On the 50th anniversary of the October 1962 Cuban Missile crisis, only one of the critical leaders involved is still in power.
At age 86, Fidel Castro has largely disappeared, unseen in public for months. His place in control of Cuba’s destiny has been assumed by his brother Raul Castro, age 81, also a high-level participant in October 1962.
As defense minister, it was Raul who visited Moscow in July 1962 to discuss Soviet military shipments, including nuclear missiles, and whose military oversaw the deployment of missiles in Cuba.
As the U.S. and Soviet Union hovered on the brink of nuclear war, Fidel Castro—eager recipient of Soviet nuclear weapons, staunch anti-imperialist, and darling of the revolutionary movements of the 1960s—sought to drive the U.S. and the Soviet Union to the point of no return.
Michael Dobbs wrote in One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War that “the way Castro saw it, a conventional war was likely to escalate quickly into a nuclear exchange.…[Castro] and other Cuban leaders understood very well that ‘we would have been annihilated’ in the event of nuclear war. They would perish ‘con suprema dignidad.’”
On October 26, 1962, Fidel fired off a letter to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in Moscow. Considering a U.S. invasion of Cuba imminent, Fidel sought to push his Soviet ally to prepare for nuclear war and the annihilation of the hated enemy:
I tell you this because I believe that the imperialists’ [U.S.] aggressiveness makes them extremely dangerous, and that if they manage to carry out an invasion of Cuba—a brutal act in violation of universal and moral law—then that would be the moment to eliminate this danger forever, in an act of the most legitimate self-defense. However harsh and terrible the solution, there would be no other. (Emphasis added.)
In other words, the Castros were ready to risk it all in what appeared to become a terrible game of nuclear chicken.
The toxic mix of nuclear weapons, rage against the U.S., and a readiness to embrace martyrdom for a cause—either sacred or secular—represents a danger in the world of October 2012 just as it did in October 1962.
Furthermore, it is apparent that relations between the U.S. and Cuba will likely never achieve normality until the men whose dictatorial regime has run unchallenged for 53 years and who were prepared to launch nuclear war to defend their anti-American revolution depart the scene.