on January 13, 1967 a “Memorandum From the Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Kohler) to Secretary of State Rusk” Its proposal stated, ” The Department of Defense has requested our approval to initiate the operational phase of Project …. The objective of the program is to produce sufficient rainfall along these lines of communication to interdict or at least interfere with truck traffic between North and South Vietnam. Recently improved cloud seeding techniques would be applied on a sustained basis, in a non-publicized effort to induce continued rainfall through the months of the normal dry season.” (entire text of proposal

Vietnam Operation Popeye Weather Control

Operation Popeye-Make Mud, Not War

Vietnam Operation Popeye Weather Control

March 20, 1967: a highly classified weather modification program in Southeast Asia called Operation Popeye began. It was an attempt to extend the monsoon season, specifically over areas of the Ho Chi Minh Trail maze. The military seeded the clouds over the Trail to create floods and wash out supply routes to hinder North Vietnam’s supply chain into and from South Vietnam.

The 54th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron carried out the operation using the slogan “make mud, not war.”

 The initial area of operations was the eastern half of the Laotian panhandle. 

At times the program was also known as Operation Motorpool, and Operation Intermediary-Compatriot.  (V, see Mar 25; OP, see July 11)

July 11, 1967:  the Operation’s operational area was increased northward to around the area of the 20th parallel and included portions of far western North Vietnam.

September 25, 1968:  the southern region of North Vietnam was added to the operational area                          

November 1, 1968:  the southern region of North Vietnam was removed from the Operation concurrent with a halt to conventional bombing of North Vietnam.

Vietnam Operation Popeye Weather Control

Leaks

In 1971, leaks about the program began to appear in the press and in September 1971, Senator Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island as
chairman of the Subcommittee on Oceans and the International Environment requested the Department of Defense to provide information with respect to the program. 

April 18, 1972: regarding any US program to affect the weather/rainfall in Vietnam, Nixon’s secretary of Defense, Melvin Laird testified at a Senate that, “we have never engaged in that type of activity over Northern Vietnam.”

July 3, 1972: a NY Times article on Operation Popeye appeared. It’s lead paragraph stated that “The United States has been secretly seeding clouds over North Vietnam, Laos and South Viet nam to increase and control the rainfall for military purposes.” 

That same day, another NY Times article quoted Dr. Matthew Meseison, a professor of biology at Harvard University, from the June 16 issue of the magazine Science:

“It is obvious that weather modification used as a weapon of war has the potential for causing large‐scale and quite possibly uncontrollable and unpredictable destruction. Furthermore, such destruction might well have a far greater impact on civilians than on combatants. This would be especially true in areas where subsistence agriculture is practiced, in food‐deficit areas, and in areas subject to flooding.”

Also on the same day, a third NYT article stated: Two former high‐ranking officials of the Johnson Administration said…that Robert S. McNamara, while Secretary of Defense, specifically ordered the Air Force to stop all rainmaking late in 1967….

But other officials, who served in both the Johnson and Nixon Administrations, said they recalled no such clear‐cut order.

It was not clear whether Mr. McNamara’s order was dis obeyed, ignored, or—as one of ficial suggested—“there was a kind of slippage” in putting it into effect.

July 5, 1972: Operation Popeye ended.

July 28, 1972: sponsored by Senators Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin and Clairborne Pell, the US Senate voted for an amendment to cut off Defense Department funds for any use of rainmaking or creation of forest fires as a weapon of war.

The US Dept of Defense continued to deny such operations and also refused to discuss the operational aspects in Vietnam. (NYT article)

Vietnam Operation Popeye Weather Control

Declassified

March 20, 1974, the Defense Department provided Senator
Pell’s Subcommittee with a top secret briefing on weather modification activities in Southeast Asia.

Vietnam Operation Popeye Weather Control

Environmental Modification Convention

The Environmental Modification Convention (ENMOD), formally the Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques is an international treaty prohibiting the military or other hostile use of environmental modification techniques having widespread, long-lasting or severe effects. It opened for signature on 18 May 1977 in Geneva and entered into force on 5 October 1978.

