[FOUNTAIN]U.S. should look at history for a lessonA chief executive’s job involves a series of decisions. Even if a decision were made after many rounds of discussion, it would always end up ignoring one side in the confrontation. In every issue, there are hardliners and moderates.
In 1962, U.S. President John F. Kennedy had to make a drastic decision during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The hard-liners insisted on more uncompromising actions against the Soviet Union and proposed a pre-emptive strike on missile bases. The moderates said a failure in the military response could lead to a nuclear war and suggested the United States negotiate a compromise.
At the time, the hard-liners thought that the Soviet Union could not afford to risk a nuclear war. But an unexpected central figure among the National Security Council members was Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. He had later said that he stood by the moderates because he saw a 50 to 1 chance of a nuclear war.
In contrast, Secretary of the Treasury Douglas Dillon claimed that the possibility of a nuclear war was nearly zero. In the Soviet Union, First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev found himself in a similar dilemma between the hard-liners and moderates.
When each White House aide and security council member produced his version of assumptions and options, Mr. Kennedy recommended that they read “The Guns of August,” by Barbara Tuchman. The book was about how European nations’ missteps led to the tragedy of World War I. Then Mr. Kennedy took a far more prudent action than some aides had recommended, Mr. Khrushchev responded with an appropriate compromise.
Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Khrushchev decided not to risk a nuclear war, but not because either was a coward. They knew that World War I was the result of a series of accidental events and mistakes combined with a failure to respond in a timely fashion and in an appropriate way.
The United States, the sole superpower in the world now, continues to make mistakes in Iraq. After failing to find any evidence of weapons of mass destruction, the United States is disgraced with incidents such as the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.
Before it’s too late, the U.S. leadership should learn from the lessons of “The Guns of August” and display the courage to ask for the world’s forgiveness and make peace with the United Nations.
by Kim Seok-hwan
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.