The Cuban Missile Crisis, as Viewed From a Soviet Launch Facility

This month marks the 61st anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the world dangerously close to thermonuclear war. Reflecting on this crisis seems particularly appropriate in our current era, when the threat of nuclear was has again come forward from the background to which it had been hopefully consigned.

Several years ago,  I read  Rockets and People, the totally fascinating memoir of Soviet rocket developer Boris Chertok, which I reviewed here.

Chertok’s career encompassed both military and space-exploration projects, and in late October 1962 he was focused on preparations for launching a Mars probe. On the morning of Oct 27, he was awakened by “a strange uneasiness.” After a quick breakfast, he headed for the missile assembly building, known as the MIK.

At the gatehouse, there was usually a lone soldier on duty who would give my pass a cursory glance. Now suddenly I saw a group of soldiers wielding sub-machine guns, and they thoroughly scrutinized my pass. Finally they admitted me to the facility grounds and there, to my surprise, I again saw sub-machine-gun-wielding soldiers who had climbed up the fire escape to the roof of the MIK. Other groups of soldiers in full combat gear, even wearing gas masks, were running about the periphery of the secure area. When I stopped in at the MIK, I immediately saw that the “duty” R-7A combat missile, which had always been covered and standing up against the wall, which we had always ignored, was uncovered.

Chertok was greeted by his friend Colonel Kirillov, who was in charge of this launch facility. Kirollov did not greet Chertok with his usual genial smile, but with a “somber, melancholy expression.”

Without releasing my hand that I’d extended for our handshake, he quietly said: “Boris Yevseyevich, I have something of urgent importance I must tell you”…We went into his office on the second floor. Here, visibly upset, Kirillov told me: “Last night I was summoned to headquarters to see the chief of the [Tyura-Tam] firing range. The chiefs of the directorates and commanders of the troop units were gathered there. We were told that the firing range must be brought into a state of battle readiness immediately. Due to the events in Cuba, air attacks, bombardment, and even U.S. airborne assaults are possible. All Air Defense Troops assets have already been put into combat readiness. Flights of our transport airplanes are forbidden. All facilities and launch sites have been put under heightened security. Highway transport is drastically restricted. But most important—I received the order to open an envelope that has been stored in a special safe and to act in accordance with its contents. According to the order, I must immediately prepare the duty combat missile at the engineering facility and mate the warhead located in a special depot, roll the missile out to the launch site, position it, test it, fuel it, aim it, and wait for a special launch command. All of this has already been executed at Site No. 31. I have also given all the necessary commands here at Site No. 2. Therefore, the crews have been removed from the Mars shot and shifted over to preparation of the combat missile. The nosecone and warhead will be delivered here in 2 hours

Chertok, who at this point was apparently viewing the Cuban affair as a flash in the pan that would be resolved short of war, was concerned that moving the Mars rocket would cause them to miss their October 29 launch date, and suggested that the swap of the rockets be delayed for a few hours. Kirillov told him that this was impossible, and that he should go to the “Marshal’s cottage,” where some of his associates wanted to see him. Chertok’s response:

Yes, sir! You’re in charge! But, Anatoliy Semyonovich! Just between you and me do you have the courage to give the ‘Launch!’ command, knowing full well that this means not just the death of hundreds of thousands from that specific thermonuclear warhead, but perhaps the beginning of the end for everyone? You commanded a battery at the front, and when you shouted  ‘Fire!’  that was quite another matter.

Kirillov:

There’s no need to torment me. I am a soldier now; I carry out an order just as I did at the front. A missile officer just like me, not a Kirillov, but some Jones or other, is standing at a periscope and waiting for the order to give the ‘Launch’ command against Moscow or our firing range. Therefore, I advise you to hurry over to the cottage.

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The Atrocity in Israel

Jeffrey Herf on the ideology of mass murder.

