Khrushchev giving Kennedy an ultimatum
In June 1961, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev demanded American soldiers get out of the city of Berlin, or else. He said he was losing his patience and the Red Army would be released in six months to invade the city. This sound familiar coming from a Russian thug? Khrushchev had been the political commissar of the Soviet army besieging Stalingrad, and he had threatened to shoot Soviet soldiers if they retreated. Kennedy, a veteran of World War II, knew perfectly well what this Russian thug was capable of doing.
Kennedy was shaken by the meeting, but he kept his composure. He knew he could not give in to Khrushchev’s threats. He would not abandon Berlin, but he knew a misstep could start a fight that could easily lead to a thermonuclear war. How Kennedy handled that thug was magnificent, and he gave us lessons we can still learn from today.
Six months after the height of that crisis, Kennedy reflected how close we had come to total war against the Russians, and he felt the need to thank a small group of young Americans who had helped the country avert a nuclear war. He flew across the country to Berkeley, California to thank those young Americans. I spoke to one of those young men years later and asked him what was it like to meet the president. He told me the president strode across a lobby, stepped up to him, smiled, and shook his hand. It was the proudest day of his life.
What had those young Americans done to keep a Russian thug at bay? You can read this story with a happy ending in my newly released book, From Berkeley to Berlin. Enjoy the read and let’s all wish we will have the leadership of a Kennedy once more in this crisis we find ourselves in.