The LuLac Edition #2236, October 21st, 2012
THE BIG OCTOBER OF 1962
For those of a certain age, October 1962 was a time of great change and great fear. Two events were the constant topic of discussion and even though I was just a young child, I could sense that these two events in the cool, crisp month of October were significant.
Going to a Catholic school in the 1960s was a cultural tug of war. As a young generation exposed to TV and rock and roll, we were educated by nuns who essentially left the world of pop culture in the 1940s. What was deemed pop culture at the time and in front of our faces was foreign to our educators. I recall one of my classmates in 1966 struggling to explain the lyrics of that great but banal Mike Douglas song “The Men In My Little Girl’s Life” to one of our teachers. And anyone who has read this blog since we started in 2006 will surely remember the editions of 2008 when we chronicled the year 1968. It was against that backdrop that the Catholic Church decided to make major changes in the way that it did business. Pope John XXIII announced the creation of the Second Vatican Council (also known as Vatican II) in January 1959, it shocked the world. There hadn't been an ecumenical council — an assembly of Roman Catholic religious leaders meant to settle doctrinal issues — in nearly 100 years Pope John was not the guy who was supposed to do this. Elected in 1958 after the nearly twenty year reign of Pope Pius XII, the elderly rotund Bishop was supposed to be a placeholder for the next generation of Papal leaders. The council called between 2,000 and 2,500 bishops and thousands of observers, auditors, sisters, laymen and laywomen to four sessions at St. Peter's Basilica between 1962 and 1965. Cultural changes in the aftermath of World War II spelled a need to reconsider church practices. These meetings did just that — 16 documents in total came out of it, laying a foundation for the church as we know it today.
Perhaps the best legacy left by the Council was the open discussion of church issues. Pope John left a legacy of dialogue which has not necessarily led to change that maybe many reformers wanted. Pope John Paul II was more conservative than most people thought he would be and Pope Benedict who has been accused of looking fondly on the pre Vatican days of the Latin Mass has constantly reiterated the impact and importance of Vatican II. For my school., the changes at first were foreign. But after Pope John’s death in 1963 of stomach cancer, his successor Pope Paul VI accelerated the changes. As students, we had to attend “dry Masses” which were practice sessions for the new liturgy. No more Latin but now English. And the altar was turned around too. Those were the cosmetic changes seen by our young eyes but as the years went on, those 16 doctrines shaped the Catholic Church that we attend as adults. To be sure the church and its people sometimes are on opposite sides but at least there is more open discussion about the rules of doctrines than there was before Vatican II.
THE CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS
For whatever reason in the fall of the year at St. John the Baptist School boys of a certain age played war. We took the smaller thinner guys and had them ride on the backs of the bigger kids (maybe this was the beginning of what did my hip in!) and played our own version of combat. Stoked by actual TV versions of “Robin Hood” and the very popular “Combat” program we regularly did this at recess. No one got hurt but we were all pretty much exhausted as we came back to class. All that stopped in mid October 1962 . The kids who “played” at war were told there might be a real war and it was going to be a doozey. Maybe a war that would end life as we knew it. As youngsters it was foreign to us. We were kids, we couldn’t grasp the enormity fully of a single death let alone a world without a world. It was only years later that my generation came to realize just how close we came to Armageddon.
For thirteen days in October 1962 the world waited—seemingly on the brink of nuclear war—and hoped for a peaceful resolution to the Cuban Missile Crisis. In October 1962, an American U-2 spy plane secretly photographed nuclear missile sites being built by the Soviet Union on the island of Cuba. President Kennedy did not want the Soviet Union and Cuba to know that he had discovered the missiles. He met in secret with his advisers for several days to discuss the problem. After many long and difficult meetings, Kennedy decided to place a naval blockade, or a ring of ships, around Cuba. The aim of this "quarantine," as he called it, was to prevent the Soviets from bringing in more military supplies. He demanded the removal of the missiles already there and the destruction of the sites. On October 22, President Kennedy spoke to the nation about the crisis in a televised address.
No one was sure how Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev would respond to the naval blockade and U.S. demands. But the leaders of both superpowers recognized the devastating possibility of a nuclear war and publicly agreed to a deal in which the Soviets would dismantle the weapon sites in exchange for a pledge from the United States not to invade Cuba. In a separate deal, which remained secret for more than twenty-five years, the United States also agreed to remove its nuclear missiles from Turkey. Although the Soviets removed their missiles from Cuba, they escalated the building of their military arsenal; the missile crisis was over, the arms race was not.
As I wrote earlier, as an eight year old boy I never had the appreciation for just how close we came. At the school we said the rosary every morning in school and then on the ride home on the bus. No one joked about playing war. I remember my friends the Wasko brothers Drew and Bob policing some more rambunctious members of our class and saying “this is serious stuff”. In college I read everything I could about that time. In discussions with people who grew up in that era, one thing is a common denominator when we speak of it even today, the chill that still runs up our spine when we talk about it.