Vietnam Operation Popeye Weather Control

Fixing the Sky

Vietnam Operation Popeye Weather Contro

In  September 2010, James Rodger Fleming published Fixing the Sky: The Checkered History of Weather and Climate Control. In it he wrote: Although some claimed that [Operation Popeye] induced from 1 to 7 inches of additional rainfall annually along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, no scientific data were collected to verify the claim. General Westmoreland thought there was “no appreciable increase” in rain from the project. Even if the cloud seeding had produced a tactical victory or two in Vietnam (it did not), the extreme secrecy surrounding the operation and the subsequent denials and stonewalling of Congress by the military resulted in a major strategic defeat for military weather modification.

Related: 2011 Smithsonian article

Vietnam Operation Popeye Weather Control

 

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United States Pledge Allegiance

United States Pledge Allegiance

United States Pledge Allegiance

Divided Allegiances

At at time when whether the choice of kneeling or standing has come under Presidential scrutiny, it is a good idea to look back at our Pledge of Allegiance’s history.

It might seem that we’ve always had one, but like most social icons,  the United States had no allegiance to the flag for more than a century and we’ve only had a government sanctioned one for less than a century.

Here’s some of that timeline.

United States Pledge Allegiance

19th century genesis

October 12, 1892: during Columbus Day observances organized to coincide with the opening of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois, the pledge of allegiance was recited for the first time.

Francis Bellamy [Smithsonian article], a Christian Socialist, had initiated the movement for such a statement and having flags in all classrooms. His pledge was: I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. 

United States Pledge Allegiance

United States Pledge Allegiance

An adjustment

In 1923: the  called for the words “my Flag” to be changed to “the Flag of the United States,” so that new immigrants would not confuse loyalties between their birth countries and the United States. The words “of America” were added a year later.

United States Pledge Allegiance

Patriotism on display

May 3, 1937: as the rest of the world headed toward World War II, a patriot fervor swept the U.S., as it had before, during and after World War I.

Walter Gobitas

United States Pledge Allegiance

One expression of that movement involved state laws requiring public school students to salute the flag each morning. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, however, regarded saluting the flag as an expression of a commitment to a secular authority and unfaithfulness to God.

As a result, some families had their children refuse to participate in the compulsory salute. On this day, Walter Gobitas (the family name was misspelled in the court case) sued the Minersville, Pennsylvania, School Board, in a case that ended up in the Supreme Court:  Minersville School District v. Gobitis.

June 3, 1940: Minersville School District v. Gobitis, was a decision by the US Supreme Court involving the religious rights of public school students under the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

The Court ruled that public schools could compel students—in this case, Jehovah’s Witnesses—to salute the American Flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance despite the students’ religious objections to these practices. (Oyez article)

United States Pledge Allegiance

Pledge of Allegiance official

United States Pledge Allegiance

June 22, 1942:  the US Congress officially recognized the Pledge for the first time [Gilder Lehrman Institute article] , in the following form: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

During the 1920s and 1930s, Italian fascists and Nazis adopted salutes which were similar in form, resulting in controversy over the use of the Bellamy salute in the United States.

December 22, 1942: Congress amended the Flag code to replace the Bellamy salute with the the hand-over-heart salute. The Bellamy salute  had been the salute described by Francis Bellamy to accompany the American Pledge of Allegiance, which he had authored.

United States Pledge Allegiance

FREE SPEECH?

June 14, 1943: West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette,  the US Supreme Court held that the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution protected students from being forced to salute the American flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance in school. It was a significant court victory won by Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose religion forbade them from saluting or pledging to symbols, including symbols of political institutions. However, the Court did not address the effect the compelled salutation and recital ruling had upon their particular religious beliefs, but instead ruled that the state did not have the power to compel speech in that manner for anyone.

Barnette overruled the June 3, 1940 decision (Minersville School District v. Gobitis) which also involved the children of Jehovah’s Witnesses. (Oyez article)

United States Pledge Allegiance
“under God”

February 12, 1948:  Louis A. Bowman, an attorney from Illinois, was the first to initiate the addition of “under God” to the Pledge. He was Chaplain of the Illinois Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. At a meeting on February 12, 1948, Lincoln’s Birthday, he led the Society in swearing the Pledge with two words added, “under God.”

