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Robert McNamara. Source: Corbis via Getty Images.

Robert McNamara’s Words on the Cold War is Something we Should Never Forget

“Rationality will not save us”

Robert McNamara was John F Kennedy’s Secretary of Defense. In 2003, he participated in a documentary film.

In the documentary, The Fog of War, there are 11 lessons that Robert McNamara goes over. The second lesson is a spine-chilling one:

“Rationality will not save us”

“I want to say, and this is very important, at the end — we lucked out. It was luck that prevented nuclear war.” — Robert McNamara, United States Secretary of Defense

The Cuban Missile Crisis was a 13-day confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union, initiated when the United States discovered that the Soviet Union was placing ballistic missiles on Cuba. This was in 1962.

In 1992, Robert McNamara, in a meeting with Fidel Castro, learned that Castro recommended Nikita Krushchev to use all the warheads against the United States.

When McNamara asked Castro what would have happened to Cuba if those warheads were deployed, Castro answered: “[Cuba] would have been totally destroyed.”

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Robert McNamara, gesturing just how close the world was to mutual destruction.

“We came that close to nuclear war at the end. Rational individuals. Kennedy was rational. Krushchev was rational. Castro was rational. Rational individuals came that close to mutual destruction of their societies. And that danger exists today.”

We like to look at history through the lens of winners, but that often overshadows the intensity and seriousness of a point in time. McNamara gives us a reality very few people comprehend, whether it’s in defense of having a strong military presence or not:

“The major lesson of the Cuban Missile Crisis is this: The indefinite combination of human fallibility and nuclear weapons will destroy nations. Is it right and proper that today there are 7,500 strategic offensive nuclear warheads of which 2,500 are in 15-minute alert to be launched by the decision of one human being?”

The Cuban Missile Crisis was over 50 years ago. Today, there are many more nations, and even rogue groups, who may have access to nuclear technology. McNamara’s account of history is far more sobering than anything you’d be reading out of a textbook. It really casts a major doubt that human beings have a chance at long-term existence on this planet.

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UC Berkeley, mathematics. Los Angeles. Long-time runner. Top writer on Quora, 100M+ total content views. New to Medium. Inquiries:

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