Here it is, Veterans Day. For many, it’s a day off from school or work, but for a thoughtful few, it’s a day to reflect on the concepts of duty, sacrifice, and the horrors of war.
Any prolonged thinking about war inevitably leads to the question of when it is appropriate to wage and, more profoundly, the circumstances under which a nation can reasonably expect soldiers to die for their flag. Seems to me that keeping troops out of needless and unnecessary wars is the best answer. This was on my mind recently as I reread “Thirteen Days,” Robert F. Kennedy’s memoir about the Cuban Missile Crisis.
For those not yet born or too young to remember, the Cuban Missile Crisis was an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States. It brought the world — not simply those two nations — to the brink of thermonuclear disaster. It occurred 59 years and a few days ago.
In the fall of 1962, the Cold War was heating up. A charismatic young Marxist named Fidel Castro had recently come to power in Cuba and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was eager to see him succeed. The Soviet Union supplied the Caribbean nation with money and materiel, and despite Khrushchev’s public denials, it began secretly building nuclear missile bases a mere 90 miles from Florida.
In mid-October, an American spy plane brought back irrefutable proof that offensive medium- and intermediate-range nuclear missiles were being installed in Cuba. Thus began a tense, 13-day standoff in which President John F. Kennedy and a tight circle of advisers danced with the Devil — and got the steps right.
I won’t bore you with details, but what struck me was the care, the caution, and the delicacy that Kennedy displayed. He was firm in his demand that Khrushchev remove the missiles, but he took extraordinary steps not to provoke the Soviets — or humiliate them.
“Neither side wanted war over Cuba,” wrote Robert F. Kennedy, the president’s brother and U.S. Attorney General, “but it was possible that either side could take a step that — for reasons of ‘security’ or ‘pride’ or ‘face’ — would require a response by the other side, which, in turn, for the same reasons of security, pride or face, would bring about a counterresponse and an escalation into armed conflict.”
“Miscalculation and misunderstanding and escalation on one side bring a counterresponse,” Kennedy wrote. “For that is how wars begin — wars that no one wants, no one intends, and no one wins.”
Averting war with an implacable foe demands supreme statesmanship, but it also requires two other ingredients: 1) Advisers brave enough to speak unpleasant truths to their superiors; and 2) The support of nations willing to follow the leadership of trusted allies.
Trust. Respect. Allegiance. They are hard-earned, yet easily destroyed.
Those values were in short supply during the presidency of Donald Trump, who trashed America’s long-standing alliances with the carelessness of a toddler in a sandbox. Surrounded by sycophants, all Trump ever heard was “You are so brilliant!”
He is the leader America can no longer afford, the one who smashes things apart for the amusement of his braying supporters. When tact and delicacy are required, Trump has all the finesse of a bulldozer. Can you imagine the outcome of the Cuban Missile Crisis if he had been president 59 years ago?
OK, our last president was a buffoon with fewer diplomatic skills than Godzilla, but there are plenty of lesser politicians who are eager to lead us into a very dark place. Self-absorbed members of the far-right fringe — including Idaho gubernatorial candidates Ammon Bundy and Janice McGeachin, and Priscilla Giddings, who is running for lieutenant governor — are political opportunists with little regard for truth, logic or fairness. They, too, are cancer cells on the body politic.
Every eye-catching political butterfly gets its start somewhere, so protect yourself by denying these larvae your vote.
Brock was born and raised elsewhere, but he has lived on the Palouse for 20 years. He has been a Daily News columnist since 2002.