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tv   Serhii Plokhy Nuclear Folly  CSPAN  May 29, 2021 9:10am-10:01am EDT

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economist and social theorist thomas sowell by jason riley, interviewed by dennis prager. sunday at 10 p.m. eastern, the premonition, a pandemic story. best selling author michael lewis writes about the early warning signs of the covid-19 pandemic and the trump administration's response. watch booktv this weekend on c-span2. ♪ >> greetings from the national archives, it's my pleasure to welcome you to today's virtual author lek areture with -- lecture with serhii block key, the discovery of soviet missiles being installed in cuba triggered the most dangerous encounter of the cold war ubrivalry between the united states and the soviet union. after 13 anxious days, the two
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nations reached a resolution both aware of the danger of mutual destruction. but it wasn't just a showdown between two twoe rifles, it wasa global -- two rivals, office a global crisis. including white house recordings from the john f. kennedy presidential library and previously classified kgb records in moscow. serhii is the professor of ukrainian history and the director of the ukrainian research institute at harvard university, aar leading authoriy on eastern europe and russia. he's published extensively on the international history of the cold war. his award-winning books include the last empire, the gates of europe and chernobyl. our moderator is michael dobbs, born and educated in britain but is now a u.s. citizen. he was a longtime report for "the washington post" covering the collapse of communism as a
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foreign correspondent. he's written seven books including one minute to midnight on the cuban missile crisis which was a new york times bestseller. his latest book, king richard, will be published in mayment now let's hear from certificate hi and michael dobbs -- serhii and michael dobbs. thank you for joining us today. >> well, thank you very much for that introduction. congratulations, serhii, on joining the group of, growing group of cuban missile crisis historians and onle an comment book about the crisis -- excellent book about the crisis. i think the qualities of a -- for me, nonfiction book, first of all, it's rad bl to the general public and, secondly, that it adds something to our knowledge that can also appeal to experts. and your book certainly does
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that. so the archivist said that this is the most dangerous period in history, the closest we ever got to nuclear armageddon, and assuming you agree with that, why -- can you set the stage, why did this happen in 1962? if the u.s. had exploded the first atom you can bomb in the 1945 -- atomic bomb in 1945. the soviets responded in 1949 under stalin, but it takes another 30 years for this nuclear competition to come to a head. why is that? >> thanks. thank you to the national archives for having this event and discussion and, michael, thanks for agreeing to moderate
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this interview -- [inaudible] i remember it appeared it was about to appear and we were one of the first as part of the story. the world is going back to this conversation in the discussions today. the question 1962. what is rather interesting about
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the first time the soviet union on terms of the nuclear capabilities to the united states of america. >> there was a missile gap between the united states and the soviet union the missile gap was there but not in favor of washington. and he wanted to deal with that and they don't have enough strategic, they had enough of range in that way in which the
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american puritans. that is one of the reasons why happened in 1962 and in 1956,. >> there was a nuclear imbalance in 1962 and christopher wanted to address it, do you think you have other motivations and about the defense of the cuban revolution which castro suddenly considered to be under threat in the united states and christoph as well. >> absolutely. i was trying to keep my answers written short it was an
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important part of the story. in concern that you most live by in the mission in the western hemisphere is adapted from the united states and after the bigger things that happened in april they believe it's a matter of time before he would put his act together and there would be an issue. if he convince castro to china because castro was trying to go and there was a threat coming from beijing in washington at the same time as far as he was concerned, he decided with three
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bearings in the nuclear missile. >> he was an emotional type of leader, he saw the u.s. was deploring similar missiles to turkey in the hedgehog on uncle sam's, how much did his personality influence the crisis. >> he was taking risks when he came to visit to the united states in 1969 because it was the biggest airplane at the moment at the time. she was prepared in the same as
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truth cuba she and i believe if she swallowed the pill on the missile that kennedy would've treated the same, and that the united states will look at that is something completely extraordinary. in the cultivation of the space and judgment to the missile crisis and that was the biggest one . . .
