“Then the LORD stretched out His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me, ‘Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have appointed you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant’” (Jeremiah 1:9-10).
“We may go to war with Cuba,” my older brother Rick informed me in ominous terms. “But don’t worry. We can defeat them easily.” The year was 1962. The “Cold War” was simmering. The fledgling Communist regime in Cuba was receiving heavy financial and military assistance from the Soviet Union. The result was the placement of missile silos with their nuclear warheads aimed at prominent U.S. cities.
The whole scenario was somewhat unnerving to an impressionable Chilhowee School fourth-grader. The magazine article Rick showed me did nothing to allay my fears. The periodical displayed a map of North America with concentric circles radiating out from the island nation ninety miles to the south of the United States mainland. Those circles illustrated the range of Cuba’s weaponry. Well inside one circle was our city of Knoxville, a particular target because of our close proximity to Oak Ridge with its nuclear plants.
Younger generations fail to grasp the seriousness of the situation of that day. For years Americans had prepared for the nuclear war they prayed would never occur. Citizens constructed fallout shelters in their back yards. Schools routinely conducted civil defense drills in case of attack. The Communist threat was real, and Americans felt it. Even as a youngster, it terrified me to see a red-faced Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev on television pounding his fist and shouting, “We will bury you! Your children will be Communists!”
All of a sudden it seemed that the showdown was upon us. An article in Wikipedia describes the tense crisis of October forty-nine years ago. President Kennedy made the decision to blockade Cuba and demand that the Soviet military dismantle their missiles. Premier Khrushchev reacted predictably, threatening war if the U.S. continued to prevent Soviet military ships from approaching Cuba. Nuclear war looked eminent, not only with Cuba but with the Soviet Union itself. And with a policy of Mutual Assured Destruction, the consequences were ominous. The Cold War was about to turn red hot and blow sky high. Americans were frightened. Christians gathered in churches for special prayer meetings across the nation.
Intense negotiations began between the two national leaders with proposals that included concessions both public and secret from their respective nations. But the Kennedy administration had little hope that the Soviets would accept our terms. Unexpectedly, they did. Within two months the Soviets dismantled the missiles, and the U.S. agreed not to invade Cuba. Disaster was narrowly averted.
Only in recent years has it been revealed just how close the two superpowers came to unleashing World War III. It seems that U.S. ships were dropping small depth charges on a Soviet submarine to force it to surface, unaware that it was armed with a nuclear torpedo. One of its officers seemed determined to deploy it. Another, Vasili Arkhipov, talked him out of it. Arkhipov may have single-handedly prevented a nuclear war.
The decades since that crisis have seen détente, glasnost, perestroika, and eventually, the collapse of European Communism. Even the Berlin wall tumbled down. And although new threats have replaced the Communist ones, and our nation is now embroiled in an international war against terrorist forces, the fears of 1962 now seem so distant. God answered the prayers.
God makes kings. God makes nations. He calls whole empires to account. He is in control of all human events. And He plans to return one day to this earth personally and visibly, no matter what wars may rage in the meantime.
“‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope’” (Jeremiah 29:11). “Looking for that blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).