In October 1962 the world stood on the brink of nuclear war. This was occasioned by what became known as the ‘Cuban Missile Crisis’, which lasted from October 16th. until November 1st. Much has been written about this event but I want to describe an incident that occurred on October 21st. at Greenham Common, during the crisis.
Throughout the spring and summer of 1962 intelligence sources in Washington reported that the Soviet Union was displaying an increased interest in the island of Cuba, an island ninety miles from the coast of the U.S.A. and ruled by the Soviet ally, Fidel Castro. President Kennedy therefore warned Moscow not to deploy nuclear weapons on America’s doorstep. Moscow, in response, denied having any such intention. On October 16th. aerial photographs convinced Kennedy that the Soviets had lied to him and were deploying ballistic missiles, with atomic warheads, in Cuba. These missiles were capable of hitting many cities in the U.S.A.
The President, therefore, convened a small group of advisers – an executive committee of the National Security Council known as ’Ex-Com’, who met almost continuously for the next two weeks. The initial task of this group was to decide on the American response. On Sunday October 21st. Kennedy accepted a suggestion from Ex-Com that the U.S.A. initiate a naval blockade of Cuba, since it was ’least likely to precipitate general war while still causing the Soviets to back down and abandon Castro’. Plans were finalized at top speed but the key question was whether Britain, France and West Germany would support America’s position.
In order to facilitate this President Trueman’s former Secretary of State, Dean Acherson, was sent to Europe to convey to the British Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan, the photographic evidence the U.S.A. was using and to brief the French President, General de Gaulle. In order to do this Acherson needed to see his old friend, the U.S. Ambassador in London, David Bruce, before he flew on to Paris.
A U.S.A.F. Boeing 707, carrying Acheson, landed at Greenham Common where Bruce was waiting to see him. The Ambassador had been told by the State Department to go there alone and armed. Thus when the two met Bruce told Acheson to feel his pocket and showed him a revolver. Bruce also brought with him a bottle of Scotch – which Acheson undoubtedly appreciated! Acherson informed Bruce that he was to see Macmillan the first thing in the morning, and show him the photographs.
The two men shook hands and Acheson returned to his plane and ordered it to fly on to Paris.
This curious incident indicates part of the role that Greenham Common played in bringing about a peaceful resolution of this major Cold War crisis.