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The Armageddon Letters

Kennedy, Khrushchev, Castro in the Cuban Missile Crisis

James G. Blight and janet M. Lang

In October, 1962, the Cuban missile crisis brought human civilization to the brink of destruction. On the 50th anniversary of the most dangerous confrontation of the nuclear era, two of the leading experts on the crisis recreate the drama of those tumultuous days as experienced by the leaders of the three countries directly involved: U.S. President John F. Kennedy, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, and Cuban President Fidel Castro. Organized around the letters exchanged among the leaders as the crisis developed and augmented with many personal details of the circumstances under which they were written, considered, and received, Blight and Lang poignantly document the rapidly shifting physical and psychological realities faced in Washington, Moscow, and Havana. The result is a revolving stage that allows the reader to experience the Cuban missile crisis as never before—through the eyes of each leader as they move through the crisis. The Armageddon Letters: Kennedy, Khrushchev, Castro in the Cuban Missile Crisis transports the reader back to October 1962, telling a story as gripping as any fictional apocalyptic novel. « less more »
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Pages: 320Size: 6 1/4 x 9 1/2
978-1-4422-1679-2 • Hardback • September 2012 • $46.00 • (£31.95)
978-1-4422-1680-8 • Paperback • November 2015 • $27.00 • (£17.95)
978-1-4422-1681-5 • eBook • September 2012 • $25.00 • (£15.95)
James G. Blight is the Center for International Governance Innovation Chair in Foreign Policy Development at the Balsillie School of International Affairs, University of Waterloo, in Ontario, Canada.

janet M. Lang is research professor at the Balsillie School of International Affairs, University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.
Foreword by Peter Almond
Introduction. Armageddon in Retrospect: “Carrying the Fire” of the Cuban Missile Crisis Into the 21st Century
Cast of Characters. Three Leaders/Three Crises
Prelude. Sleepwalk: April 1961-October 1962
Act I. Collision: October 22, 23 1962
Act II. Spiral: October 23-28 1962
Act III. Escape: October 27-31 1962
Act IV. Squeeze: October 30 1962-November 20 1962
Postscript. Hope: December 10 1962-October 15 2010
Appendix A. The Armageddon Time Machine/Text: Acquiring the Letters
Appendix B. The Armageddon Time Machine/Context: Bringing the Letters Back to Life
The Authors
Blight and Lang (Balsillie Sch. of International Affairs; coauthors, Virtual JFK: Vietnam If Kennedy Had Lived) present a controversial investigation of the Cuban Missile Crisis, taking an approach they call “critical history,” in which discussions with players and rigorous analysis of primary documents are used to construct first-person narratives showing how Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro led their nations and interacted with each other (Kennedy with Khrushchev and Khrushchev with Castro). The authors claim that this is not fiction since facts are presented as they are known and no people, events, or scenarios are invented. The book is centered on 43 “Armageddon letters,” declassified between 1990 and 2005, which reveal that both Kennedy and Khrushchev tried to avoid a nuclear showdown, while Castro was willing to sacrifice Cuba if the Soviet Union would bomb the United States in retaliation. The book is divided into four acts, each one starting with a “Theatrical Preview” overview, and each also accompanied by a stark graphic story summarizing the text, with panels drawn by Andrew Whyte and dialog written by Koji Mautani. A helpful website, armageddonletters.com, amplifies the text. VERDICT The book engages the reader and offers insight into leadership during the crisis.

Library Journal

The goal of The Armageddon Letters is to have the reader experience the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis vicariously. Blight and Lang (both, Univ. of Waterloo, Canada) provide a list of six points that they argue will help the reader get into the minds of Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro. These points are that Armageddon is possible, is possible even if leaders are rational, can become highly probable in a crisis, will likely occur inadvertently, and remains virtually inevitable; as a result, nuclear weapons should be abolished. The book is centered on 43 letters and other communications among the three leaders that the authors use to describe events that occurred during those tense thirteen days in 1962. The book is organized like a play with chapters denoting the cast of characters, a prelude, acts 1 through 4, and a postscript. The chapters also provide comic strip illustrations presenting scenes of the key actors. The act chapters consist of the actual letters of the leaders during the crisis with the authors providing context that elaborates on events. The book includes a wealth of companion material including a website http://www.armageddonletters.com that offers additional information in video and audio formats. Summing Up: Recommended. All readership levels.