An earlier Quillette post reviews Herf’s book Israel’s Moment.  The Palestinian Nakba narrative is discussed, along with the collaboration between the Nazi regime and Haj Amin al-Husseini, the preeminent leader of the Palestinian Arabs in the 1920s and ’30s.

CDR Salamander has a four-part post series on the situation; the first three posts are already out and are well worth reading:

Part I: 24669 Americans Murdered in One Day

Part II: Prelude to Slaughter

Part III: Gaza COA Decision Brief

The Diplomad sees an analogy with the Tet offensive of the Vietnam war.

30+ student organizations at Harvard issued a statement holding Israel “entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.”  See Harvard is a National Disgrace by Jacob Howland, who directs the Intellectual Foundations Program at UATX (commonly known as the University of Austin).  Some students affiliated with these organizations are now saying they didn’t know about the statement and don’t support it–and there was also a counter-statement by a number of faculty members–but overall, this level of support for such an extreme and malevolent statement says that something is seriously wrong at Harvard.

Larry Summers says: “In nearly 50 years of Harvard affiliation, I have never been as disillusioned and alienated as I am today.”

Well, Summers was President of Harvard. Doesn’t he feel some sense of responsibility for not having pushed back effectively against the politicization of the university?  Christopher Rufo says “Harvard has been promoting “decolonization,” critical race theory, and radical ethno-politics for decades. They know exactly what they’re doing—they’re just scrambling because they got caught supporting people who butcher babies.”  And maybe if student admissions and faculty hiring had focused more on excellence and less on nose-counting,  there would have not been so many people there that were eager to sign on to such a statement.

At Yale, an ‘American Studies’ professor says: “Settlers are not civilians. This is not hard.”

Marc Rowan, the CEO of Apollo Global and the chair of the Board of Overseers at Wharton, says:

While Hamas terrorists were slaughtering Israeli Jews, university administrators were figuring out how to spin it. Do not just take my word for it; read their statements. Across academia, administrators issued statements on behalf of their institutions expressing a repulsive moral equivalence between victims of terror and the perpetrators of that terror. The antisemitic rot in academia is unmistakable.

At the University of Pennsylvania, where I sit on the Wharton School’s Board of Overseers, leaders have for too long allowed this kind of anti-Jewish hate, which sanitizes Hamas’s atrocities, to infect their campuses. There must be consequences.

I call on all UPenn alumni and supporters who believe we are heading in the wrong direction to close their checkbooks until President Liz Magill and Chairman Scott Bok resign.

Cliff May on the role of Iran, and on the land-for-peace effort of 2005.

BLM Chicago put out a meme which strongly implies its support of the Hamas terrorism.  They have since made some attempt to walk it back.

A company founder says: “As a startup founder in 2020 I was under tremendous pressure to ‘publicly support’ BLM to appear anti-racist. I was told that “silence is violence” when I even questioned this pressure….well, the mask is finally off.”

If you’re on Twitter, you can see some of the responses she got to this post.

A thoughtful post by a Jew who has lived in Israel and who sees some responsibility on the part of Israel for the present situation. He has little to suggest in the way of practical solutions, though.

CNN’s Jake Tapper says:

“These last few days have been a real eye-opening period for a lot of people, a lot of Democrats, a lot of progressives, in terms of anti-semitism on the Left.”

…to which Glenn Reynolds notes: Well, up to now you managed to keep your eyes closed, and not without some effort.

Sputnik + 66

Today marks the 66th anniversary of the Soviet Unions launch of its Sputnik earth satellite.

There’s a great memoir, Rockets and People, by Boris Chertok. The author worked on Soviet & Russian missile and space programs over a span of many years; he has many interesting stories to tell and many interesting characters (quite  few of them who were indeed Characters) to portray.  I reviewed the book here.

Stories and Society

There’s a promising new Substack, The Story Rules Project, written by Erin O’Connor and Maurice Black. Their subject:  How stories affect the human mind and emotions, and how they can be used to reduce polarization. (I must note that stories can also be and often are used to increase polarization.)  There are already several posts well worth reading.

“Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of mankind,” said Shelley, and indeed, it’s not only written stories that have an impact on how people think and feel, but also poems, music, plays, sculpture cartoons …also video games.  All are ‘media’ in a broad McLuhanesque sense.

I’m reminded again of Neal Stephenson’s book In the Beginning was the Command Line, in which he contrasts explicit word-based (textual) communication with graphical or sensorial communication, and applies this contrast both to human-computer communications and to human-to-human communications.  Here, I will be focusing on that second application.

As an example of sensorial communication Stephenson uses something he saw at Disney World–a hypothetical stone-by-stone reconstruction of a ruin in the jungles of India. It is supposed to have been built by a local rajah in the sixteenth century, but since fallen into disrepair.

The place looks more like what I have just described than any actual building you might find in India. All the stones in the broken walls are weathered as if monsoon rains had been trickling down them for centuries, the paint on the gorgeous murals is flaked and faded just so, and Bengal tigers loll among stumps of broken columns. Where modern repairs have been made to the ancient structure, they’ve been done, not as Disney’s engineers would do them, but as thrifty Indian janitors would–with hunks of bamboo and rust-spotted hunks of rebar.

In one place, you walk along a stone wall and view some panels of art that tell a story.

…a broad jagged crack runs across a panel or two, but the story is still readable: first, primordial chaos leads to a flourishing of many animal species. Next, we see the Tree of Life surrounded by diverse animals…an obvious allusion (or, in showbiz lingo, a tie-in) to the gigantic Tree of Life that dominates the center of Disney’s Animal Kingdom…But it’s rendered in historically correct style and could probably fool anyone who didn’t have a PhD in Indian art history.

The next panel shows a mustachioed H. sapiens chopping down the Tree of Life with a scimitar, and the animals fleeing every which way. The one after that shows the misguided human getting walloped by a tidal wave, part of a latter-day Deluge presumably brought on by his stupidity.

The final panel, then, portrays the Sapling of Life beginning to grow back, but now man has ditched the edged weapon and joined the other animals in standing around to adore and praise it.

Clearly, this exhibit communicates a specific worldview, and it strongly implies that this worldview is consistent with traditional Indian religion and culture. Most visitors will assume the connection without doing further research as to its correctness or lack thereof.

One thing about the sensorial interface is that it is less open to challenge than is the textual interface. It doesn’t argue–doesn’t present you with a chain of facts and logic that let you sit back and say, “Hey, wait a minute–I’m not so sure about that.” It just sucks you into its own point of view.

Moreover: when you accept a point of view based on written materials, you have a good chance of being able to explain to other people why you hold that viewpoint.  This is much less likely when you are influenced toward a view based on something you saw at a theme park or experienced in a videogame.  In that second case, you are less likely to be able to defend your position in debate…since you really can’t identify exactly why you hold it…and are more likely to respond with anger and a demand to cancel your opponent. I think this explains some of the unpleasant characteristics of present-day political discussion.

So-called “Tunnels of Oppression” have been a thing on college campuses for quite some time…here’s an article I found describing some of them.  The article is from 2008, but additional searches indicate that these have by no means gone away.  These are clearly examples of the sensorial communications mode, which, as I noted above, is less open to challenge than the textual interface. Again, it doesn’t argue–doesn’t present you with a chain of facts and logic that let you sit back and say, “Hey, wait a minute–I’m not so sure about that.” It just sucks you into its own point of view.  This is propaganda more than it is education.

And in a society in which sensory communication threatens to become overwhelming, shouldn’t one of the primary responsibilities of the university be the preservation of the text-based communication mode and the propagation of the ability to deal with this modality? Don’t “Tunnels of Oppression,” by their very nature, tend to undercut this mission?

Indeed, how many college students today know how to take a proposition and then go to the library and/or the Internet and assemble seriously relevant facts and arguments, pro and con? And is there any evidence that this ability gets any better after 4 years in college? (Or, for that matter, 8 years?)

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