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>> one thing that he never -- it took him a while to understand that there was no connection in his mind between the american missiles in turkey and kruschev's desire to put soviet missiles in cuba. he was asking his advisers, why is he doing that? almost forgetting that there were actual missiles in turkey. that was an ability to read kruschev and kruschev's motivations. and kennedy found himself really in a situation where he was a hostage of the particular political environment in the united states. he was caught on tape more than
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once saying that the -- [inaudible] and then kennedy said, well, when asked what you would do if there were missiles, you said that you would react. again, he acted under enormous political pressure and the most clear example of that is that he wanted to figure out what the policy -- why not two weeks or 24 hours? his advisers agreed with him. information about missiles on
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the island -- [inaudible] missiles but not concerned about the service. they needed to can delete -- delivered to the science but that is the matter. >> let's back up a bit. you as the author mentioned originally from ukraine.
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i heard you once said you lived close to where the missiles were constructed. the tell us about that missile and why it was important. a. >> as a student and young the professor in the city it was to the largest missile factory in new york. there were two types of missiles. the medium-range and then fourteens built at the same factory.
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for me it was an interesting story and i ran to the kgb archives and i also looked at the materials during that particular factory and the development and building of those missiles. the question is the period to say that the union was producing missiles like sausages so it's interesting that wasn't actually the truth and that statement. >> they sent nuclear weapons that we didn't learn about until many years later.
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with another primitive country they managed to smuggle 43,000 and understanding what is going on. i wanted to read a paragraph from your book which drawing on the archives that you concerted. >> absolutely. i'm happy to do that. going through the kgb report the fate was decided and we have to
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pay the bill. they headed off to cuba. one had criticized the government and its policies. the lender was intercepted by the kgb but then decided to send him to cuba anyway in the hopes that after it works. this is a kgb office that's even more outspoken.
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i'm ready to lose my party card as long as i get back to the unit. you found these reports. it turned out before i started that research 75 to 80% would go from the military district and ultimately 80% of the personnel
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from ukraine. each of those ships that were bringing in equipment had to engage. the officers then required in the reports the expedition. they were reporting on the attitude of the personnel and the encounters of the ships. half of those would make one trip to cuba and back but it's a unique source of the documents, specific documents.
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there were certain things from the memoirs but now they also have reported what's happening at that time and it sheds a new light on the story. >> it turns out quite a few people were not really happy about this mission and they felt it's pretty useless to send all this equipment to a place like cuba with the collapse of the soviet union when there's a great deal of discontent about all the money being wasted on the countries and this contrasts with a kind of nostalgia. but do you think that these people that are quoted in the reports are representative of the opinions of the rest of the
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43,000 or are they just for a small minority? >> it's difficult to judge that on the basis. there is a certain goal on the example where there was some form of disloyalty. what we know from other sources suggests this wasn't a small group of people. they were relatively widespread and refused to go to cuba. for example the first missile regiment that came to cuba, his
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name, lieutenant colonel commander that refused to go aside citing all sorts of reasons. we have other examples as well and we also know that that the commanders would send to cuba to create a percentage of people who question soviet policies. they turned back after the missile and also some were looking for adventure to get outside across the iron curtain.
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the attitudes were different but a percentage of people were -- for many of them it was extended. at that time it was in the reserve. that was a major concern certain concerns were shared by the society. >> what's the difference between the ordinary russian or ukrainian soldier and the elite and nuclear forces in addition to tens of thousands of ordinary soldiers that faced elite
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including mathematicians and so on. do you see the difference between the two groups? >> what we see is those that i just quoted and the officers who were there for the three year period. the top commanders they don't have much information on that. we knew from their memoirs that they were extremely critical of two things.
