Monday, July 26, 2010

The First Step

When I was 8 years old the world came close to being destroyed in a nuclear confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. Twice, in as many years, these two superpowers had come face to face with the prospect of all out nuclear war. The first time was during the Bay of Pigs debacle in early 1961, when the Cubans, unbeknownst to our CIA, had tactical nuclear weapons to repel the invasion. Their use would have triggered a nuclear response from the United States, which, in turn, would have put us at nuclear odds with the Soviet Union.

Because of this attempted invasion at the Bay of Pigs, the Soviet Union, by the fall of 1962, was in the process of placing nuclear missles on the island of Cuba. This resulted in the Cuban Missle Crisis, which was the second time. If the United States and the Soviet Union had not negotiated a settlement to that crisis, an estimated 140 million people would have been killed within the first day of fighting, as both sides launched their respective missles.

By the following summer of 1963 President Kennedy, along with Soviet Premier Kruschev, would seek to initiate a treaty to ban all further testing of nuclear weapons. This was the first step in what later became known as "detente."

I was only a small boy at the time, but the stakes were so high that I was literally "riveted" to the news. The fact that I lived in New York City, a prime target for the Soviets should hostilities occur, undoubtedly had an influence upon my interest in the matter. So you can imagine my relief when I came home on the afternoon of July 26th, 1963 to the World Telegram and Sun headline that a test ban treaty had been signed between the two superpowers who held my fate in their hands.

I watched the presidents address to the nation that evening. In it, I was introduced to the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius, who was quoted in the President's address. I memorized that speech and for years afterwards could recite it verbatim. I even clipped a copy from the newspaper and carried it around for months. I still have it. For those who have never heard, or read it, I have printed a portion of it here. 47 years after it was delivered the eloquence of these words has not been diminished by the intervention of time.

Test Ban Treaty Speech

"Yesterday a shaft of light cut into the darkness. Negotiations were concluded in Moscow on a treaty to ban all nuclear tests in the atmospere, in outer space and underwater....

Now, for the first time in many years, the path to peace may be open. No one can be certain what the future will bring. No one can say whether the time has come for an easing of the struggle. But history and our own conscience will judge us harsher if we do not now make every effort to test our hopes by action, and this is the place to begin. According to the ancient Chinese proverb, "A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step."

My fellow Americans, let us take that first step. Let us, if we can, get back from the shadows of war and seek out the way of peace. And if that journey is one thousand miles, or even more, let history recall that we, in this land, at this time took the first step."

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