Learning from history

On Thursday, Professor Margaret Macmillan gave the 2013 Lee Seng Tee Lecture at Wolfson. Her topic: the origins of the First World War. One of the factors she identified was the weakness of political leaders unable to control or restrain their military establishments. In the Q&A afterwards she mentioned the Cuban Missile Crisis and JFK’s ability to resist the belligerent demands of his generals for military action against the Soviet Union and Cuba. Macmillan identified two factors which led Kennedy to resist. One was his bitter experience of the Bay of Pigs fiasco, which had resulted from his willingness to accept military advice. The other was the fact that he happened to be reading Barbara’s Tuchman’s wonderful book, The Guns of August, about the outbreak of the 1914-18 war, and how the world slipped into catastrophe.