The Armageddon Lettersinnovatively and emotively. . . attempts to reverse the presumed apathy of young people toward nuclear holocaust. . . . [Blight and Lang] succeed as pioneers; their transmedia presentation is a great means of waking up a new generation to history and its lessons. ... Blight draws creative connections that grab our attention. ... the authors achieve their heartfelt intention of saturating us with warnings about a nuclear disaster. This multimedia and transmedia project largely works. . . . We are fortunate that we are sitting here now to read about Armageddon, rather than having experienced itand that second chance is what Blight and Lang have so cleverly marketed to us.
Journal of American History

In October 1962, the world was literally on the eve of its end—Armageddon. Yet, you are reading this book. Armageddon did not happen. Statesmanship, strategy, and serendipity gave you this opportunity to learn from this dramatic crisis, which is admirably and lucidly re-told and portrayed in this book. You are thus afforded the chance to make sure our successors will be alive to read it and learn from it in decades to come.
Jorge I. Dominguez, director of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University

Tasty morsels from secret communications among Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro during the most dangerous confrontation in recorded history.
Graham Allison, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government

The Armageddon Letters is a tour de force that brings the Cuban missile crisis harrowingly alive, and makes it relevant for our current time. Based on nearly 30 years of path breaking scholarship, it situates 43 well-chosen documents in both their historical and human context, and enables the reader to probe between the lines. Blight and Lang also make clear that the genesis of the confrontation began long before October 1962, that the potentially catastrophic circumstances lasted for three agonizing weeks beyond the famous 13 days, and that Cuba’s threat calculus and behavior had an effect on the both the crisis and its aftermath. They thus laudably return Cuba to the Cuban missile crisis story.
The Armageddon Letters will deeply engage both students and general readers, because it uniquely focuses on the emotions of Kennedy, Khrushchev and Castro as they faced what each perceived to be no way out of an impending Armageddon. It will leave readers with the appropriate lessons they should derive from the missile crisis: we survived by luck, not skill; a similar crisis could well occur again; we must rely on empathy, not a false rationality, if we hope to avoid a future Armageddon.

Philip Brenner, American University; coeditor of A Contemporary Cuba Reader: Reinventing the Revolution

Relatively few people now alive recall the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962, and even fewer understand what happened, what thankfully did not happen, and why the crisis must not be allowed to disappear into the mists of history. James Blight and janet Lang, two innovative scholars who have long studied the crisis, have written a book that is a giant step toward rendering the events of October 1962 too memorable, too frightening, and too personal ever to be forgotten. We were lucky that the inclination of the leaders of the U.S. and USSR, Kennedy and my father, was not to shoot first, then think, but was rather to do the opposite, to first think, then think once more, and do not shoot at all. Had either of them “shot first,” we would not be alive today and, in that case, we would not have an opportunity to read this excellent book. The portraits of President Kennedy, my father, Soviet Chairman Nikita Khrushchev, and Cuban leader Fidel Castro are intimate, totally believable and instructive. Based on decades of careful research, this is a work of sober history that reads like a horror novel with an almost miraculously lucky outcome. I could not put it down.
Sergei N. Khrushchev, Brown University; author of Khrushchev on Khrushchev: An Inside Account of the Man and His Era, by His Son, Sergei Khrushchev

