Noam Chomsky, Guardian UK
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President John F. Kennedy in his office during a meeting with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and Vice-president Lyndon B. Johnson, at the White House in Washington, DC, 1961. (photo: Henry Burroughs/AP)
October 15, 2012 | The world stood still 50 years ago during the last week of October, from the moment when it learned that the Soviet Union had placed nuclear-armed missiles in Cuba until the crisis was officially ended – though, unknown to the public, only officially.
The image of the world standing still is due to Sheldon Stern, former historian at the John F Kennedy Presidential Library, who published the authoritative version of the tapes of the ExComm meetings where Kennedy, and a close circle of advisers, debated how to respond to the crisis. The meetings were secretly recorded by the president, which might bear on the fact that his stand throughout the recorded sessions is relatively temperate, as compared to other participants who were unaware that they were speaking to history. Stern has just published an accessible and accurate review of this critically important documentary record, finally declassified in the 1990s. I will keep to that here. "Never before or since," he concludes, "has the survival of human civilization been at stake in a few short weeks of dangerous deliberations," culminating in the Week the World Stood Still.