On The Brink of Nuclear Destruction

The 1960’s was naturally the next step for our class to take while studying the historic timeline. Yes, we’ve studied world wars, massive civil rights movements, but this one pushed the world to the brink of destruction, and that’s what we’re going to talk about today.

As always we have a driving question for every unit, and this one was extremely open ended: How was the world on the brink?

At the start of the unit we were told by our English teacher of the past three years that our writing skills were, to put it nicely, lacking, so we dove in depth into this topic in order to try and elevate them. This started off with a ton of little paragraphs that were due each class in order to see what areas we needed improvement upon, and eventually worked itself into the writing of three different essays. Two expositories (research), and a narrative (story) essay.

Civil rights are the freedoms and rights that a person has as a member of a community, city, nation, and sometimes by simply being human. In the United States these rights are promised to all citizens by the constitution and acts of congress. Starting in the 1960’s, those in power began to pass laws in order to guarantee civil rights to all Americans, despite your race or nationality. However, it is currently 2018 and these struggles continue, not only for the black community but many other groups – including women, homosexuals, the homeless, and other minorities – are launching civil rights campaigns. With all of this in mind, let’s take a look at three of the most common problem areas throughout the United States, education, politics, and the one and only, Donald Trump.

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court deemed that the segregating schools by race was unconstitutional. This ruling served as a major tool in the struggle to improve not only the education of young African-Americans but simply, their lives. This was the end of one of the many cases of “separate but equal” throughout the country, but the segregation was still present. Civil rights laws made it illegal to refuse the admittance of a student due to the colour of their skin, but schools were still suffering from segregation, if only by chance. Most kids prefer to attend a school that is in their neighbourhood – the case of Brown v. Board of Education – but since the two races were living in separate areas anyways, their education was often the same even after the laws were passed. Although, nowadays it may seem that everyone receives an equal education, and our systems are no longer riddled with segregation, this is simply not the case. As previously stated, most prefer to be at a school near their home, and this opinion hasn’t changed, we are still facing this divide. If a neighbourhood is poor, so is its public school. However, if you live in a wealthier, or even well-off part of town, than your local schools are more likely to have up to date textbooks, teachers with a higher degree of education, the use of computers, and lots of extracurricular activities available to enhance your learning and future portfolios. Without an equal distribution of these resources, kids attending inner-city schools are much more likely to struggle entering, and even applying for post-secondary, this then causes them to, in a way be stuck where they are. Once you’re in that circle, it is extremely difficult to break it and pursue a higher paying job, apply for university, and simply have the necessary skills to carry yourself forward in life. Even if the divide of race is abolished in the education system, that does not mean there is no separation. Just because one struggle is overcome, does not mean the fight is over.

The strategies of the 1960’s movement were litigation, organization, mobilization and civil disobedience, aimed at creating a national political constituency for civil rights advances. In the 1970s, electoral strategies began to dominate, engendered by the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Due to this, the number of locally elected black officials began to multiply, political party organization declined and the crucial task of registering was left to organizations such as the NAACP. In 1963, John Lewis was twenty three, the youngest speaker at the March on Washington, and every member of the U.S. congress was white. Today, Lewis is one of 153 total African-Americans to have served in congress, a majority of which were in the House of Representatives. The voting act of 1965 is truly to thank for these numbers. Without it, there would be no equal say for who was in power, and this would have only increased the divide over the years. Of course, the movement of African-Americans in politics began slowly, but as generations passed there have been more and more elections for black officials, leading to the nation’s first black president, Barack Obama.

Throughout history, there have been presidents who have taken drastic steps for what they believe is best for the country. With many controversial outlooks and opinions in this position during the 1960’s between presidents such as, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard M. Nixon, it was almost bound to happen again. Between the years of 2008 and 2016, Barack Obama served as president of the United States, and all seemed to be well, but of course there were those who had their doubts. A majority of the population agreed with him, as he was part of the Democratic Party and was always looking to serve the nation, and not just his own. This stand in politics took an almost identical turn in 2016 as it did when Richard Nixon was elected. He was known for his cynicism and being the shadow of American politics. We all know history repeats itself, but when Donald Trump was elected as president, most would not have expected it to be this accurate. Trump is often compared to Nixon for not only their personal idiosyncrasies, but also their rash decision making, not to mention the involvement of the FBI.