He stated that the words came from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Though not all manuscript versions of the Gettysburg Address contain the words “under God”, all the reporters’ transcripts of the speech as delivered do, as perhaps Lincoln may have deviated from his prepared text and inserted the phrase when he said “that the nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom.”

United States Pledge Allegiance
Knights of Columbus

April 30, 1951: the Knights of Columbus [site], the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization, had begun to include the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. On this date in New York City the Knights of Columbus Board of Directors adopted a resolution to amend the text of their Pledge of Allegiance at the opening of each of the meetings of the 800 Fourth Degree Assemblies of the Knights of Columbus by addition of the words “under God” after the words “one nation.”

Over the next two years, the idea spread throughout Knights of Columbus organizations nationwide.

August 21, 1952: the Supreme Council of the Knights of Columbus at its annual meeting adopted a resolution urging that the change be made universal and copies of this resolution were sent to the President, the Vice President (as Presiding Officer of the Senate) and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

United States Pledge Allegiance

President Eisenhower baptized

February 1, 1953: President Eisenhower was baptized, confirmed, and became a communicant in the Presbyterian church in a single ceremony.

United States Pledge Allegiance
George MacPherson Docherty

United States Pledge Allegiance

It had become a tradition that some American presidents  honored Lincoln’s birthday by attending services at the church Lincoln attended in Washington, DC, [the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church] and sitting in Lincoln’s pew on the Sunday nearest February 12.

On February 7, 1954, with President Eisenhower sitting in Lincoln’s pew, the church’s pastor, George MacPherson Docherty [Washington Post obit], delivered a sermon based on the Gettysburg Address titled “A New Birth of Freedom.”

He argued that the nation’s might lay not in arms but its spirit and higher purpose. He noted that the Pledge’s sentiments could be those of any nation, that “there was something missing in the pledge, and that which was missing was the characteristic and definitive factor in the American way of life.” He cited Lincoln’s words “under God” as defining words that set the United States apart from other nations.

President Eisenhower, baptized a Presbyterian the previous  February, responded enthusiastically to Docherty in a conversation following the service. (Christian Perspective article on Eisenhower)

United States Pledge Allegiance
“under God” gets Presidential support

February 8, 1954: Eisenhower acted on Rev Doucherty’s suggestion and Rep. Charles Oakman (R-Mich.), introduced a bill to that effect.

United States Pledge Allegiance

June 14, 1954: President Eisenhower signed the bill into law on Flag Day, stating, “From this day forward, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural school house, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty. … In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource, in peace or in war.”

United States Pledge Allegiance

Stay or leave

March 4, 1969: the New York City Corporation Council upheld the petition of Dorothy Lynn, a 17-year-old Queens, NY high school student to leave her classroom during the Pledge of Allegiance.

Lynn said that she did not believe in God or that everyone was granted liberty and justice. (NYT article)

United States Pledge Allegiance

Sit or stand?

United States Pledge Allegiance

October 31, 1969:  Mary Frain and Susan Keller, two 12-year-old 7th grade girls in Brooklyn went to court  to assert their right to remain seated in class while other students recited the Pledge of Allegiance.

Referring to the Vietnam War, one of the students  said she refused to recite the pledge because she doesn’t believe that “the actions of this country at this time warrant my respect.

The school had suspended the seventh graders four weeks earlier in what the school board’s attorney described as a simple matter of school discipline and not one of First Amendment law. Allowing the girls to remain seated, he claimed, would be “disruptive.”

New York Civil Liberties Union lawyers represented the girls. The NYCLU cited the Supreme Court case of West Virginia v. Barnette, decided of June 14, 1943, in which the Court upheld the right of Jehovah’s Witness’s children not to salute the American flag as required by their school.

On December 10, Judge Orrin G Judd, enjoined the city school system from telling student that they must leave the classrooms if they do not want to stand and recite the Pledge.

Judd said the students had a constitutinal right to remain seated until the school could prove that by sitting through the Pledge the students had “materially infringed” the rights of other students or had caused disruption. (NYT article)

United States Pledge Allegiance

New Jersey

August 16, 1977: a Federal District Court overturned a New Jersey state law requiring all public school students in New Jersey to at least stand at attention during the pledge of allegiance to the American flag. [NYT article]

Judge H. Curtis Meanor ruled that the standing mandated by the State Education Law illegally compelled “symbolic speech” and violated students’ First Amendment rights of freedom of expression and speech.