Three cheers for epistolary history. In these crafty but wondrously expressive "Armageddon Letters" pen-pals Kennedy (dry, cool, defensive) and Khrushchev (explosive, tricky, soulful) were writing the bedrock literature of the nuclear age. There's a great gain of intimacy in this telling of the story, and no sacrifice of absurdity, no slighting of the essential madness in the nuclear fantasy. Fifty years after the October weekend when human civilization hung by a thread, Blight, Lang & Company are reminding us irresistibly that the fantasy is not dead, the trap is still lethal, the danger is not over—that a tiny fragment of the world's nuclear arsenal could explode and end life on the planet forever.
Christopher Lydon, Host of Radio Open Source

An innovative look at one of the most important crises of the twentieth century. James Blight and janet Lang have devoted themselves for a quarter century to chronicling the hidden details of the Cuban Missile Crisis. This book is a brilliant new addition to that work.
Errol Morris, director of the Academy Award-winning 2004 film, The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara

For over a quarter century Jim Blight and janet Lang have earned the gratitude of scholars and the interested public by highlighting and preserving the human dimension of the Cuban missile crisis, the most dangerous moment of the twentieth century. With The Armageddon Letters, they are now brilliantly connecting the IPad generation to Kennedy, Khrushchev and Castro and to the lessons of that near nuclear catastrophe.
Timothy Naftali, coauthor of "One Hell of a Gamble": Khrushchev, Castro & Kennedy, 1958-1964

In The Armageddon Letters, authors James Blight and janet Lang provide readers with a front row seat to one of the most terrifying horror stories of all time. Except this isn’t fiction—it’s real. For 13 harrowing days in October 1962, the leaders of the United States, the Soviet Union, and Cuba inadvertently brought the world within a hairs breadth of nuclear catastrophe. Part historical archive, part movie script, and part comic book, the Armageddon Letters creatively transports the reader back in time, rapidly moving us to and from Washington, Moscow, and Havana as if we were at the epicenter of the crisis, sharing in the fear, determination, and helplessness of its creators. There’s no one better than Jim and janet to take us on this journey. Their tireless scholarship over the past twenty-five years has revolutionized our understanding of the crisis, revealing that the threat of nuclear war was much greater than any of the participants could have possibly imagined. The implications of this near miss with disaster are clear. Beneath the seemingly stable veneer of the Cold War lies the chaos of the Cuban missile crisis. So long as nuclear weapons exist – and approximately 22,000 of them can still be found in nine countries—the risk of catastrophe will remain. We lucked out fifty years ago. We may not be so lucky next time.
Kingston Reif, director of nonproliferation at the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation

A brilliant reconstruction of the most dangerous days in history when thermonuclear war seemed all but inevitable. Based on a quarter century of research, you see the crisis not only from Washington, but also from Moscow and Havana. This book is filled with lessons that can help avert Armageddon in our times.
Bruce Riedel, Director of the Intelligence Project at the Brookings Institution

Manga meets the Missile Crisis in this compelling book. Through a creative mixture of illustrations, imagined conversations, historical analysis, and the actual letters written by Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro, Jim Blight and janet Lang enable readers to intellectually understand and emotionally feel what happened in the dark days of October 1962.
Scott D. Sagan

Jim Blight and janet Lang have written The Armageddon Letters after having spent much of the last twenty-five years vicariously peering into the abyss of Armageddon that was the Cuban missile crisis. They demonstrate the inadequacies of analyzing the crisis in any of the traditional ways, and instead provide us with a sophisticated applied psychology that reads like a Stephen King horror novel, but is thoroughly and painstakingly grounded in the historical record. They have accomplished something never before attempted: channeling as exactly as the historical record allows the raw experience of the three leaders as they confronted a tangle of mutual misunderstandings that could have resulted in the destruction of the human race. The three interwoven narratives will shock you. They will also demonstrate that the “stability” of mutual nuclear deterrence that we have come to take for granted is a shaky foundation indeed on which to ground humanity’s continuing existence.
Paul L. Wachtel, distinguished professor of psychology, City University of New York at City College