It has been said by countless amounts of people throughout time, and that is that history respects itself. If we can not truly learn from our mistakes, these same issues will continue to occur for the rest of our future. There are still problems throughout the United States with education, human rights and even the stand of the president, these are all the same things we’ve been struggling with since 1968 and even previously. Let’s not have history be right again, we need to force a change for the next generation.

It was a 4:30am wake up to get myself to YVR for my third national championship field hockey tournament in Toronto, Ontario. There’s quite a bit of thumps and what sounds like someone stumbling from my parents’ room, which sits directly next to mine. All of a sudden my dad is bursting through my door screaming at me to wake up and to get the dog under control; “Your mom’s having another stroke”.

As I’m scrambling to get dressed, I pass my dad in the hallway helping my mom limp to the stairs where they’ll meet my brother to carry her to the car. Looking at her face in the low amber light, I recognized a stroke that was a mirrored image from 2015, and her first stroke. We carry her up three flights of stairs, no shoes, no socks, and she gashes her toe on the way. There’s no time for us to get our own footwear together either since we knew we’d be bypassing Lions Gate Hospital and driving straight to Vancouver General Hospital, which is an extra thirty minutes away. You may be asking why we made the decision to drive her instead of calling 911 for such a drastic medical emergency, and the answer is quite simple. In my family’s eyes, before 6am, ambulances are useless. In 2015, it took forty-five minutes for an emergency vehicle to show up, only to later be sent to VGH a half hour later, and they knew it was a situation where timing is crucial for survival. 

My father is driving as if he were an ambulance, and makes the forty-five minute trip to the neon ‘EMERGENCY’ lights of Vancouver General in under thirty. The thought of being stopped by the cops had in fact crossed his mind, and frankly he couldn’t care less. If anything, it might have helped our situation because they can be used as escorts and aid in explaining the scenario upon arrival at the hospital. If we’d showed up with policemen at our side, we might not have been considered a “liability” to the hospital. After giving the admin office basic information about her health history and current situation, she advises us that they can’t offer any kind of assistance until she was in the waiting room. Why? All because she didn’t arrive in a goddamn ambulance. Yet again, we had been screwed over. After literally dragging her inside, the clerk identifies my mom’s case as a “HOT stroke” – a simple term for an extremely aggressive and severe stroke – and she contacts the medical staff. All I could think was “here we go again”, and pray to a power I had no right to ask for favours from, for a positive outcome this time again. A swarm of doctors arrived as they began to prep the operating room. We headed down an extremely dark area of the building, making me wonder what was going on. Since it was so early in the morning and no surgical procedures were in session, they were legitimately turning on lights and unlocking doors in order to get inside the cold metallic operating area. The surgical nurse sprints around the corner, frantically changing clothes and assures us they were going to start the thrombectomy procedure as soon as possible. Minutes later, a doctor we’d never met, Dr. Redekop, arrived sporting a side swung briefcase and hastily began analyzing a screen that was displaying my mom’s health records, information on her previous stroke, and her current vitals. He briefly mentions that he was a member of the team that took charge of the investigation into the 2015 stroke and the procedure that took place. The next thing we knew he was quickly consoling us and then disappearing behind the operating doors after mentioning he should be out in roughly an hour. 

Thirty minutes. Forty-Five. And finally an hour passes, but there’s still no sign of movement from the room. My mind begins to bounce off the walls. I try to keep up a positive and hopeful attitude because we’d been through this before, and it should all turn out okay again… right? However, I can’t keep myself from thinking of the worst possible outcomes, well, outcome. Thankfully, I physically couldn’t do anything rash and make the situation worse than it had to be. I couldn’t even bring myself to move out of the 1980’s style waiting room chair, I simply felt numb. 

