Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Missiles of October


As you’ve likely heard from some source or another, today is the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s speech informing the nation that Soviet missile bases had been discovered in Cuba.  The Cuban Missile Crisis, as it’s come to be known, had actually begun a week earlier, on October 15th, when the first photos of the missiles were seen.  By the 22nd, having ruled out other options, Kennedy went on TV to explain his intent to enforce a naval blockade of Cuba to force the removal of the missiles.  By the 28th, the Russians gave in, and announced they would be removing their missiles from the island.  Crisis averted.

More than a decade later, television adapted a book by Robert Kennedy telling the story of the tense two weeks when America was probably the closest its ever been to nuclear war.  Missiles October 10-22-12We watched that movie in my 8th grade history class, and it was the beginning of a lifetime of interest in—and admiration for—John Kennedy.  Incidentally, while I can’t remember if this was also my first introduction to William Devane and Martin Sheen, it’s certainly the moment when I really became aware of them, and I remain a fan of their work to this day.

A couple of weeks ago, when I discussed books turned into television, I sort of can’t believe I forgot to include this one, since it was such an important event for me.  But I think it’s a nice reminder of the good that television can do.  This movie imprinted on me and taught me about this period of history more than any school room lecture could have done.  And that’s not intended as any sort of degradation of teachers; I really liked my history teacher.  And, she was cool enough to show us this film. 

But, as I said, the movie turned me into a Kennedy “fan”, if that’s the right word when speaking of the President of the United States.  I started by reading Robert Kennedy’s book.  Then I hit the encyclopedias for a broad picture of the missile situation, and searched for other books on the topic.  Ultimately, I collected and read dozens upon dozens of books and magazines about Kennedy’s life and presidency, well beyond the scope of these particular thirteen days. 

It is, I think, the very best thing that television can accomplish—sparking an interest that leads to learning.  (Surely everyone has heard stories of scientists, teachers, astronauts who were inspired by Star Trek?)   TV gets a bad rap a lot of time for being mindless entertainment, and I can’t deny there’s a lot of that to be found as you scroll through the channels.  But that’s not all there is, and 14 year old me—as well as 49 year old me—is eternally grateful for that. 

31 Days of TV