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One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 3, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Washington Post reporter Dobbs (Saboteurs) is a master at telling stories as they unfold and from a variety of perspectives. In this re-examination of the 1963 Bay of Pigs face-off between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., Dobbs combines visits to Cuba, discussions with Russian participants and fingertip command of archival and printed U.S. sources to describe a wild ride that—contrary to the myth of Kennedy's steel-nerved crisis management—was shaped by improvisation, guesswork and blind luck. Dobbs's protagonists act not out of malevolence, incompetence or machismo. Kennedy, Khrushchev and their advisers emerge as men desperately seeking a handle on a situation no one wanted and no one could resolve. In a densely packed, fast-paced, suspenseful narrative, Dobbs presents the crisis from its early stages through the decision to blockade Cuba and Kennedy's ordering of DEFCON 2, the last step before an attack, to the final resolution on October 27 and 28. The work's climax is a detailed reconstruction of the dry-mouthed, sweaty-armpits environment of those final hours before both sides backed down. From first to last, this sustains Dobbs's case that crisis management is a contradiction in terms. (June 5)
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The 1962 Cuban missile crisis is probably the single most analyzed episode of the cold war. In the past decade, declassified American and Russian documents have proved that a nuclear exchange was even closer than most scholars had previously realized. Dobbs, a reporter for the Washington Post, has used those sources as well as numerous new ones gleaned from two years of research in the U.S., Cuba, and Russia. Although nothing presented here will change the overall view of the crisis, Dobbs presents new and often startling information that again confirms that the thirteen days in October brought the world to the edge of an unprecedented cataclysm. Dobbs spends little time describing the characters of the key players, but he does convey a sense of men under immense stress as events threaten to outstrip their ability to cope with them. This is a well-written effort to explain and understand our closest brush with nuclear war. --Jay Freeman
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Top Customer Reviews
Being a veteran who served with the Navy photo reconnaissance squadron VFP-62 during that period, I had particular interest in reading the new material uncovered by Mr. Dobb's investigative reporting. VFP-62 photo Crusaders flew the low-level photo missions over Cuba, gathering the intelligence needed to help President Kennedy forge a plan of action that avoided nuclear catastrophe. The discovery of nuclear capable cruise missiles, by VFP-62 photos, revealed new information on how they were to be used against Guantanamo Naval Base and invading U.S. forces. The use of tactical nuclear weapons was not considered by the Pentagon in the initial planning of the intended invasion of Cuba.
The book is spell binding with the fast moving anticipation of a Tom Clancy novel, although in this case, events are real. Mr. Dobbs gets into the minds of the decision makers and probes the many ways the crisis could have ended in a total nuclear annihilation for Cuba, the Soviet Union, and the United States. The accounting of the wayward U2 that strayed over the Soviet Union during the height of the crisis, the crash of a F-106 with a nuclear bomb on board, the shoot down of a U2 over Cuba, the lack of full control over the nuclear weapons, in Cuba, the Soviet Union, and the United States, is a chilling reminder of how close we came to a nuclear disaster. Defense Secretary, Robert McNamara, came to believe that only "luck" had prevented nuclear war over Cuba.
After 46 years, many today believe that they know all that is necessary about the Cuban missile crisis. Through television documentaries such as, "Man, Moment, Machine", or "DEFCON 2" by the History and Discovery Channels, or the movie "Thirteen Days", the public is led to a superficial coverage of the most dangerous time in our nation's history. Only a book such as this, written by a skilled writer, can provide that sense of conflict between the military and the civilian control over the use of nuclear weapons. The book provides the most chilling account of the indifference of the Generals and Fidel Castro to the eminent deaths and destruction of millions of lives. This is a must read that is relevant today as it was in 1962.
If you questioned 100 Americans today, not one could tell you what was happening during the Cuban Crisis. It's absolutely amazing that almost no Americans realize how close we came to the "end of civilization".
My father sat in a B-58 Hustler with nuclear weapons on a runway. He had orders to drop his bombs on a Soviet city. He fully expected that he would be called upon to accomplish that mission.
If you repeated this scenario 100 times, it would end in annihilation of the human race. 99 times it would result in annihilation of the human race.
Even more disturbing is that, since much of the truth was suppressed by Kennedy's inner circle, decisions by future presidents were influenced by their belief of what those false "memories" were. Had the truth been known, and some people had not influenced the "truth" for their own personal gain, the U.S. and the world would today be a very different place.
I can't help but applying the lessons of this book to the events taking place this Labor Day weekend 2013, namely the decisions being made now on whether to attack Syria, because of their possible use of poison gas on their own people. Will an alternate truth be made available 50 years from now, based on future declassified material?
I came away with a much-enhanced respect for John Kennedy and Mikhail Khrushchev, and for any world leader in a position to make those literally earth-shattering decisions.
A good book to order with this would be Sheldon M. Stern's, "The Cuban Missile Crisis in American Memory: Myths versus Reality", published in 2012. Don't buy any older "histories" of this episode, as it would be obsolete.