Exactly an hour and thirty-seven minutes go by, and then out comes a gurney carrying my exhausted mother, followed by a line of now uniformed doctors. The last time this happened she was immediately speaking to us and hugging us, but this time around, this would not be the case. Regardless, we’re all immediately bursting into tears of relief. She would live to see another day

Personally, my favourite to write was in the narrative style. Although it’s an extremely difficult topic to talk about, let alone re-read it over and over again while editing, but it makes for the best writing. It allows you to show your connection to the story, use many descriptive words, and how it affected you either at the time or after.

However these weren’t the final products, the second expository I mentioned world be: entitled “World on the Brink”  (I know, VERY fitting to the driving question). This is where we were going to need to pull in all of our learning and added skills from not only the writing unit, but the historical aspect as well. In this essay we were going to have to prove our point for what event we believe put the world on the brink of destruction. There are plenty of topics to cover for this project and deciding what direction we wanted to take things what we had to choose in order to have a base for our project. Here are the topics we had studied throughout not only this unit, but in the past year as well that we could select from:

Something you may not know about me is that I’m actually a huge space nerd, so it was natural for me to choose the Space Race because of  the fact that I practically knew everything there was to know already, I just needed to add the critical PLP eye and analyze it accordingly.

Throughout the Space Race, the USSR was without a doubt ahead in technological development. Their cosmic success gave them leverage back on earth, and a daunting fear was sent through the United States. If they could send satellites into orbit as early as 1957, and eventually man, what would stop them from launching weapons and having them set towards the Western world? There was the potential for a complete destruction of North America, and the speed of warfare from space was not yet seen, a threat no one thought possible.

The Space Race started with the USSR launching Sputnik 1 in 1957, which created a worldwide furor. Governments and masses were excited to see mankind taking another leap towards progress. When the human race ventured into space, it was a ‘paradigm shift’. Neil Armstrong landing on Moon is still regarded as one of the breakpoints in history and his words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for the mankind” (Armstrong) is now one of the most quoted phrases in literature. However, the space programmes of both the superpowers were not just for civilian entertainment purposes; it was as very much about the military space program.

Through this, the idea was to fight the battle with the rival by displaying power without having to fight a true war. At that point, the United Nations had to step in to ensure that outer space did not become a battleground for the superpowers. Due to the USSR’s increasing advancements in space technology, this worry was spreading like wildfire across the United States. Although the Space Race was seemingly a replacement for the ‘hot war’ involving true battle, the threat of a rainfall of weapons from above was still a very real concern. If the Soviet Union could in fact launch satellites, let alone man into orbit, what was stopping them from sending extremely dangerous nuclear arms up above our atmosphere, ready to target the Western Hemisphere at the press of a button.

It was clear the gap in astronautical technology was increasing, and JFK was “…recognizing the likelihood that they will exploit this lead” (Kennedy, John. “I believe We Should Go to the Moon) with a continuation of successes, and the potential of launching nuclear bombs attached to their spacecrafts. Accordingly, their cosmic success had become mirrored on land, and they were gaining the upper hand. With this continuously growing fear in mind, the president at the time, John F. Kennedy, began speaking out on the topic. In a speech given to congress in May 1961, JFK stated that it was “…time for [the United States] to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on Earth” (Kennedy, John. “I believe We Should Go to the Moon), meaning if they were wanting any sort of Russian deterioration on the ground, NASA had to start making quicker advancement in space flight.

That is when the Outer Space Treaty came into being. The treaty prohibits any agreeing countries from placing weapons of mass destruction in Earth orbit, installing them on the Moon or any other celestial body or otherwise stationing them in outer space. As a result, the tension between the superpowers was finally lifted. Only then was there a supposed guarantee that neither would be installing any satellite controlled nuclear arms into outer space.

As the Space Race came to a close, and the United States had been deemed the ‘winner’, what was once a large threat had been defused, and Russia was brought to a halt. The tension that was brought by the challenge to make the most advancements into outer space is when the world was closest to nuclear destruction. The constant worry of what could be, as well as the looming question of what the USSR would send up next is what made the American scientists speed up the process in reaching the cosmos, giving the nation the upper hand throughout the Cold War.