The New Jersey statute stipulated that the pledge be recited and a flag salute rendered by all children in public schools, except for the children of foreign diplomats or for youngsters with “conscientious scruples” against the acts.

But the law required that the exempt pupils “be required to show full respect to the flag while the pledge is being given merely by standing at attention.” Judge Meanor objected to the “mandatory language” of that section of the law.

United States Pledge Allegiance

Under or not under God?

June 27, 2002: a federal appeals court declared that the Pledge of Allegiance was unconstitutional because the phrase ”one nation under God” violated the separation of church and state. [NY Times article]

A three-member panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the pledge, as it exists in federal law, could not be recited in schools because it violates the First Amendment’s prohibition against a state endorsement of religion. In addition, the ruling turned on the phrase ”under God” which Congress added in 1954 to one of the most hallowed patriotic traditions in the nation.

From a constitutional standpoint, those two words, Judge Alfred T. Goodwin wrote in the 2-to-1 decision, were just as objectionable as a statement that ”we are a nation ‘under Jesus,’ a nation ‘under Vishnu,’ a nation ‘under Zeus,’ or a nation ‘under no god,’ because none of these professions can be neutral with respect to religion.’

August 9, 2002: the U.S. Justice Department filed an appeal of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling in the Newdow vs. U.S. Congress case in which the court struck down the addition of the phrase “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance as unconstitutional.

February 28, 2003: the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that the addition of “under God” to the The Pledge of Allegiance was unconstitutional, refused to reconsider its ruling, saying it would be wrong to allow public outrage to influence its decisions.

March 4, 2003: the US Senate voted 94-0 that it “strongly” disapproved of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision not to reconsider its ruling that the addition of the phase “under God” to the The Pledge of Allegiance was unconstitutional.

United States Pledge Allegiance

Bush administration appeal

April 30, 2003: the Bush administration appealed to the Supreme Court to preserve the phrase “under God” in the The Pledge of Allegiance recited by school children. Solicitor General Theodore Olson said that “Whatever else the (Constitution’s) establishment clause may prohibit, this court’s precedents make clear that it does not forbid the government from officially acknowledging the religious heritage, foundation and character of this nation,” and that the Court could strike down the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in Newdow vs. United States without even bothering to hear arguments.

June 14, 2003: in the case of Newdow v. U.S. Congress Oyez article[], the US Supreme Court overturned a Ninth Circuit Court decision that struck the addition of “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. The 8-0 ruling was reached on a technicality: that Michael Newdow doesn’t have standing to bring the case in the first place. (Constitution Society dot com article)

United States Pledge Allegiance

And the beat goes on…

October 7, 2017:  a federal lawsuit charged that Windfern High School suspended India Landry,  a 17-year-old Houston student,  after refusing to stand for the daily Pledge of Allegiance.

Landry said that she had sat for the Pledge hundreds of times at Windfern High School without incident,however, Principal Martha Strother removed her after Landry declined to stand for the Pledge.

According to the lawsuit, school administrators had “recently been whipped into a frenzy” by the controversy caused by NFL players kneeling for the national anthem.

The lawsuit also charged that India was told after she was expelled that “if your mom does not get here in five minutes the police are coming.”

Washington Post article on the Pledge’s history.

United States Pledge Allegiance
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October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis

October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis

October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis

We know that nothing historic happens by itself. We just forget.

Boomers remember the Cuban missile crisis  as an  October 1962 event, an event that grew from a simple announcement to the shuddering fear of nuclear apocalypse.

What follows is a chronologically simplified list of the various events that preceded the crisis, the crisis itself, and its aftermath.

October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis

Bay of Pigs & aftermath

October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis

April 24, 1961: President Kennedy accepted “sole responsibility” following the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and in November he authorized an aggressive covert operations (code name Operation Mongoose) against Fidel Castro. Air Force General Edward Lansdale led the operation.

