Thursday, July 24, 2008

Scary History

In a new book, One Minute to Midnight, Michael Dobbs offers a fresh look at the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Dobbs says the real risk of nuclear war came not from the American or Soviet heads of state, but from the "chance events that happen when you put the machinery of war into motion."

On what Dobbs calls "the most dangerous day of the Cold War," an American U-2 pilot flying on a routine reconnaissance mission to the North Pole was blinded by the Aurora Borealis and stumbled over the Soviet Union — an event that, Khrushchev told Kennedy the next day, could have resulted in a nuclear exchange between the two countries.
As I listened to the story on NPR and tried to summon up my childhood memories (minimal at best; but that's why we have history books) of that distant event, I did turn to my very fine short-term memory and an episode of the NPR humor/quiz program, "Wait, wait . . . don't tell me" from late last year, in which Bush Press Secretary Dana Perino admitted that, when questioned by a reporter about analogies to the Cuban Missile Crisis, she hadn't a clue as to what it was:
. . .as the introduction gamely puts it:

The subjects are “asked ridiculous questions about completely random topics and then being mocked and punished for your wrong answers.”

And mocked and punished she was, but not for batting 1-for-3 on the subject of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer minutiae. Instead, it was for volunteering up front the kind of canned tale of self-deprecation that is often seen on late-night-television. The Washington Post retells the relevant passage about a recent question in the White House briefing room that uncovered a glaring historical blind spot for her:

“I was panicked a bit because I really don’t know about . . . the Cuban Missile Crisis,” said Perino, who at 35 was born about a decade after the 1962 U.S.-Soviet nuclear showdown. “It had to do with Cuba and missiles, I’m pretty sure.”

So she consulted her best source. “I came home and I asked my husband,” she recalled. “I said, ‘Wasn’t that like the Bay of Pigs thing?’ And he said, ‘Oh, Dana.’ ”
OK, so he didn't marry her for her mind.

So, which is more frightening: the possibility of accidental nuclear war, or the certainty that the main conduit between the executive branch of our government and the general public is a certified ignoramus??

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