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Book Talk: Nuclear Folly

Date & Time

Apr. 21, 2021
12:30pm – 1:30pm ET




Nearly sixty years after the Cuban missile crisis and thirty years after the end of the Cold War, today’s leaders appear capable of repeating the dangerous precedents of the past. In order to better understand and manage the major nuclear challenges of the 21st century, the lessons of the past should be considered. Serhii Plokhii’s new book, Nuclear Folly: A History of the Cuban Missile Crisis, offers an international perspective on the crisis, tracing the tortuous decision-making that produced and then resolved it. In this book talk, he illustrated the drama and anxiety of those tense days, drawing on a range of Soviet archival sources and White House tapes, and explained how to grapple with the problems posed in the present.

Purchase the book from Politics and Prose HERE.

Selected Quotes

Serhii Plokhii
"Khrushchev really didn’t understand what kind of impact [moving missiles to Cuba] would have not just on Kennedy, but on the Americans as a whole. People who knew more about the United States, including the KGB, were warning him, or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, were warning him that it would blow up in his face, that that will be a major reaction coming from the United States when Khrushchev was thinking that, ok, they put their missiles in Turkey, and I swallowed that, and we have our missiles in Europe and Europeans don’t raise much of a fuss about that as well, so the expectation was that the reaction from the U.S. would be subdued." 

"[Khrushchev] was someone who was really taking risks. That was his lifestyle, not thinking much about what the consequences might be. There was an interesting episode in his career on the international arena when he flew to the United States on the invitation of President Eisenhower, so he was flying in the biggest, at that time in the world, airplane, Soviet airplane, and he was very proud of that. The problem was that the airplane was not properly tested and the engineers discovered that there were cracks in the engine and those cracks could grow. Khrushchev didn’t say no and didn’t change the plane, instead, half of the Soviet navy was stationed in between the Atlantic along the route the plane was supposed to take in case there is an emergency landing to save the Premier and the head of the Party of the Soviet Union. So that just gives you some sort of an idea what kind of person Khrushchev was."

Hosted By

Kennan Institute

The Kennan Institute is the premier U.S. center for advanced research on Russia and Eurasia and the oldest and largest regional program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Kennan Institute is committed to improving American understanding of Russia, Ukraine, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the surrounding region though research and exchange.  Read more

History and Public Policy Program

The History and Public Policy Program makes public the primary source record of 20th and 21st century international history from repositories around the world, facilitates scholarship based on those records, and uses these materials to provide context for classroom, public, and policy debates on global affairs.  Read more

Cold War International History Project

The Cold War International History Project supports the full and prompt release of historical materials by governments on all sides of the Cold War. Through an award winning Digital Archive, the Project allows scholars, journalists, students, and the interested public to reassess the Cold War and its many contemporary legacies. It is part of the Wilson Center's History and Public Policy Program.  Read more

Nuclear Proliferation International History Project

The Nuclear Proliferation International History Project is a global network of individuals and institutions engaged in the study of international nuclear history through archival documents, oral history interviews, and other empirical sources. At the Wilson Center, it is part of the Wilson Center's History and Public Policy Program.  Read more

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