Sheinkopf Speaks: A Nuclear Fable

Hand hold the earth on the sky
Hand hold the earth on the sky. Illustration from 123rf.
Hank Sheinkopf

There used to be a place called Karp’s on Flatbush Avenue almost at the corner of Newkirk Avenue. The guys behind the counter wore ties and white shirts. And of course aprons because well ice cream–and if you’ve ever been an ice cream counterman you’d know this–tastes fine but is quite disgustingly dirty when it sticks to your hands and your clothes. 

So on that October night they sent me out to Karp’s. Go bring this back for us was the demand. Not for you, but for us. And don’t keep the change which is how it goes generally when you live in someone’s house and they don’t want you there.

Walking the four blocks or so down Newkirk from Ocean Avenue, it was just plain silent. Nobody was out doing what they usually did on those blocks, which you could imagine if you want. Not even a mugger or a bike stealer.

It was a Monday night. October 22, 1962. And President John F. Kennedy was going to talk to America. So get the food, bring back change, and don’t waste time. That handsome young president. Got to be in front of that TV.

The news: Russians put nuclear weapons, missiles, in Cuba, 90 miles from Florida. And the world might be going out of business. Permanently.

Well, we know the crisis gets resolved. Robert Kennedy, the President’s brother writes a book about how we almost got killed, and makes his brother the hero.

Harvard political scientist, Graham T. Allison writes a book still used today in college classrooms. Nations lie to themselves. And they could commit suicide.  Years later, another Harvard scholar, Ukrainian Serhii Plohy, notes a dirty secret in his book “Nuclear Folly.” The US didn’t even know that nuclear arms were being delivered to Cuba. They found out later. So much for intelligence services. Plohy tells you something else really interesting: the Russians shipped their murder weapons through, would you believe, through the Black Sea, through Ukraine. Could it be that Putin knew what he was doing in 2014 when he sailed the Russian nuclear submarine fleet into the Black Sea? Worse, why didn’t the Americans know. 

It’s just plain luck that we’re still here.  There are just some things you can’t figure.

Around that time, 1962, my two uncles went to the doctor who said after he looked them over, go home you two and die. They didn’t look sick. They had prostate cancer and in those years the most available treatment always seemed to be death. And die they did.

We are seeing nations make mistakes. And we are wondering what they, you know who they are: they are them, the ones who are supposed to know, know or don’t know. Or should know. 

But they are not interrupting the TV shows to upset anyone., You can get as upset as you like by just watching a 24-hour news channel and the upset will even be sponsored by someone who’s likely never read Allison, or Plokhy but gets their news from you know where, don’t you?

The New Yorker’s knowledgeable Robin Wright says the Soviets–sorry Russia–has 6,000 nuclear weapons with much more killing power than what they stashed in Cuba in 1962.

The moral of the story? Karp’s is closed and the counterman with white shirts and ties are likely dead. And it’s not because their ice cream was lousy.

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