Operation Mongoose’s goal was to remove the communists from power to “help Cuba overthrow the Communist regime,” including its leader Fidel Castro. It aimed “for a revolt which can take place in Cuba by October 1962”. US policy makers also wanted to see “a new government with which the United States can live in peace”.  [PBS story re Mongoose]

February 3, 1962: President Kennedy banned all trade with Cuba. 

October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis

US missiles in Turkey

Deployed in 1959, in April 1962, U.S. Jupiter missiles in Turkey became operational. US personnel reported all positions “ready and manned.” 

USSR missiles in Cuba

October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis

May 30, 1962: Fidel Castro informed visiting Soviet officials that Cuba would accept the deployment of nuclear weapons.

August 17, 1962: US Central Intelligence Agency Director John McCone stated at a high-level meeting that circumstantial evidence suggested that the Soviet Union was constructing offensive missile installations in Cuba. Dean Rusk and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara disagreed with McCone, arguing that the build-up was purely defensive.

Twelve days later, on August 29, a high-altitude U-2 surveillance flight provided conclusive evidence of the existence of missile sites at eight different locations in Cuba.

September 18, 1962: the Soviet Union conducted an above ground nuclear test of 1.5 – 10 megatons. [NYT article]

September 19, 1962:  the United States Intelligence Board (USIB) approved a report on the Soviet arms buildup in Cuba. Its assessment, stated that some intelligence indicates the ongoing deployment of nuclear missiles to Cuba.

October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis

Cuba at the UN

October 7, 1962: Cuban President Osvaldo Dorticós spoke at the UN General Assembly: “If … we are attacked, we will defend ourselves. I repeat, we have sufficient means with which to defend ourselves; we have indeed our inevitable weapons, the weapons, which we would have preferred not to acquire, and which we do not wish to employ.”

October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis

October 14, 1962: a US Air Force U-2 plane on a photo-reconnaissance mission captured proof of Soviet missile bases under construction in Cuba. Four days later, on October 18, President Kennedy met with Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs, Andrei Gromyko, who claimed the weapons were for defensive purposes only. Not wanting to expose what he already knew, and wanting to avoid panicking the American public, Kennedy did not reveal that he was already aware of the missile build-up.

October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis

Public announcement

October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis

October 22, 1962: President Kennedy announced the existence of Soviet missiles in Cuba and ordered a naval blockade. The Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously agreed that a full-scale attack and invasion was the only solution.

October 23, 1962: evidence presented by the U.S. Department of Defense of Soviet missiles in Cuba. This low level photo of the medium range ballistic missile site under construction at Cuba’s San Cristobal area. A line of oxidizer trailers is at center.

October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis

Added since October 14, were fuel trailers, a missile shelter tent, and equipment. The missile erector now lies under canvas cover. Evident also is extensive vehicle trackage and the construction of cable lines to control areas

October 24, 1962: the Soviet news agency Telegrafnoe Agentstvo Sovetskogo Soyuza (TASS) broadcast a telegram from Nikita Khrushchev to President Kennedy, in which Khrushchev warned that the United States’ “pirate action” would lead to war. President John F. Kennedy spoke before reporters during a televised speech to the nation about the strategic blockade of Cuba, and his warning to the Soviet Union about missile sanctions.

October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis

October 25, 1962

The Chinese People’s Daily announced that “650,000,000 Chinese men and women were standing by the Cuban people”. 

At the United Nations, ambassador Adlai Stevenson confronted Soviet Ambassador Valerian Zorin in an emergency meeting challenging him to admit the existence of the missiles.

The Soviets responded to the blockade by turning back 14 ships presumably carrying offensive weapons.

October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis

UN confrontation

October 26, 1962: in one of the most dramatic verbal confrontations of the Cold War, American U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson asked his Soviet counterpart during a Security Council debate whether the USSR had placed missiles in Cuba. Meanwhile, B-52 bombers were dispersed to various locations and made ready to take off, fully equipped. 

October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis

Rudolf Anderson shot down

October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis

October 27, 1962: Radio Moscow began broadcasting a message from Khrushchev. The message offered a new trade, that the missiles on Cuba would be removed in exchange for the removal of the Jupiter missiles from Italy and Turkey.  Cuba shot down a US U2 plane with surface to air missile killing the pilot, Rudolf Anderson. U.S. Army anti-aircraft rockets sat, mounted on launchers and pointed out over the Florida Straits in Key West, Florida.

