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'Cuban Missile Crisis' review: 50 years later

On October 22, 1962, President John F. Kennedy

On October 22, 1962, President John F. Kennedy announced that the Soviet Union had begun deploying nuclear missiles to Cuba. Credit: AP

THE SHOW "Cuban Missile Crisis: Three Men Go to War"

WHEN | WHERE Tuesday night at 8

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Fifty years ago, a reconnaissance pilot over Cuba flew off-course to photograph a Soviet-built missile installation 70,000 feet below. So began a 13-day crisis that, as "Three Men Go to War" establishes, could have ended very differently.

"The world almost came to an end in 1962 [and] in terms of probability, it should have happened," says one historian. Through interviews -- including those with Soviet military commanders, and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's son, Sergei, the broadcast explores three separate perspectives -- Khrushchev's, John F. Kennedy's and Cuban leader Fidel Castro's. Castro had expected a follow-up invasion to the Bay of Pigs, and sought a demonstration of Soviet might as deterrence; Khrushchev argued for secrecy when installing the base. Upon learning about the missiles, Kennedy would later order a blockade of Soviet ships. The final showdown was "Black Saturday," Oct. 27, when a Lockheed U-2 spy plane piloted by Rudolf Anderson Jr. was shot down over Cuba and he was killed. Every Kennedy adviser urged immediate retaliation; Kennedy, this program says, took only his own counsel.

MY SAY History is filled with "what-ifs," but the "what if" from those 13 days half a century ago is just about impossible to contemplate. Not that "Three Men Go to War" tries to or even has to. This deconstruction of the crisis makes one point absolutely clear: We are all very very fortunate. Each person interviewed here -- from a Soviet sub captain, to Kennedy adviser Ted Sorensen, from historians to Khrushchev's son -- speaks of a certain grim inevitability over those two weeks.

There was every expectation civilization would come to an end; that it didn't almost came as a surprise. What's missing here is JFK's own accounting of the crisis, but Sorensen (who died two years ago) and others say that he had to fight off his own cabinet members who wanted to level Cuba. And so, you're left with another fleeting emotion while watching -- extreme gratitude to someone whose own life would be cut tragically short a little more than a year later.

BOTTOM LINE Excellent -- and chilling.


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