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Regeneration or Armageddon? 60 Years Ago and Today

The main issue that radicalized me when I first became a student activist in the 1960s was war, the actual bloody war going on in Viet-Nam, and the always pending war, permanently etched into the back of my mind, the threat of nuclear war between Russia and the United States. I became a draft resister in 1967, like hundreds of thousands of others, and refused to go to Viet-Nam, opting to become a non-violent warrior for peace and justice instead.

The nuclear standoff that traumatized me and a whole generation of anti-war and civil rights activists arose during the Cuban missile crisis of October 16-28, 1962—60 years ago.

Years later I learned that a global catastrophe in October 1962 was averted only because a Soviet submarine commander, off the coast of Cuba, disobeyed orders to fire his nuclear missiles, after a U.S. naval vessel dropped explosive depth-charges, trying to force the Russian submarine to the surface. The 1962 nuclear standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union, eerily reminiscent of the current nuclear standoff in Ukraine, was precipitated by American deployment of nuclear missiles in Turkey, adjacent to the borders of the USSR, prompting Soviet deployment of intermediate atomic missiles in Cuba.

Years later I learned that the U.S. President at the time, John F. Kennedy, was similarly traumatized by the Cuban Missile Crisis. JFK realized that trying to bully Russia with nuclear missiles in Turkey and elsewhere was a serious mistake, and that the US and Russia must step back from the abyss, and begin the long process of disarmament. JFK was furious that the CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (what we now call the Deep State) had manipulated him into supporting a reckless and ill-fated invasion of Cuba in 1961 (by Cuban exiles and CIA mercenaries), and then a year later encouraged him to carry out a nuclear first strike against Cuba and Russia. Circumventing the war hawks in the Deep State, Kennedy developed secret, back channel communications with the Premier of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, and later, Fidel Castro, Cuba’s leader. They were forced to speak through back-channels because neither JFK nor Khrushchev trusted the war hawks and military madmen in their countries.

Through intermediaries (including Pope John XXIII) Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro were working on an agreement to reduce rather than escalate international conflict, and to work together for a lasting peace. Privately the President told his brother, Robert F. Kennedy, and other White House insiders that he intended “to splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces” during his second term. Unfortunately, JFK never got the chance to serve a second term as President. He was assassinated in Dallas by the CIA and the Deep State on November 22, 1963. 

Knowing that Robert F. Kennedy would follow in the footsteps of his brother and likely win the Presidency in 1968, RFK was similarly assassinated by the Deep State in California on June 5, 1968. 

A year before RFK’s assassination, the Reverend Martin Luther King started speaking out strongly against the Viet-Nam war and U.S. imperialism.  The Deep State killed MLK on April 4, 1968. All three assassinations were blamed by the Deep State and the mass media on “lone gunmen.” 

Most of you, of course, were too young, or not even born yet, to remember or even hear about the atomic bomb drills and the undercurrent of fear that Baby Boomers, like myself, lived through. The sirens would sound, the school fire alarms would go off, and we were told over the school PA systems to crawl under our classroom desks face down, with our hands over our heads, and stay there until the “all-clear” sirens sounded again. I can distinctly remember the bizarre, patriotic-themed movies we watched in high school telling us how we should prepare for nuclear war. I will never forget the day I went out with my family in my hometown in Texas to check out the bomb shelters which people had begun installing in their back yards. A small group of rebels in my high school found a book by Bertrand Russell, Common Sense and Nuclear Warfare, which talked about the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and taught us how war between Russia and the U.S. would be a holocaust, from which there would be no escape. The Ban the Bomb movement, as it was called, spawned a massive movement. 

Once again it’s time for all of us to stand up for peace and sanity. Forty percent of Americans currently believe that we need to negotiate an end to the war in Ukraine, but we need to educate and mobilize the majority. Most of the members of Congress and the White House are still banging the drums of war, cowardly angling for reelection or donor dollars. Spending for war, weapons, and CIA operations now total 1.4 trillion dollars annually. We obviously need to redirect this money to rebuilding our economy and our nation. Go to the website of Code Pink or other anti-war groups and get involved. 

Using the threat of war with Russia (and now China) to gain votes in the mid-term elections (and the forthcoming 2024 elections), or to sell more arms is nothing but treason and insanity. Listen war hawks, neo-cons, neo-liberals: there will be no healthy food, public health, nor hope for social justice and a living environment for our children and the future generations, unless we stop the madness. We must force our elected politicians to negotiate and put an end to the war in Ukraine. We must force our governments to sit down with the other Superpowers, once and for all, and abolish all nuclear and biological weapons. Once we begin this long-overdue process of denuclearization, we can begin to negotiate on all the burning issues. Now is not the time to lose hope or remain silent. We don’t have to agree on everything, but our survival demands that we put an end to the war in Ukraine, all war, and nuclear/biological weapons of mass destruction.