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Patrick Luciani: It’s been 60 years since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Let’s not forget Castro’s willingness to blow up the world

Commentary

Sixty years ago this month, the world stared into the abyss. The Soviet Union was caught trying to sneak nuclear-tipped missiles into Cuba. In response, over one hundred thousand U.S. troops were prepared to invade Cuba, while 3000 nuclear missiles were aimed at the USSR. 

The situation was so tense that experts estimated a one-third to a fifty-fifty chance of a nuclear war killing 100 million Americans and the same number of Soviets. Moscow ordered Soviet soldiers at home and abroad to put on their uniforms. When death came, honour demanded that they die as heroes. Millions in other countries would have perished in the crossfire. This was the most dangerous moment in world history. But Armageddon didn’t happen. “We lucked out,” said Robert McNamara, former U.S. Secretary of Defense. Think of it as a black swan event in reverse, one that didn’t bring disaster. 

The outline of the story is well-known. In early October 1962, American photos of Cuba—before satellites—showed Soviet nuclear short and long-range missiles just 90 miles off the U.S. coast. The Americans became suspicious when they discovered soccer fields in their photos, knowing that Cubans play baseball, not soccer. It turned out that over 40,000 Soviet soldiers in Cuba had entered the country disguised as tourists and labourers. There were now over 100 tactical nuclear weapons throughout the country and nuclear-armed ballistic missiles that could strike deep into North America. It was later discovered that local Soviet commanders had the power to launch these weapons without clearance from Moscow. This only heightened the danger. 

President John F. Kennedy was given two options by his advisors, accept the weapons in Cuba and live with the danger, or initiate a complete air and ground invasion. Kennedy did neither but imposed the less dangerous option of a naval blockade around the island, freezing dozens of Soviet ships at sea from delivering more equipment. Either through diplomacy or war, Kennedy was determined to get the nukes out of Cuba. To show the Americans meant business, Kennedy publicly confronted the Soviets showing the photos of the rockets, and demanded their immediate withdrawal. He also raised the nuclear alert to its highest level at DEFCON 2, putting American B52s on alert, the core of the U.S. nuclear bomber fleet. 

In the 1960 election, Kennedy campaigned on the theme that the U.S. was falling behind in nuclear weapons technology. This wasn’t true. The Russians had only about 30 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs)ICBM, in full intercontinental ballistic missile, Land-based, nuclear-armed ballistic missile with a range of more than 3,500 miles (5,600 km). Only the United StatesRussia, and China field land-based missiles of this range. The first ICBMs were deployed by the Soviet Union in 1958; the United States followed the next year and China some 20 years later.” https://www.britannica.com/technology/ICBM and accurate intermediate missiles but no way to deliver them to targets in the U.S. Putting them into Cuba was the solution. The U.S. had 200 ICBMs, dozens of submarines to launch missiles, and hundreds of intermediate missiles throughout Europe and Turkey that could reach Soviet targets. 

After a standoff of thirteen agonizing days in late October, the Soviets blinked. They realized they had blundered. 

Premier Nikita Khrushchev wrote to President Kennedy, agreeing to remove the missiles in exchange for lifting the blockade and guaranteeing that the U.S. would not invade Cuba. The Americans agreed. Realizing they needed more to save face, Moscow upped their demands in a second Khrushchev letter, insisting that the U.S. also remove their missiles in Turkey. Kennedy accepted but asked that this side agreement be kept secret. 

The story has another dimension little known to the world. There was a third letter, not written by Moscow to Washington D.C. but from Fidel Castro to Khrushchev. Castro was left out of the direct negotiations between the two superpowers, enraging the Cuban leader. Castro was convinced that despite the American assurances, he believed an American invasion was imminent. 

Castro’s letter said that if the “imperialists” invaded, “then that would be the moment to eliminate this danger forever…however harsh and terrible the solution.” In other words, the Soviet Union should retaliate immediately with nuclear weapons now in Cuba. 

Castro stressed that the Cuban people were willing “to confront aggression heroically” and that the “people’s morale is extremely high.”  A boastful assumption, given that the Cuban people were never informed. It’s hard to believe that Moscow gave Castro’s letter any serious thought. They must have realized they were dealing with a madman. Cuban missiles were there to protect the Soviet Union, not Cubans.

The Cuban missile crisis has been a subject of intense study by decision-makers and political scientists. President Biden seems to have learned the lessons. The U.S. reaction to Putin’s recent escalation is directly out of Kennedy’s playbook that weakness only emboldens aggressors. 

The Castro letter is little known outside those who study such matters. That’s a pity because Canada, which has been a generous supporter of the Cuban people for over half a century, deserves to know that Cuba’s dictatorial leaders were willing to sacrifice the lives of millions to fulfill the dreams of a now-defunct political philosophy.

Opinion: Vancouver’s centrist pivot puts city halls across Canada on notice

Commentary

Frank Sinatra once famously crooned “if I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere”. Of course, Ol’ Blue Eyes was referring to the Big Apple, but any Canadian politician who leans to the right of Leon Trotsky could say the same exact words about Vancouver, British Columbia.