October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis

Detente

October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis

October 28, 1962: after much deliberation between the Soviet Union and Kennedy’s cabinet, Kennedy secretly agreed to remove all missiles set in southern Italy and in Turkey, the latter on the border of the Soviet Union, in exchange for Khrushchev removing all missiles in Cuba. Nikita Khrushchev announced that he had ordered the removal of Soviet missile bases in Cuba.

October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis

November 6, 1962: Rudolph Anderson’s body interred in Greenville, South Carolina at Woodlawn Memorial Park.

October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis

Hot line

June 20, 1963: to lessen the threat of an accidental nuclear war, the US and the Soviet Union agreed to establish a “hot line” communication system between the two nations. 

August 30, 1963: the “Hot Line” communications link between the White House, Washington D.C. and the Kremlin, Moscow, went into operation to provide a direct two-way communications channel between the American and Soviet governments in the event of an international crisis. 

It consisted of one full-time duplex wire telegraph circuit, routed Washington- London- Copenhagen- Stockholm- Helsinki- Moscow, used for the transmission of messages and one full-time duplex radiotelegraph circuit, routed Washington- Tangier- Moscow used for service communications and for coordination of operations between the two terminal points. Note, this was not a telephone voice link.

October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis

Nuclear test ban

October 7, 1963: President John F. Kennedy signed the documents of ratification for a nuclear test ban treaty with Britain and the Soviet Union. [NYT article]

October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis

Cuban/US relations

Castro was furious that Khrushchev had not consulted him before making his bargain with Kennedy to end the crisis — and furious as well that U.S. covert action against him had not ceased. In September 1963, Castro appeared at a Brazilian Embassy reception in Havana and warned, “American leaders should know that if they are aiding terrorist plans to eliminate Cuban leaders, then they themselves will not be safe.”

November 18, 1963: at the Americana Hotel in Miami President John F. Kennedy told the Inter-American Press Association that only one issue separated the United States from Fidel Castro’s Cuba: Castro’s “conspirators” had handed Cuban sovereignty to “forces beyond the hemisphere” (meaning the Soviet Union), which were using Cuba “to subvert the other American republics.” Kennedy said, “As long as this is true, nothing is possible. Without it, everything is possible.”

That same day, Ambassador William Attwood, a Kennedy delegate to the United Nations, secretly called Castro’s aide and physician, Rene Vallejo, to discuss a possible secret meeting in Havana between Attwood and Castro that might improve the Cuban-American relationship. Attwood had been told by Castro’s U.N. ambassador, Carlos Lechuga, in September 1963, that the Cuban leader wished to establish back-channel communications with Washington.

Kennedy’s national security adviser, McGeorge Bundy, told Attwood that J.F.K. wanted to “know more about what is on Castro’s mind before committing ourselves to further talks on Cuba.” He said that as soon as Attwood and Lechuga could agree on an agenda, the president would tell him what to say to Castro. 

November 19, 1963: Kennedy had settled the Cuban crisis, in part, by pledging that the US would not invade Cuba; however that pledge was conditioned on the presumption that Castro would stop trying to encourage other revolutions like his own throughout Latin America.

Tuesday 19 November 1963: the evening before President Kennedy’s final full day at the White House — the C.I.A.’s covert action chief, Richard Helms, brought J.F.K. what he termed “hard evidence” that Castro was still trying to foment revolution throughout Latin America.

Helms (who later served as C.I.A. director from 1966 to 1973) and an aide, Hershel Peake, told Kennedy about their agency’s discovery: a three-ton arms cache left by Cuban terrorists on a beach in Venezuela, along with blueprints for a plan to seize control of that country by stopping Venezuelan elections scheduled for 12 days hence.

Standing in the Cabinet Room near windows overlooking the darkened Rose Garden, Helms brandished what he called a “vicious-looking” rifle and told the president how its identifying Cuban seal had been sanded off.

Elie Abel wrote The Missile Crisis in 1966. In it Kennedy is quoted as saying after the crisis: “Any historian who walks through this minefield of charges and countercharges.”

October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis
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