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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Issue 135: December 2005

[Return to related issue of Nonviolent News]

20th Century History Revisited, No.23
The Cuban Missile Crisis
History, even as recent history as the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, is not always what it seems. Conventional wisdom is that it was a show down between Kennedy (John Fitzgerald, a k a 'JFK') and Khrushchev (Nikita Sergeyevich) over the placing of Russian missiles on the island of Cuba which had gone through its revolution with the overthrow of Batista just three years before and the coming to power of Fidel Castro. At risk was a nuclear war which would decimate millions of people and potentially ruin the world. But new information has been coming to light with the opening up of Soviet-era archives and as we are able to exclusively reveal (see paper by M Stroganoff forthcoming in the Bulletin of the European Academy of Cold War History, Vol. 7 No. 3) the truth is very different.

The problem begins with linguistics and particularly the US American pronunciation of 'missile' as 'missal'. This means that 'missal', as pronounced in US English, can mean either a projectile of war carrying explosives or a Catholic mass or service book. This is where a massive misunderstanding began.

When John F Kennedy heard that the Russians were placing 'missals' in Cuba he heard weapons of war and not Catholic service books, whereas it should have been the other ways around. When he was subsequently alerted to the fact that there was a massive misunderstanding he a) did not wish to admit his mistake and be made look like an eejit, and b) as a 'good' Irish American Catholic (his image may even yet grace a side chapel in the Catholic Cathedral in Galway) he was rather concerned about what the Russians were up to and whether they were going to be subverting Cuban Catholics by 'communising' Catholic thinking. The Russians insisted that giving the missals was a friendly gesture to a majority Catholic country that was very short of such books and that, since the death of comrade Stalin, they had not been really concerned with scientific atheism any more anyway; CIA intelligence supported this assessment of events.

So when the Russians heard that JFK was threatening immediate and terrible nuclear war if Russia did not withdraw its 'missiles' from Cuba they were, not surprisingly, rather mystified. When they worked out what was really happening, they threatened to blow the lid on the whole affair and reveal it was actually a huge misunderstanding on the part of JFK and the US of A. But then JFK promised terrible nuclear war if they revealed it was about books and not weapons (maybe the pen is mightier than the sword), the US wanted to still play the big guy and not look exceedingly silly, and Khrushchev decided to take the easy, and indeed humane, way out and pretend that they were withdrawing 'missiles'. The missals were actually withdrawn, shipped back to Moscow, pulped, and turned into copies of Pravda (= 'truth' in Russian - though as the pulping job wasn't done particularly well some readers were amazed to see occasional religious words or snippets of prayers appearing in their Communist newspaper).

So there you have it in a nutshell, the amazing story of what really happened in 1962 when the world was on the brink of nuclear war. Further details will appear in the paper referred to above (the quarterly periodical, 'Bulletin of the European Academy of Cold War History', which it appears in is affectionately known by its diminutive name, 'Bull-Hist', though more usually with the last four letters of this rearranged).

Next month: Genghis Khan's love of learning and the quiet, peaceful life.

Dillying with the Dalai
My, my, doesn't time fly. At least when you're busy and/or enjoying yourself. There was I in my first Colm in Nonviolent News back in issue No.84, five years ago, reflecting on the visit of the Dalai Lama to Norn Iron and here he was visiting again in November. His visit this time included marking Corrymeela's 40th birthday and the official opening of Mediation Northern Ireland's Belfast offices, among other gigs. The last visit I issued advice on How to be Greatly Humble during the visit of a Great Spiritual Leader [NN 84] this time I'll be less profound [profane? - ed] and simply say he hasn't changed a bit in 5 years.