Among Canadian cities, Vancouver has always been something of an anomaly; more closely resembling the hippy-dippy locales along America’s Left Coast than our other major urban centres. VanCity, a city we’ve both grown to love despite our own conservative dispositions, is a strange little place; a bohemian enclave dotted with clothing-optional beaches, green juice, and hip vegan eateries (we highly recommend South Granville’s Heirloom). The city is also renowned for its other famous green offerings—”BC bud” is a preferred strain of cannabis among celebrity connoisseurs like Snoop Dogg and Seth Rogan (himself a Vancouver native).  

This alternative ethos has long been reflected in the city’s municipal politics, a landscape dominated by left-wing groups like the openly socialist Committee of Progressive Electors (COPE) and the “green liberal” Vision Vancouver, formerly an electoral vehicle for ex-NDP MLA Gregor Robertson (Vancouver’s mayor from 2008 to 2018).

It’s a city where there is precious little real estate on the Right (or, frankly, anywhere else in town). Politicians of every municipal stripe make appearances at drag brunches, do yoga in public, and ride their bicycles to city hall. Vancouver’s politics skew so far to the left that a modest proposal to remove one bike lane for every new bike lane created earned mayoral candidate Wai Young the sort of press coverage usually reserved for puppy killers back in 2018.

So what explains the outcome of this month’s municipal election, which saw police union-endorsed businessman Ken Sim put an end to 14 years of uninterrupted left-of-centre leadership at Vancouver’s city hall; winning an outright majority of the popular vote in a five-candidate mayor’s race? Sim’s ABC Vancouver slate won seven of 10 seats on Vancouver’s city council and will enjoy a strong mandate to govern when the council reconvenes. Outgoing mayor Kennedy Stewart (formerly an NDP MP for Burnaby) will now have the dubious distinction of being the city’s first incumbent mayor in over 40 years to be ousted in an election.  

The headline from Vancouver’s municipal election is that even one of Canada’s most progressive electorates has finally grown impatient with the failed left-wing orthodoxy on urban challenges like crime, homelessness, and drug addiction. A cursory glance at the raw data makes one wonder what took them so long to do so.

Fatalities linked to illicit drug use have grown each year of Stewart’s term and are on pace to hit another all-time high this year. Each day, four Vancouverites are violently attacked by strangers (serious assaults are up by more than a third since the late 2010s). Catch-and-release policing has kept even the city’s most prolific offenders on the streets.

A recent government report even admits that official crime statistics don’t tell the full story when it comes to increasing crime rates in the province. A failure to report crime or arrest and charge those responsible does not mean that actual crime is not increasing. Even before the recent announcement from the federal and BC governments that they would effectively decriminalize the possession of hard drugs for three years, it was widely known that law enforcement of drug-related offences in the province was lax for decades. Irrespective of what one thinks about drug policy, it’s hard to argue that these choices don’t have consequences for the crime rate.

Politicians have ignored these worrying trends at their peril, but new Mayor Ken Sim looks poised to change course. Sim, who ran on a platform of improved public safety, has promised to immediately hire 100 new police officers to patrol Vancouver’s streets.

Vancouver’s centrist pivot mirrors a realignment that is now playing out in some of the United States’ most progressive cities. Just under a year ago, New York City’s electorate soundly rejected the grassroots “defund the police” movement by making ex-police captain Eric Adams the city’s new mayor. In June, San Franciscans voted to remove reformist district attorney Chesa Boudin from office. Boudin, a vocal proponent of alternatives to criminal prosecution, was blamed for an uptick in multiple crimes, including muggings and car break-ins, and criticized for his failure to rein in drug-related deaths.

The result also hints that new Conservative Party of Canada leader Pierre Poilievre’s messaging is having a downstream effect on municipal politics. During his leadership campaign, Poilievre placed an innovative focus on issues that have historically been the domain of city halls, notably promising to make federal infrastructure spending contingent on the approval of high-density zoning (Vancouver is one of the world’s least affordable housing markets). His incursions onto municipal turf appeared to play well in key urban centres like Vancouver; Poilievre swept B.C. in the Conservative leadership vote. His campaign exceeded internal targets for membership sales and saw thousands of new Conservative members attend his meet & greets in East Vancouver, hardly a right-of-centre stronghold. 

Not missing a beat, Poilievre referenced Vancouver’s municipal election in last Monday’s Question Period, calling the result a repudiation of the “radical policies” of Justin Trudeau and the city’s NDP-affiliated mayor Kennedy Stewart. He went on to laud Vancouverites for voting to “bring in commonsense laws to restore safe streets.” These remarks indicate that Poilievre will continue to speak on municipal issues as opposition leader, potentially generating a rising tide for centrist and right-leaning municipal politicians across Canada.

The election results from Vancouver, arguably Canada’s most reliably left-leaning major city, should put every city hall in the country on notice. Vancouverites have communicated, in the strongest possible terms, that they will no longer tolerate a new-age progressive dogma that places the rights of criminals above public safety; an approach to urban governance that has demonstrably failed. Municipal governments that fail to give their residents a restored sense of security may see their days numbered.

A seismic shift may indeed be on the horizon for cities across Canada. If change can happen in Vancouver, as the song goes, it can happen anywhere.