There were three patterns of bells our elementary school principal would ring. One for the fire drill when we would excitedly march out of our classrooms in single file, down the main hallway and out onto the playground. The second burst of bells warned us to take cover inside the building kneeling before our lockers until the tornado had passed. Then the third pattern, one long continuous "all clear" signal, would send us back to our classrooms.
In second grade another warning was added to our tornado drills. We would mimic the routine of that drill, but this time instead of a violent windstorm, we anxiously awaited the firestorm from the blast of nuclear missiles. Even at that early age we realized if the missiles were launched, our crouching before our lockers would probably not save us. Instead we quickly learned and passed on the best procedure to follow in case of a Nuclear Missile Attack, which was to “bend over and kiss our sweet asses good-bye."
We were too young at that time to have any real awareness of just how close we came to nuclear annihilation. Several years would pass before the details of how back channel negotiations between American President John Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev saved the world from massive destruction and staggering casualties. I was not aware of how, by his courageous actions at that time, President Kennedy had saved my life and how as a result of those actions, he sacrificed his own.
In his book, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters (Simon and Schuster), author James W. Douglass relates how at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy's brother Robert Kennedy communicated to Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrinyin just how dire the situation in the U.S. Capitol had become.
The Military was putting intense pressure upon President Kennedy to invade Cuba immediately and destroy the nuclear missiles the Soviet Union had installed on the island. Fearing this action would almost certainly trigger WWIII and an all-out nuclear missile exchange, the president was holding off the invasion, seeking an alternate solution. Robert Kennedy told Ambassador Dobrinyin that time was running out and that if the president did not act soon, the Military would launch a coup and take over the government.
Facing similar pressure from his military leaders, Khrushchev offered the president a deal: He would remove the Soviet missiles if Kennedy agreed to never invade Cuba and to remove U.S. missiles from Turkey. Kennedy agreed to this and a Nuclear Disaster was averted.
Building upon their new relationship, the two leaders took their negotiations even further. They signed a Test Ban Treaty for the further testing of nuclear missiles. And they proposed a joint U.S./U.S.S.R. venture to explore space together.
This cooperation with the Soviet Union was not well received by the Anti-Communist Extremists in the U. S. Military. In the aftermath of WWII, these people saw the U.S.S.R. as the last obstacle standing in the way of them and U.S. Corporations bestowing the gifts of Free Market Capitalism upon the entire world. To them, Kennedy had blown the opportunity to destroy this ‘final enemy’ in a Nuclear First Strike, leaving the necessity of a long Cold War with the Soviets for world domination. This protracted campaign would require a series of covert wars around the globe conducted by a partnership of the U.S. Military with the Central Intelligence Agency.
President Kennedy did not accept the certainty of a Cold War with the Soviets. Instead he sought out areas where the two countries might mutually benefit, along with the entire world, by making peaceful use of Nuclear Power. He proposed desalinization projects in the Middle East and dams for electrical power and irrigation in Africa.
Kennedy did not envision a world where nations would be forced to choose a side, Communist or Capitalist, in order to exist. His vision was a post-war world where non-aligned nations were encouraged, even enabled with foreign aid, to achieve true political and economic independence.
This world vision was anathema to that of the Anti-Communists who, based upon these initiatives, now viewed Kennedy as a Traitor to America. Having failed to eliminate Castro and Communism from Cuba, and having failed to destroy the Soviet Union with Nuclear Weapons when the opportunity arose, Kennedy the Traitor was Condemned to Death by those who had the means to execute the action and the ability to get away with it. These people had killed many leaders around the world already and were poised to kill more globally and in the United States as well.
And so on this Fifty Year anniversary of the death of President John F. Kennedy, I think of that frightened seven-year-old boy, huddled before his school locker, waiting for the missiles to explode.
I think about how his life was spared by the courageous act of a visionary leader. And I ponder what the world may have been like if that leader had not been gunned down in the prime of his life on a sunny autumn afternoon in Dallas, Texas.