It's not often St Anne's Cathedral (it proclaims itself 'Belfast's Cathedral' despite the fact that there are two in the city) in Belfast is full but it was for an inter-faith service and meditation with the Dalai Lama, Tenzin [= Holder of the faith] Gyatso [Ocean of wisdom]. One of the last people to get in to St Anne's for the session there told me he couldn't hear a thing in the back with the acoustics and outsiders who hadn't got in (despite arriving twenty minutes before start time) banging on the doors and windows - it must have been disappointing not to have got in but acting like that that doesn't sound in accord with the teachings of any of the world's religions. Banging on drums and cymbals is in for some but banging on the doors of an inter-faith meditation service, I think maybe not.

One thing I am going to refer to here is the process by which Llamo Dhondrub (his birth name) came to be recognised as the 14th Dalai Lama, aged two. You can look up the full story but the clear identification of items belonging to the previous Dalai Lama, as well as being able to identify the searchers, a couple of them by name, shows there was something rather out of the ordinary going on - you choose what.

I found most of what I did hear him say elsewhere in Belfast gently wise though some of it, purposefully or not, a bit na‹ve. Maybe that's the prerogative of a spiritual leader. But decidedly a strong nonviolent message, for example recognising the humanity of the people who have occupied his country for 46 years. He also had a telling eye for detail; when a poem of his was to be read out in translation; he spent a minute or two with the aide who would read it, discussing how it would be translated - it was nice attention to detail that showed he wasn't just going through the motions.

The official site for the Dalai Lama from the Government of Tibet in Exile is at but if you do a search for 'Dalai Lama Northern Ireland' that will bring up more on his visit to the Mral Oil.

I'm one of those people who might get caught up in watching a sporting match if I'm there or it's on the television and someone else is watching but I would not blink an eyelid if the entire sporting fixtures of the universe disappeared into a black hole. Sorry, sports fans. So I am just amazed at the massive reaction to the final illness and death of George Best, not just in his native Belfast and Norn Iron but in Britain and around the world. He has been extremely ill before but this time George was bested and the end had come. Between his death and burial it was difficult to find any other news than his life and death in some of Norn Iron's papers, and even the British serious papers led with his death. The 'Belfast Telegraph' turned all religious with a massive bold typeface at the top of the front page saying 'Pray for him' during his last illness (religion is the last resort of the scoundrel in selling something). In fact in the period from 18th November (he died 25th November) through to 5th December (the Monday after he was buried) the 'Belfast Telegraph' had his dying/death as a front page story (usually as top headline) every day except one - and on that occasion (1st December) the contents banner at the top, with a photo of him, referred to a George Best feature inside. If the 'Belfast Telegraph' is what 'middle Northern Ireland' might be thought to want to read, this is totally OTT.

You can understand some of the reaction in the North where he was undoubtedly the biggest personality/celebrity to come from East Belfast, Belfast and Norn Iron itself (Ian Paisley is also well known but people in Britain identify him - Paisley - as having the most disliked voice). But the reaction to Best's death was much wider than Northern Ireland, with football matches in Britain having silence, applause, or both. Inputting 'George Best' (in inverted commas) to my computer search engine gave about 5,180,000 results! Maybe he was one of the most naturally talented sports stars ever, certainly in soccer/football, however that was a long time ago and despite that, and all the escapades which he got into fuelled by booze and switching from one woman to another to another ad infinitum, people still seemed to love him, a sort of loveable rogue and drunk. Even allegations/instances of violence against his wife or partner, or drink driving, did not destroy the image, or certainly not for long.

I'm still torn in trying to decipher all this. Was it for his talent alone or the fact that people identified with him, a sort of Princess Diana of the sporting field? Was it this cult of personality, and once you were famous in this way, or infamous, you were famous for life? I think there are a variety of factors at work including the fact that he was already a big media figure before his final illness, and people identified with his life and death struggle which was constantly relayed in the media (you would have needed to be on Mars not to realise that George Best was dying or dead). People who have contributed more to society in meaningful ways, even former sports stars, die every week but they do not get a thousandth this treatment. I think one deciding factor was his natural, exuberant talent on the field decades ago which meant that many middle-aged people (men) still remembered him fondly, three and a half decades on. He was certainly one of the first football superstars. While people sometimes despaired of his behaviour it did not alter most people's affection. And even if it did, the final come-uppance of illness and death seemed to restore him to grace (he had obviously been through his own personal hell).