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first of their own commanders who came to cuba and ensured them of the missiles that it turned out it wasn't possible to do and they were the ones that assured him that it was possible. and then the second situation was the withdraw from cuba was exercised and we know that from the sources in particular because they were exposed to the strip search and to show the missiles they were bringing back to the soviet union.
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they said the captain of the ship received the order and was prepared to fill it. when they did refuse to do it but there were hundreds between them the minister of defense was very supportive of everything he literally was doing at that time. never in the history. it took place during the withdrawal but in the way that it was conducted and the reason
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they were searched is because khrushchev was never able to convince but along the deal that he struck with kennedy he refused to go along. >> i'm going to wrap this up in a few minutes if any of the viewers have questions then please feel free to submit them and we will spend the last few minutes responding to the questions. what did you think was the most dangerous aspect of the crisis? was at this conflict between kennedy and khrushchev or do you think it was something else, the miscommunication and happening by accident.
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>> the solution like the one that developed at the top level the decision made by the officer on the ground so they could prioritize one over another. too much attention is paid to the idea of the decision-making and it's not like that is not important but is not the only thing happening at that time. your book is one of the first books that tries to broaden the scope and bring people on the
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ground and the soviets side of the story. it was the most problematic issue in the crisis the first one was the miscommunication and misunderstanding on the top level, to understand the logic of the actions on the other side. the second issue was the inability to communicate taken after 24 hours to the left or the leader to be sent and that's why they were saving time. so that was another issue and
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the control on the ground and then what happened on both sides. again on the soviet side of the example is the military generals in general to shoot down the airplane over cuba they generally made that decision at the time before the top commander who was at that time. then about possibly ascending this is the last [inaudible]
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and were terrified when they learned about that and what the consequences would be. so the command and control was a major issue at the time. >> it's interesting in the sentence that you wrote at the beginning of the epilogue they managed to avoid after making almost every mistake conceivable to cause it. i want to talk about the present-day situation, but what do you mean by that? every mistake conceivable but in the end they managed to avoid nuclear war.
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the question was if they made all those mistakes the explanation is the best explanation i was able to come up with of all the differences between the leaders there was something that united them and it was the fear of the nuclear war and the extortion of 1961 so
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they knew what the nuclear weapons could bring and they did their that best to stop the crisis from escalating into the nuclear war and it's exactly that kind of but it's a really important factor i dedicate in the book to those that had the courage to step back. this is the same people that created this. >> who did you think was the winner in the end?
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kennedy had to give up any idea but castro was still there all these years later. it is a great, great question. if you look at that in terms of what happens the biggest is that it was saved and because again he was the leader of this revolution but he intervened when the negotiation was taken.
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the second question would be khrushchev. he got rid of them as missiles in turkey but the world looked at khrushchev and he mentioned it was partially because it was a step too far. and then president kennedy who was believed to be the winner and i think at the end of the day he handled the crisis very
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well but there is no irony. it was recognized by the united states and the world and that may change dramatically the relations between he and khrushchev even before the cuban missile crisis driving the agenda it is kennedy who is in control and negotiates the agreement. that is the main thing that was
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gained. now we have a few questions here. perhaps you can say how the bay of pigs related to the missile crisis. there would be no cuban missile crisis. first is that khrushchev decided that he really faced he couldn't believe kennedy wouldn't follow the support and that convinced him that he could be pushed
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around and i don't think that he would dare to do that after. the bay of pigs really verified the aggression but he had another invasion coming establishing this connection and this concerned him. it's not a contributing factor to his decision to deliver to cuba so in both cases it is a
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bay of pigs invasion. and then another story what happened in the berlin wall. >> they had been among the first soviet target if they decided to start a war if someone else asked. >> one of the chapters in my book the chapter is about kennedy. during the first week of the crisis he advocated a strike
