Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Armageddon Letters and the Cuban Missile Crisis

Armageddon according to Wikipedia (and various online dictionaries) originated as a Greek word. Scholars believe this word first appeared (only once) in the Greek New Testament, Revelation 16:16 and has been interpreted both as a literal and symbolic location.  It's literal location, believed to have come from the Hebrew har məgiddô (הר מגידו), Mount Megiddo - (actually a tell created by many generations of people living and rebuilding on the same spot) was a hill upon which ancient forts were built (and rebuilt) to guard the Via Maris, an ancient trade route. As a result of this prime real estate,  Megiddo became the site of numerous ancient battles. Its symbolic translation according to Merrian-Webster Online dictionary  is "the site or time of a final and conclusive battle between the forces of good and evil"or" a vast decisive conflict or confrontation" that will end the world as we now know it.

While the Bruce Willis film, Armageddon relates "the final battle" being one between nature (renegade asteroids) and Earth, many today believe that nuclear warheads are a very real threat leading to Armageddon.

The Armageddon Letters that I am referring to in the post's title, is a trans-media project launched in 2012 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It incorporates multi-platform storytelling, taking 'visitors' behind the scenes during the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis through an interactive time-capsule rendering web-site and a book. The book is organized around the letters exchanged between Khurschev, Kennedy and Castro as the crisis unfolded and James Blight and janet Lang relay not only the facts and events that unfold but the escalating tensions and their physical and psychological effects on Washington, Havana and Moscow. Added to these letters is a graphic narrative created by Andrew Whyte, and a storyline and dialogue by Koji Masutani.

The book is a trans-media publication/time-capsule with an introduction, a "cast of characters," a prelude and four Acts: Collision, Spiral, Escape, and Squeeze. Each Act unfolds with a graphic novel introduction, a theatrical preview (a play where Castro, Khruschev and Kennedy assume their roles on stage), and transcripts of the actual letters they passed during the crisis.

Published in a British newspaper, October 1962.

The web site, http://www.armageddonletters.com/, has  links allowing visitors to view the graphic novel chapters found in The Armageddon Letters book, its ongoing blog, and links to the following "short films" they've created:
  • "Who Cares about the Cuban Missile Crisis" explaining the crisis and why it's so important to learn about, learn from, and understand today;
  • "Welcome to the Armageddon Letters" explaining the project;
  • "Message to Professors" explaining the project for college professors and while this project may have originally been geared to college level courses, it is an outstanding tool for high school students as it so effectively incorporates Common Core State Standard goals;
  • "Be Castro" explaining what it's like to think like Fidel Castro- this is truly outstanding  as it discusses a game Castro used to play as it relates the man he was and he was willing to take his goals and beliefs "to the limit" in the name of Cuba and Socialism.
  • "Be Khruschev"explaining what it's like to think like Nikita Khruschev. To do this, Dr, James Blight takes us back to World War II where he was a mid-ranking soldier and where 20,000,000 of his comrades died in that war from battle, starvation, and freezing weather conditions.Blight relates how Khruschev the Russian peasant coal miners thought and communicated to an educated, wealthy, younger Kennedy who after reading Khruschev's letters filled with "earthy imagery" understood that they actually thought alike.
  • "Be Kennedy"explaining what it's like to think like John F. Kennedy in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Here too, Blight brings in his experiences in World War II and the South Pacific. Blight relates how Kennedy saw that when the Japanese were confronted with overwhelming military power they refused to capitulate. This was totally unnerving to Kennedy and was on his mind as General LeMay advised him to go to war immediately with Cuba because the US has greater military power and the Russians wouldn't risk their lives for this.
Finally, there is a link to their Facebook page that has further links including:

Why this work is so important:There are a lot of things that make this work absolutely fascinating and pertinent for all of us.
  1. This is a fascinating look into history that incorporates the three players' perspectives.
  2. This is an excellent example of multi-media learning tools and presentations. addressing the Common Core State Standards as it relates the story through the original letters, as a play, graphic illustrations, and an interactive website.  Not only will students look at history from multiple perspectives, they can better understand how different verbal and visual mediums can effectively tell a story.
  3. http://www.armageddonletters.com/sites/default/files/imagecache/graphicnovel/novels/Hope-1.png
    Courtesy of The Armageddonn Letters
  4. We may be facing new Armageddon threats of nuclear war from Iran and North Korea and can learn a great deal from the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. In the introduction, the authors relate their interactions with Robert McNamara, the former defense secretary for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and include a quote of his from Errol Morris's Academy Award-wining 2003 documentary, The Fog of War:
"I want to say, and this is very important: at the end we lucked out! It was luck that prevented nuclear war. We came that close to nuclear war...Kennedy was rational; Khruschev was rational; Castro was rational. Rational individuals came close to the total destruction of their societies. At that danger exists today.
The major lesson of the Cuban Missile Crisis is this: the indefinite combination of human fallibility and nuclear weapons will destroy nations.
Courtesy of cigionline.org
Meeting Common Core State Standards:
  • The book and website relay the importance of understanding culture and cultural diversity to better understand history.
  • The book provides keen insights into history, governance and global connections in the US, Russia and Cuba. In the letters and throughout the four Acts in this book, for example, we see how Kennedy and Khruschev had to balance the 'hawks' and 'doves' in political spheres, how they dealt with the 'smaller' nation of Cuba and Castro its leader, and the important people within these leaders' circles upon whom they deeply relied.
  • The book and website relate how different forms of language and literacy can relay information. The letters, the Acts, and the graphic illustrations relay different types of information effectively in very different ways.  This is an excellent opportunity to discuss and evaluate the pros and cons of letters versus prose versus dialogue, versus image.
  • The book and website highlight the careful attention to language and language usage each leader relied upon and considered in their interactions and communications with each other.
  • The book and website reflect how communication is changing.  While Khruschev, Kennedy and Castro had to rely upon letters that took time to write, relay and translate, we now rely more upon YouTube, social network, multi-media which instantly relay messages.
  • The book invites readers to compare the past to the present and take lessons learned by these three leaders and apply them to leaders and concerned citizens today.
Additional Resources on the Cuban missile crisis:
  • http://www.jfklibrary.org/JFK/JFK-in-History/Cuban-Missile-Crisis.aspx - overview
  • The World on the Brink - and interactive 'exhibit' of the Cuban missile crisis from the JKF Library containing maps, texts of President Kennedy's schedule over the 13 day crisis, excerpts from his meeting, copies or texts of letters, memorandums and speeches by Kennedy and key staff members, National Security Council meeting minutes, photographs and more.
  • The National Security Archives from the George Washington University
  • Summary and resources from the Department of the Navy
  • Library of Congress archives with texts and translations of letters between Kruschev and Kennedy, a Soviet  archives exhibit.
  • The Cuban Missile Crisis: background information, lessons learned by leaders (presidents and statesmen) of the Cuban Missile Crisis,  teaching lessons and case studies for middle school, high school and college classes, and a discussion of nuclear dangers today from Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center of International Affairs.

[NOTE: For all those interested, you can get a 30% discount if you order the book before August 30, 2013 from their website using PROMO CODE 4M12BEEN at checkout.]

As always, thank you for your visit.  Please leave your own recollections of, or reaction to, the Cuban Missile Crisis and/or with your impressions and experience with multimedia teaching in the comments below .


  1. Great post. I was a child during the Cuban missile crisis but I remember it. Carver, ABC Wed. Team

  2. I DO remember this. I thought we were all going to die.

  3. I, too, remember the day when my parents told us we had to be absolutely quiet while they listened to the news on the radio. I'll never forget how frightened they were!

    abcw team

  4. I was eight when WW II started in Indonesia, then Dutch East Indies. I saw the Japanese soldiers marching in our street. Strange little men singing Japanese songs. It was 8 March 1942. Almost two years later we were all imprisoned in concentration camps.
    Now I am almost 80 and the war takes a great place in my mind.
    I do hope that we will live in peace and that peace will soon be here.
    Wil, ABCW Team

  5. Unfortunately much of our congress, senate, and supporters today, boarder on the irrational and seem motivated only by greed.