Archive for the ‘Thirteen Days’ Category

78 – Thirteen Days

July 12, 2001

Back during the Cold War, life was a little different. Once the USSR became a major world power, there was an intense battle of wills on the parts of both the US and Russia not to get into another war. While previous wars had been fought using conventional warfare, it was common knowledge that the next one would involve nuclear weapons, and would probably be the last war anyone would see.

In October of 1962, the Soviets planted missles on the Communist island of Cuba, a mere 90 miles away from Florida’s coast. Those of you who were sentient beings in 1962 must have been apoplectic when you heard that news. Imagine! The Red Menace, which had up till then been as distant as Mars, was now parked in your front yard, tooting the horn. It was probably enough to make you quake in your boots. Americans aren’t accustomed to reacting in such a manner, of course; we’re the big, bad tough guys of the world. And while up till then a full-blown nuclear attack might have seemed as unthinkable as the Cubs winning the World Series, all of a sudden it was very possible. And people were terrified.

But by the time the public found out about the missles, the White House had been working on the problem for a little while. This film captures the inner-circle machinations that President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy orchestrated to avert thermonuclear war. Was Krushchev seriously trying to initiate a war? Was he trying to scare the US? Was he basically saying, “We can park these missles right here and there’s nothing you can do about it,” basically making the US look bad to the rest of the world?

It was among the most gripping time period’s in the brief, eventful history of the United States. The future of not only the country but of the entire world was teetering, and one false move on the part of the level-headed thinkers in America would plunge it into the abyss. To complicate matters, there were two letters purporting to be from the Soviet leader: Were they both fakes? Was the first real, and the second a fraud? Should the US denounce both? And of course, there were certain military leaders in the US who wanted nothing more than to blow the Reds off the planet.

The movie is filled with a virtual no-name cast. Bruce Greenwood plays the president, and he was convincing and powerful in his performance. Steven Culp plays Bobby Kennedy, volatile but shrewd, the ultimate diplomat. The only real “name” in the cast belongs to Kevin Costner, who plays political advisor Kenny O’Donnell. He has the same good-old-boy accent he sported in JFK, but he was a little more emotional than in most of his films. A good move on his part, I’d say.

The madness of near-war is an infection to which these prime players seemed immune. It’s movies like this that remind one that politics and war planning are not simple textbook exercises; they need to be cultivated from the heart and leashed by the brain.

Thirteen Days: 8.5