Either by coincidence or design, tonight's foreign policy debate between presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney falls on the 50th anniversary of a Monday night when President John F. Kennedy warned the nation and the world of a nuclear threat from Soviet missiles stationed on the island nation of Cuba. It was on October 22, 1962 that Kennedy delivered the nationally televised address that officially put the United States and the Soviet Union on the brink of nuclear war.
The secretly installed missiles, the president said that night, threatened the safety and security of not only the United States, but other nations in the Americas and throughout Latin America as well.
Each of these missiles, in short, is capable of striking Washington, D. C., the Panama Canal, Cape Canaveral, Mexico City, or any other city in the southeastern part of the United States, in Central America, or in the Caribbean area.
Additional sites not yet completed appear to be designed for intermediate range ballistic missiles — capable of traveling more than twice as far — and thus capable of striking most of the major cities in the Western Hemisphere, ranging as far north as Hudson Bay, Canada, and as far south as Lima, Peru.
Kennedy announced that night that a U.S. naval blockade of Cuba was already under way. Any Soviet ship bound for Cuba with offensive weapons would be turned back, he declared. He did not describe it as a blockade, however, choosing deftly to label the action a "quarantine." It was, in fact, a distinction without a difference, but it sounded less belligerent. A blockade is universally recognized as an act of war. A quarantine sounds like a public health measure. Kennedy said he would not "at this time" deny "the necessities of life as the Soviets attempted to do in their Berlin blockade of 1948." At the same time, he claimed the right to do so if events warranted it. "This quarantine will be extended, if needed, to other types of cargo and carriers."
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Photo: In this Oct. 16, 2012, file photo, Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks while President Barack Obama listens during the second presidential debate: AP Images