The movie for tonight was "Thirteen Days," Kevin Costner's version of what happened during those momentous two weeks in October 1962 when the Soviet Union placed missiles in Cuba and our countries were on the brink of nuclear war.
All in all, it was a fascinating movie. Bruce Greenwood played President Kennedy and even though he doesn't look like President Kennedy and he did not attempt a Boston accent, he was great. Steven Culp also captured the essence of Bobby Kennedy.
The only problems came when Costner, who was executive producer of the movie, came into play. Anyone familiar with the history of the Cuban Missile Crisis knows that Kenneth O'Donnell,the presidential advisor played by Costner, was not a key player. In the movie, it almost seemed as if the Kennedys couldn't make a simple decision without O'Donnell's okay. Another problem was Costner's horrific attempt at a New England accent. You would think he would have learned his lesson after his terrible attempts to do accents in "Robin Hood" and "JFK."
None of the accounts of the Cuban Missile Crisis I have read have tried to make it look as if American military officers were pulling dirty tricks to force us into a war with the Soviet Union. Fortunately, most of the movie was dedicated to actual, confirmable events and in this case, history did not need to be embellished. It was truly a dramatic story.
The best version of the event for anyone who is interested is Robert F. Kennedy's book, also titled "Thirteen Days." He truly brings out the suspense of that two-week period in American history.
I was only six years old when the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred so it really didn't register with me at the time. Prior to that time, there was a developing consensus in the country that John F. Kennedy was a weak president and did not have enough experience to handle the job. When he went eyeball to eyeball with Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev and Khruschev blinked (as someone once described the confrontation)it suddenly became apparent that looks were deceiving and this young man did have substance. Unfortunately, he also had only a little over a year left in his life.
The day of President Kennedy's death is one I will always remember. I was in second grade at Midway School (it was called that because it was midway between Newtonia and Stark City) The teacher, Mrs. Minnie Weems, came out on the playground and told us that school was going to be dismissed because President Kennedy had been shot. It was all any of us could talk about, though of course, none of us knew what we were talking about.
My eyes were glued to the TV once I got home. That was probably the first time we had really seen the power of television to bring an event home to our nation. We happened to have the TV on CBS when the accused presidential assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was murdered on live television by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby. It is hard to imagine what it was like in those days. It had been nearly seven decades since President McKinley had been assassinated. None of us thought things like that could happen any more.
Of course, the conspiracy theories immediately began to surface and we wondered if there might not be more assassinations.
The subject of John F. Kennedy's death was treated in the movie, "JFK" directed by Oliver Stone a while back, starring Costner as New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison. In the movie, Garrison is portrayed as a sane, sensible man who uncovered the conspiracy that led to a president's death. In real life, Garrison was a glory-seeking lunatic who smeared innocent people's reputations. History had cast its judgment on Garrison...he was a lunatic. Then his reputation was rehabilitated by the movie "JFK."
The sad thing is that movies like "JFK" and "Thirteen Days," as thought-provoking as they are, are being accepted as history by an entire generation.
With all of the wonderful books written about the Kennedys, some loving, some critical, there is no reason why our society should be lazy enough to rely on the distortions of filmmakers for our understanding of critical events in this nation's history.
Unfortunately, I have talked to some young social studies teachers...the very people who shape our youth's understanding of these historical events, and many of them are willing to accept some of these films as gospel.
Enough preaching for one day.
"Thirteen Days" is a great movie, but read the history of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It's even more exciting.