Two panels presented commentary and analysis from U.S. military veterans of the so-called naval and air quarantine (which sounded more polite than “blockade”) around Cuba, as well as political reconstructions of how dangerously close the United States and the Soviet Union came to nuclear conflict on Saturday, October 27, 1962: fifty years to the day of this symposium! Former U.S. Air Force U-2 pilots recalled their hair-raising state of alert, as well as their high-altitude photographic overflights of Cuba (one was shot down on October 27), while their U.S. Navy counterparts recounted the daring tree-top level photo missions at full throttle they undertook to verify that the Soviet missiles were, indeed, in an advanced state of readiness. In recent years the naval dimension of this thermonuclear chess game has been revealed as the true hair trigger: a harried Soviet submarine captain came dangerously close to firing a nuclear torpedo (with a warhead equivalent to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs) at a U.S. aircraft carrier, which almost certainly would have set off a dreadful and impossible-to-contain chain of attacks and counter-attacks.
Sergei Khrushchev and Gordon HoggAlongside the veterans of these events were a kind of “next-generation” contingent: conference organizer Francis Gary Powers, Jr. is the son of the U-2 pilot of the same name who was shot down over central Russia in 1960 and imprisoned by his Soviet captors until a prisoner exchange released him; political commentator Sergei Khrushchev is the son of then-Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev; and Sergo Mikoyan, the son of the late Soviet foreign minister Anastas Mikoyan, collaborated with panelist and analyst Svetlana Savranskaya on a new book detailing the Soviet side of Cuban Missile Crisis events.
Panelists and conference attendees alike were curious about the Scott Soviet Military Collection, and spent time looking through the unusual sampling of its materials on display. This is the fourth time that the Scott Collection has been featured at a conference with the Cold War Museum, and the high-profile aspect of this gathering guarantees increasing interest in one of UK Libraries’ more unusual collections.