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against the soviet installations. they called it quarantine so there is a quarantine and the response was next i am sending the plaintiff there and what are we doing after that so it was much more concerned than the possibility of the nuclear war over cuba and that was the time of the cuban missile crisis so
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the confrontation was extremely important. a. >> but the question is if the subjects decide to start a war who had been among that first topic. >> this is a good question and i would say that most likely yes. my guess is based not so much on the inside knowledge of the thinking at the time but during the kind of missile that they had and they were medium-range and france and britain certainly were the targets as well. they had seven or six at the time of the missiles in reach so
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i'm pretty sure in the nuclear confrontation the response again would be the attack on the u.s. major allies. turkey as well. >> someone else asked what were the reactions to the soviet withdrawal in cuba and then czechoslovakia and the others. >> one thing that we know depended on the relations that day. i quote in my book memoirs of the security shift and talking
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about extremely hectic behavior on the part of khrushchev. in terms of the rest, everyone was terrified. the closest advisors but they kept silent and really couldn't say publicly what they felt that the attitude was critical. there were reports to visit soon after and what they report on is almost hours trying to sell to them it was a great success and
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that is very clear he had to get the access and that it was critical. a. >> we need to wrap up now, but i have one last question for you. this was said to be the most dangerous going into the history. what do you think of the situation we are looking in today? is it a more or less dangerous world than it was back in 1962 if you could be quite succinct about that? i thought it would be possible in the introduction of the conclusions. the feeling is [inaudible]
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pre- 62 this is the nuclear arms race, uncontrolled nuclear arms race that creates the crisis and churchill reflected that and khrushchev was trying to create and then after the cuban missile crisis there's a non-corporation treaty and so it was and finally agreements between reagan and the white house and gorbachev. now we live in the world where
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every single arms control agreement with the exception all of those treaties are gone. the last one signed by gorbachev and reagan in 1987 with the intermediate missiles will expired because the united states and russia left it. generally we are back in the race which isn't coagulated. that means we are in other cuban missile crisis and not only with the soviet union but north korea, iran and many others that have become nuclear. >> more drivers than was the
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case. >> thank you for sharing this interesting book with us and i think all the authors of the cuban missile crisis can agree there are lessons to be learned from it so i urge people to go out and buy the book and read it and you will find many interesting parallels and lessons for the day. thank you very much. ♪ ♪ ♪
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>> tonight on booktv in the prime time, a journalist and founder of the neuro-diversity project looks at why with autism, adhd and sensory processing disorder are often overlooked in women. patrick to o'donnell recalls the role of the continental army during the american revolution. journalist and publishing executive, the. finder of public affairs books, reflects on his career. and on our weekly interview program "after words," "wall street journal" columnist jason riley discusses the life and work of economist thomas sowell. that all starts tonight at 6:50 p.m. eastern. find more schedule information at or consult your program guide.
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>> frank snowden looks at how infectious outbreaks have shaped society from the black death the to the covid-19 pandemic. here's the portion of the program. >> medical history really does show what people's values really are and how societies are put together and what the fracture lines are within them. so that was kind ofs fascination of -- of fascination of history of medicine that drew me into that. and specifically, the epidemics was against that background. the idea that not as a book, but just as a series of lectures began from the students i was teaching who pointed out to me during the sars epidemic that, in fact, they were really nervous, and they could, of course, get information from their doctors about what to do the personally if they got sick. they wouldn't have, obviously,
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asked me about that because i'm, you know, that's not me. but there were things that they said that they did wonder about which is the context that public health of people that physicians don't usually deal with like why is our society going through this, what does it mean, is it unprecedented, will it ever end. those sorts of questions. and so i thought i had an obligation. they also said that in the curriculum epidemic history really wasn't taught, and that's not only true at yale, but so many oh -- other places. you could study diseases, but that was in the lab where you were actually talking about their biological side rather than their historical features. so i felt that there was something that someone really needed to deal with those questions and those issues.
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and that's what became later the book that's now "epidemics in society." it started with my students. >> watch the rest of this program online at use the search box at the top of the page to look for frank snowden or the title of his book, "epidemics in society." ..


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