In order to be able to write an essay as in depth as this one, we needed an extreme thick and thorough background comprehension of the topic. For our individually decided topics we were instructed to do all of our own research, but as a class we got a handle on the overall arching theme of “Communists VS Everyone”. In order for us to start grasping this concept, we watched a docudrama depicting the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis that occurred in 1962, called Thirteen Days.

You know we’re not your average class, so of course we couldn’t simply take notes and then read them over, instead we wrote an analytical paragraph about it. However, I missed the day this was assigned and wrote it wrong the first time… so here’s two paragraphs about the movie!


The Movie “Thirteen Days” is a docudrama that was released in 200o, starring Kevin Costner and Bruce Greenwood. It describes the full proceedings of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October of 1962 between the United States and the Soviet Union. The story begins when U.S. U-2 surveillance planes took photographs of Soviet missile installations being built without any camouflage in Cuba. Examination of the photos revealed that the missiles were likely SS-4’s, which are medium-range ballistic missiles with a range of 2,000 miles and the capacity to carry a 3 megaton nuclear warhead. The Missiles that were speculated as being installed had the capacity to reach as far as Washington, D.C. within 17 minutes, reach many different cities and military installations, and  could reportedly kill up to 80 million Americans and significantly degrade the retaliatory options of bomber bases.The initial reaction the discovery of the Soviet missile instalments was a general consensus among the President’s staff about how the diplomatic consequences of making an error would be too terrible to contemplate. The initial standard operating procedures adopted were to increase the surveillance coverage over Cuba. The initial contingency plan options were to secretly consider the increase of international pressure and to hit Cuba with an air strike before the missiles were operational. The initial thought of an air strike evolved into further considering the military contingencies for an air strike hitting the Soviet installations, the Russians moving against Berlin, and then an attack against Berlin would involve NATO. However, getting NATO involved at this time would lead to the beginnings of World War III.

Critical Analysis:

I believe this film was a very good, and accessible representation of the events that took place during the Cuban Missile Crisis. In general it can be considered a difficult topic to understand, but by finding a simplistic way to demonstrate the politic aspect of the situation as well is what I believe made this docudrama so powerful. The director made the decision to have to story centralized more around Kenny O’Donnell (the personal assistant to the commander and chief) opposed to John F. Kennedy which I think is due to the fact that he was even more involved with the communication between stations and arms of the government. Not only was he already so highly ranked, but because he was the highway to the president’s ear and was constantly relaying messages. In theory, this would also give the viewers a look at how the normal households and families were affected by the events at the time, not just the Whitehouse and government officials. In the end, I was left questioning whether or not there should have been the creative decision by the director to show parts of the Soviet Union’s point of view on the matter, but later came to the decision that this would have been a better strategy for a strict, researched focused documentary. If they had displayed each and every Russian move it would have pulled away from the drama, suspense, and heartfelt power of cheering on the figures we had previously discovered because we would have already seen what the communist side was preparing.

Anyways, the film really did give me a better understanding at not only the different political views, but the tactics involved as well. There are really two strategies that you’re able to follow: one being a straight forward, invade everything with the military approach, or you can do what John F. Kennedy did as a young president and think of the larger picture and that your actions always have consequences.

Personally, I thought we were done after this. How on earth could any other life altering events be going on at the same time as  potential instant death by nuclear destruction? But I was wrong… as usual.

What we had covered of the 60’s was only the political and  nuclear side of things, we hadn’t talked about what was occurring at the United States’  population level. In order to gain a different perspective of how the world was changing we watched another quick documentary on the main four social movements at the time:

  • Women’s Rights Movement
  • Gay Rights Movement
  • Labour Rights Movement
  • Environmental Movement

The media you see above is a collage of the two topics I focused most on in this unit: The Space Race and The Women’s Rights Movement of the 1960’s. Featured are many female protestors against illegal abortions and fighting for birth control rights, including Gloria Steinem. In the top left you can also see a USSR cosmonaut that I found in some Soviet propaganda while doing research for my expository essay. The medal placed over top of the original NASA symbol is the Soviet Union’s Cosmonaut Pilot award, representing that they had the original successes and leads in the Space Race.

And if you’re interested in watching the documentary on all of these social issues, here it is below:

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