Over the past 50 years, dozens of articles have appeared in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists on the Cuban Missile Crisis. And with each passing year, new and relevant information has been reported — which, for better or worse, has taught readers that the world was closer to full-scale nuclear war than was originally thought. Yet in October 1962, the Bulletin's Doomsday Clock remained unchanged: It stood at 7 minutes to midnight and the following year, in 1963, the clock's hands moved to 12 minutes to midnight, when the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty went into effect.
But how did the Doomsday Clock — the very existence of which indicated how close the world was to nuclear catastrophe — stand still? The answers to this seeming anomaly are that the Doomsday Clock captures trends and takes into account the capacity of leaders and societies to respond to crises with reasoned actions to prevent nuclear holocaust. The Cuban Missile Crisis, for all its potential and ultimate destruction, only lasted a few weeks; however, the lessons were quickly apparent when the United States and the Soviet Union installed the first hotline between the two capitals to improve communications, and, of course, negotiated the 1963 test ban treaty, ending all atmospheric nuclear testing. Others have suggested that the gravity of the Cuban Missile Crisis has been defined by decades of scholarship but that, in 1962, the world population, to a large degree, was unaware of what exactly had just happened. Or, more precisely, what hadn't happened.
The Bulletin turned to a few of its current Science and Security Board and Board of Sponsors members — those who together decide the time of the Doomsday Clock — to ask them to share their personal memories or personal reflections of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
What follows is a day in the life, from Siberia to Rhode Island, in October 1962: Essays of what the Cuban Missile Crisis meant and didn't mean then, and what it should mean today.
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