PARIS, March-April, 2022
The year was 1962, the month October. I clearly remember my 16-year-old self standing still in a state of shock as I listened to the alarming reports and speculation about a possible nuclear war after U.S. intelligence reports showed that Russian missiles had been secretly placed in Cuba. Less than an hour from my home in the corner of southwest Iowa, the SAC (Strategic Air Command) which housed interballastic missiles at the Offutt Air Force Base was on high alert. This proximity made the whole thing even more frightening. There was talk of safe shelters and of ducking under desks should the attack come when we were at school. Only one word summaries how we all felt: terrified.
We all know the end of the story. Krushchev and Kennedy worked out a diplomatic solution that ended the standoff. Everyone breathed a huge sigh of relief and that was that.
But it was close.
And now, some 60 years later, I am sitting in my living room in Paris, France watching the same kind of brinkmanship play out. This time it is Russia invading the Ukraine whose capital Kiev is a mere three hour flight from the French capital. Europe is small and it is literally as if this attack is in our backyard. Way too close for comfort.
Putin obviously thought that the weak Europeans would never get their act together and would show no resistance to his carefully planned attack.
But he was wrong. In every European capital, protesters protested and heads of government took firm stands against the invasion. That included Germany, which since 1945, has never had a standing army. Surprisingly, the German government offered to send arms to the oppressed Ukrainians, a real game changer.
The U.S. is geographically far away from all this. But here in France and in Europe there is no getting away from the fact these the country under attack is almost your next door neighbor. What happens to that neighbor concerns you and affects you. NATO has stood up to the bully; the U.S. and many European countries are sending weapons to arm the Ukrainians as well as medicine and clothes and food. Many European countries, in particular Poland, are welcoming the refugees streaming across the borders, fleeing the bombs.
Where and when will all this end? Are Putin’s threats of nuclear dissuasion mere threats? Or is he crazy enough to implement them? That is a thought to be banished as we hope for the best.
Just like back in 1962.