Over the years, I have amassed quite a collection of DVDs, much to my wife’s chagrin and my daughters’ delight. The other night, to fill the void of my loneliness, as my children have grown and moved away and my wife’s job has relocated her to Detroit, with only brief weekend visits every other week, I decided to pop in a movie and lose myself in the story on the screen in front of me. Since we are coming up on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, I thought I would commemorate the event by watching one of my “Kennedy” films. So I perused my shelves of DVDs and decided on the film “Thirteen Days,” starring Kevin Costner and Bruce Greenwood. For those unfamiliar with the film, it is a powerful drama about the struggles within the Kennedy administration over how to address the Cuban Missile Crisis.
I imagine that those younger than me can watch this film and find it interesting but a little too talky. But I have always found this film compelling. Then again, I remember living through the Cuban Missile Crisis. For me, the tension that this film seeks to recreate is not just history. It is memory. When the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred, I was one month short of my 13th birthday and one month passed my Bar Mitzvah (my parents wanted my Bar Mitzvah reception to be a garden party and a garden party is not a very good idea for November in New York). I remember sitting in my living room, with my parents and sister, glued to the television as the President addressed the nation, informing us of this very real threat so close to our borders. This was just the danger for which they had been preparing us in school with those duck-&-cover drills. It was just the danger which had led so many people to build fallout shelters. We, in our neighborhood in the Bronx, couldn’t build such shelters. While we all lived in private homes and had back yards, beneath those back yards were our cesspools, for city sewage pipes had not yet reached our neighborhood. Unlike so many of my classmates, who lived in apartment buildings with fall out shelters in their basements, in our neighborhood, we had no place to flee in the event of a nuclear attack. I remember so clearly, the day after President Kennedy’s historic broadcast, standing outside my house with Neal DeLuca, my next door neighbor playmate, sharing our fears and discussing what it would be like to die in a nuclear holocaust. Over the years, many were the times that he and I played at war, which was common for boys in those days, whether we were playing Cowboys-&-Indians, World War II, acorn fights or snowball fights. But this was completely different. This was not our pretend noble deaths of brave soldiers in combat. This was a death by fire, completely beyond our control and from which there was no escape and no possibility of being wounded instead of killed. Nor was it make believe. It was all too real and all too imminent. But of course, as school children, we could not help but wonder whether or not school would be cancelled the next day in anticipation of the nuclear holocaust (it was not). We truly felt that our lives were about to draw to a frightening close and, as you can imagine, especially as children, we had a great deal of difficulty processing this.
Watching that movie reawakened within me all those memories and feelings. Yet as I reflected upon them, it struck me that what I – and the rest of America – experienced then was probably not that different than what the people, and especially the children, of Israel are experiencing now in regard to the Iranian nuclear threat. Granted, the threat of nuclear extinction is not as immediate to them today as it was for us during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but still it is no less real. In some ways perhaps more so because the Iranians have made their intentions abundantly and consistently clear. They intend to wipe the State of Israel off the map. Up until now, they have affirmed this intention not only through words but through deeds, such as their significant material support of groups like Hamas and Hezbollah in their terrorist war against Israel and the West. They have done nothing whatsoever to lead us to any other conclusion but that if allowed to continue to develop their nuclear capabilities they would add their nuclear weaponry to their arsenal in their war against Israel and the West. They would employ them against Tel Aviv & Jerusalem, Washington & New York, London & Paris. In the movie “Thirteen Days,” upon first learning of the Russian missile sites in Cuba, Ken Costner’s character said, “I feel like we caught the Jap carriers steaming for Pearl Harbor.” In terms of our situation today with Iran, it is as if we uncovered the Japanese plans to attack Pearl Harbor while their aircraft carriers were still under construction.
With the Cuban Missile Crisis, there was no acceptable middle ground. Slowing down the installation of missiles in Cuba, with their ability to strike targets in the U.S., was never considered an option, not should it have been. When it came to the safety and security of the American people, there was only one acceptable outcome; the complete elimination of those missile sites, either peacefully or militarily accomplished. Anything less constituted just cause to go to war. The same can, and should, be said about the Iranian nuclear program. There can be no middle ground. Their ability to develop nuclear weapons must be completely dismantled. They must be left with no possibility of ever waging nuclear war against Israel or any of their enemies, which by the way includes the United States. Anything less constitutes just cause for war, especially as Israel is concerned.
Concerning the current situation with Iran, it is easy for some Americans to fail to feel the imminent threat experienced by the Israelis, and therefore to assume that the Israelis, especially in the person of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are just being war mongers; that all they want to do is embroil our nation in another costly, drawn out, and inconclusive Middle East war, as we have experienced in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is easy for some journalists to speak about how a “war weary America” is simply not interested in another military venture. It is becoming easier and easier for President Obama to compromise his assurances of American protection of Israel and our other Middle Eastern allies from an nuclear armed Iran as he futilely strives to salvage his presidential legacy by disengaging from his failed Middle East policy strategies, leaving a vacuum which Russia is all to happy to fill. All this is so easy for us Americans because we do not feel the threat as Israel and Saudi Arabia and Jordan and Egypt and Turkey feel it. Indeed, we have forgotten what that threat feels like as we have two generations of Americans who knew not the Cuban Missile Crisis, just as there “arose a pharaoh who knew not Joseph.” Yet the threat remains real. Not only does it remain real for our allies in the Middle East, but it remains real for us as well. As for those who never personally experienced the fears brought on by the Cuban Missile Crisis, somehow or other they need to be reminded of the fears they felt after the attacks of September 11, 2001. For those September 11th attacks were conducted by terrorists, not unlike the terrorist today whose violence and bloodshed is primarily sponsored by the same nation of Iran which is seeking to develop a nuclear weapons capability; one which they will direct, not only against Israel and their other Middle East opponents, but against all who they perceive as the enemies of their way of life, and on their list of enemies, America ranks near the top.