The Arizona Daily Star published on Oct. 15 an excellent summation of the crisis 50 years ago resulting from ballistic missiles being placed in Cuba by the U.S.S.R. These were capable of delivering nuclear bombs to many cities in the U.S.
Upon discovery of the missiles, a chain of events ensued that nearly led to a nuclear weapons exchange. It was avoided only by intense diplomatic efforts on the part of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., resulting in a compromise solution.
But the world was on edge for 13 days in October of 1962 until the agreement was reached and announced. Those of us in Civil Defense in Pima County (the site of many ballistic missiles at the time) were fearful that our plans might have to be put into action. Like everyone, we and our colleagues were glued to the TV every day and night, and we were very relieved when the crisis ended.
As physicians, we are well aware of the horrific medical and destructive consequences of nuclear weapons.
Although both sides have reduced the number of weapons, those remaining continue to be on hair-trigger alert. It takes little imagination to realize the possibility of accidental, or, with some countries, the purposeful use of these weapons.
So the threat continues despite the diminution of the madness of the Cold War, and now nine countries also have these weapons, with a 10th determined to develop them.
While we can debate whether this power was ever sensible for humans to embrace, we can now say with confidence that our future depends on stopping the spread of these weapons and eliminating the threat of nuclear annihilation.
It should be noted that all Latin American countries long ago established a nuclear-weapons-free zone (the Treaty of Tlatelolco); those that did have these weapons eliminated them from their arsenals. This happened in the 1960s and was formalized a few years after the Cuban missile crisis.
What can we learn from the Cuban missile crisis? Even when neither side wants a nuclear war, having these weapons makes our world unsafe, and catastrophe could occur by accident, terrorist action or irrational military action.
There is a growing international movement to finally rid the world of all nuclear weapons; this development needs to be nurtured and expanded.
Those who look closely at this problem believe that we cannot go another 50 years without these weapons being used.
Can we find within ourselves the strength of conviction to use this anniversary to ensure that nuclear weapons are never used again? For our children and our children's children's sake, we sincerely hope so.
As physicians, we know that if these weapons are used, there is no emergency response possible in the face of such a catastrophe.
Instead, we urge that together we prevent what we cannot cure and rid the world of all nuclear weapons.
Raymond F. Graap, M.D., and Schuyler Hilts, M.D., Cmdr. (Ret.) USNR, are members of Physicians for Social Responsibility. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org