War mongering must stop

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In October 1962, the two giant superpowers of the time stood on the verge of war when Soviet Union tried to place nuclear missiles on the island of Cuba, ninety miles away from the United States. Then U.S. President Johan F. Kennedy had ordered his navy to encircle Cuba in order to stop the Soviet ships with their cargo of missiles. But the ships kept steaming forward. U.S. intelligence agents detected Soviet diplomats in New York City destroying sensitive documents in anticipation of war. American spy planes were flying every two hours over Cuba, taking pictures of the work in progress on the missile installations. Kennedy had taken a tentative decision to retaliate if the Soviets interfered and shot down an American plane. The U.S. Air Force was ready to attack and the U.S. Army was poised to invade.

Then an American plane was shot down and the pilot was killed. Everyone in Washington assumed that the shooting was the result of a decision by the Soviet leadership in Moscow — a deliberate provocation. American bombers prepared to retaliate but fortunately Kennedy hesitated; he decided not to retaliate yet, but to redouble the diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis. He had told his advisers a few days earlier, “It isn’t the first step that concerns me, but both sides escalating to the fourth and fifth step – and we don’t go to the sixth, because there is no one around to do so.” The next day Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev saw sense and announced he would withdraw the missiles from Cuba. World War III was thus averted.

No one really knew just how close the world came to nuclear war until 25 years later when the surviving American, Soviet and Cuban participants came together at a meeting in Moscow to share their experiences about the crisis. Not until this meeting did the world learn of the miscalculations and misunderstandings on both sides. Not until then did the Soviets reveal that the American spy plane had been shot down not on Moscow’s command, but by the independent order of a Soviet general on the spot who had made a snap decision during a two-minute window of opportunity. Only then did the Americans know that Soviets, unbeknownst to Washington, had already succeeded in smuggling into Cuba a number of nuclear missiles, which they had armed. If American decision-makers, in their ignorance, had proceeded with the air and ground attack they had planned, the Soviets might well have responded with a nuclear salvo, and the U.S. would have felt compelled to retaliate. And so the two adversaries might have come to the fourth, and finally, the fifth step – an all-out nuclear war, whose consequences would have been incalculable.

The Cuban Missile Crisis marked a turning point in the relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union as both were shocked into realization that nuclear war made no sense. It was not winnable in any meaningful way; both sides would inevitably lose. The new awareness gave impetus to arms control negotiations, which resulted in the following year in a limited ban on nuclear testing and the establishment of Hot Line between the Pentagon and Kremlin. With this experience in hindsight, a U.S. think-tank had, some years back during a Congressional hearing, proposed setting up of same sort of mechanism between New Delhi and Islamabad so as to minimize the possible risks of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan which might actually be triggered by miscalculations and misunderstandings between them.

Of late Pakistan has been saying that “India’s belligerence” might provoke some “strategic miscalculations”. Now one may brush it aside as mere rhetoric, but fact of the matter is that the amount of misgivings between the two are so huge that one cannot completely ignore and overlook the dangers. Even though the two countries have so far averted full-blown confrontation, but the ultra-jingoistic media of both sides has been given a free run to provoke one. Looking at the television debates of a few prominent TV channels and their hyper-active news anchors and some hawkish, thick-mustached former Army brigadiers and generals who don these shows each evening, it goes without saying that these TV shows have every potential of doing to India and Pakistan what Cuban missile crisis had threatened to do to the US and former USSR. Moreover, history doesn’t necessarily repeat itself always in good ways. Both countries must restrain their respective media from meddling with foreign affairs’ issues. Just because they want to grab higher TRPs and bigger share of advertising revenue, they should not be allowed to stoke misgivings between the two countries and create war-like fears in people’s living-rooms evening after evening!

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