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About A Week: World's End?

Peter Hinchliffe recalls the day the world might have ended.

On the day the world might have ended I went to Dallas.

While the USA and Russia were deciding whether to fire nuclear weapons at each other I listened to the debates at an Anglican Mothers’ Union conference.

The discussions involved parochial matters. The possibility of the world’s end was only mentioned in prayers and private conversation over coffee.

I’d been in America just six weeks in October, 1962, when the Cuban missile crisis threatened nuclear Armageddon.

I was a wide-eyed immigrant, overwhelmed by new scenes and strange accents.

Eating was an adventure for the taste buds.. Corn dogs, enchiladas, chicken fried steak, pecan pie. At the cafeteria opposite the newspaper office where I worked it was a case of pointing to something without knowing what to expect.

I was eager to travel anywhere, to see anything and everything that the US had to offer. When a Wichita Falls vicar, the Rev Russell, offered to take me to Dallas on my day off I eagerly accepted the opportunity to see the city - even if it meant sitting for hours in an MU conference.

We travelled down the dusty road to Dallas in his Volkswagen Khombi. The radio brought frequent bulletins of a crisis which threatened nuclear war.

* The US were at loggerheads with Fidel Castro and his Communist regime in Cuba. On October 14, 1962, an American U-2 spy plane flying over the Caribbean island spotted a missile site.

The Russians were putting missiles armed with nuclear weapons into Cuba - missiles which could reach every major US city.

* On October 16 President John Kennedy and his top military officers decided that a surprise air attack on Cuba was the only reasonable response - followed by an invasion of the island.

* On October 18 wiser counsels prevailed. The US imposed a sea blockade around Cuba.

* On Oct 27 President Khrushchev of the USSR sent a coded cable to President Kennedy saying the missiles would be withdrawn if the US agreed not to invade Cuba. He then amended his stance in a speech, saying the US should also withdraw its weapons from Turkey.

* On Oct 27 a US spy plane was shot down over Cuba. The pilot was killed.

Now, on a day when Russian ships were still heading for Cuba, bringing more missiles, as the world teetered on the edge of nuclear holocaust, we drove to Dallas.

The meeting was dull. I was not impressed with Big D. We headed home in the Khombi, not saying much.

Night fell. Twenty miles from Wichita Falls Rev Russell stopped at the roadside. We got out and stared.

A huge mushroom cloud hung over the city.

It took us a desperate minute to realise we were looking at a phenomenon caused by street lights reflecting from the clouds.

The day after that Khrushchev announced the missiles would be withdrawn.

“You’ll never believe how close we came,’’ muttered a relieved US official. Just how close is revealed in the film Thirteen Days. The US was an hour away from going to war..

And now more countries have nuclear weapons. Israel, Pakistan, India, China…. And more are secretly striving to get them.

Will we ever learn?


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