One Minute to Midnight, Michael Dobbs's hour-by-hour account of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Trying to process the terrible events that occurred after Israeli forces boarded blockade-running ships to Gaza this weekend, I imagined what would have happened had violence of that sort broken out on any of the ships headed for Cuba in October of 1962. When the U.S. Navy imposed its blockade of Cuba (which we called a quarantine to sound less provocative), the legality of that blockade, like the Israeli blockade of Gaza, was questioned in many quarters. The U.S. Navy, while insisting on its right to enforce the blockade, was careful not to be unduly provocative. In boarding the freighter Marcula, for example, they did so in dress uniforms. Some freighters and tankers were allowed to pass without inspection. And Russian ships for the most part agreed to turn back, and did not challenge U.S. Navy ships. Kennedy had shown restraint by refusing to accept some of his generals' recommendations for an airstrike or invasion of Cuba, and Khrushchev showed restraint in deciding that he did not want to risk war to maintain missiles in Cuba. However, even after these decisions were made, both sides recognized that events could still easily spin out of control if all confrontations were not handled very carefully. One false move or misunderstood incident could easily have led to nuclear war between the superpowers. Fortunately, incidents during the crisis never quite spun out of control, and nuclear war between the superpowers was averted.
I wonder about the level of care shown in the preparation for this weekend's attempted running of Israel's blockade of Gaza. Clearly both sides made detailed preparations for this confrontation, but the results suggest that both sides may have acted in a deliberately provocative way, rather than a restrained way. The blockade runners refused to heed Israeli warnings. The IDF chose to board the ships by using armed commandos rappelling down from helicopters. And the passengers apparently responded by attacking the Israeli soldiers with sticks and knives and perhaps pistols.
In this year's incident, unlike 1962, the thought of avoiding any sort of violence did not appear to be uppermost in the minds of the parties involved. Perhaps that is because unlike in 1962, they knew that an outbreak of violence would probably not trigger global thermonuclear conflict. Even so, the consequences of this incident are still severe. Violence does not seem likely to lead to a solution to Gaza's problems.
(photo from William Rush.org)