In Memory of Major Rudolf Anderson

Kudos to the USA Today for highlighting on its front page a man who our nation and our world owes a debt toward.  Major Rudolf Anderson was the U-2 pilot shot down over Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  It was the loss of his life that made both President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev realize that they soon would not be able to stop a nuclear war from happening (the Soviets were not the ones who ordered the shootdown but rather a local commander did).  The article focuses on the efforts to recognize Anderson’s sacrifice with a posthumous medal of honor.

There is opposition to the award.  Some of his fellow pilots argue that Anderson was just doing his duty.  And yet, isn’t it ironic that the military officer’s death that prevented a war that likely would have eliminated many of us from living the lives we are living – worldwide – is a name is unknown to much of the world’s population?  Even the Cuban Missile Crisis itself is only known in a cursory way by most people under the age of thirty.  With the Soviet archives now open, we now know that the Soviets had eight times the number of troops that the CIA and military intelligence estimated.  They also had tactical nuclear weapons which they were under orders to use if we invaded Cuba (something that was almost universally being recommended to then President Kennedy).  Had Kennedy taken that advice, there is little doubt that it would have escalated and escalated into a nightmare quickly.

We obviously could not tolerate the missiles.  But we were blessed that cooler heads prevailed on the best way to act (with a blockade, firm resolve that the status quo must be changed, and a willingness to find some middle ground – which they did).  But again, if Major Anderson had not been shot down, the superpowers might have stayed at the brink far longer.  And a different incident likely would have happened that might  generated a far different result.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier underscores that not every veteran is remembered in an equal way for their sacrifice.  It is the nature of war.  But this story is not one we should accept as one that is being lost to history.  Anderson’s family, at least fifty years later, deserves our thanks and respect.  And Major Anderson’s name, and the larger story he was part of, is something every human being should know about.

They say those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.  That is a moment in history we never want to repeat.

Until next time,



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