At the end of the 'sixties/start of the 'seventies he was also the only 'thing' about Northern Ireland that some people could feel proud about as the North slipped into sectarian chaos, and support for him was not on a sectarian basis. The 100,000 who went to Stormont for the funeral; or who lined the route to there from his father's house, or from Stormont to the graveyard, were also there because they felt it was a little bit of history, sporting history perhaps but History, with a capital 'H', nonetheless; many, many others were passively 'historical' by watching on their TV at home.

Looking at it from outside the sporting arena I see a hedonistic lifestyle, a life lived for enjoyment, but someone who destroyed relationships as well as creating them, and prematurely destroyed his own body through the booze, and a quiet sadness borne of his failure to overcome that great western illness, alcoholism. The popular term on people's lips seems to be 'flawed genius'. But I don't identify with sports stars nor, indeed, too much with other heroes or gurus [What about the DL above? - Ed] [A fine and holy man but he's still not my guru - Billy].

I only wrote about George Best once before (in 2003, NN 114) [this is getting a bit like telling jokes by numbers - Ed] when I contrasted George B*s* with George B*s* and I will reprint my conclusion then: 'Both Georges are deeply flawed individuals. But one is more a menace to himself and his immediate loved ones than to anyone else. The other threatens to wreak destruction to the world militarily and ecologically. So come home George Best, all is forgiven; in a contrast between the Georges, you win hands down.'

A recently published ESRI (Economic and Social Research Institute in the Republic) came up with very different profiles for men and women's days. Four items took up 520-odd minutes each but there were big differences within this. Men spent an average of 78 minutes commuting to work, women 57 minutes; women spent 151 minutes on caring activities and men only 34; men on the other hand spent 346 minutes in employment or study and women only 164; women had 156 minutes on household work and men only 68. Quite a different pattern.

I don't claim to be the world's greatest house cleaner - though I reckon I do my share - but I'll tell you what I do enjoy and what most men may be missing. The daily cooking. But cooking isn't just cooking, i.e. being creative in the kitchen to give your loved ones or housemates an enjoyable and nourishing meal, though that is important. All right, everybody doesn't like everything all the time but it's a challenge to make meals varied, balanced and enjoyable. But cooking is much beyond this. It's quality time by myself to process what has been happening during the day, a sort of wind down (all right, I have to wind up again afterwards to do something like write this Colm but still). It's also an opportunity to listen to my favourite music or something new and, if I fancy, to blast the kitchen with more decibels than might strictly be good for me. Cooking and music together, now that's what I call a really good menu. But the last part of it may appeal to other men as well; if I do the cooking then I get out of the washing and clearing up. And that can't be bad. So come on men, get those apron strings tied (you wouldn't want to get sauce on your work wear now, would you?).

Adolf Award Nominations
Yes folks, it's coming up to that time of (next) year again, when we get to award our Adolfs, those magnificent awards for Conspicuous Disservice to Peace (redeemable value .0000001 pence / .00000007 cents). They will appear in the next issue of Nonviolent News (February, there's no January issue) so nominations should be made by the end of January at the latest. Please send by e-mail, letter, phone, fax, carrier pigeon, hedgehog, telepathy (transmission not guaranteed), voice or other means. Remember, there must be a deserving someone you want to nominate for this anti-prestigious award who has excelled themselves in disservice to humanity in the fields of peace, ecology, politics, human wrongs etc. Vote early, vote often. Maybe that's a topic for conversation over your Christmas dinner - who would you nominate?

And that's me until well on into the new year, 2006 CE. I wish you a good break in the routine over Christmas and the winter holidays [Northern hemisphere only - we do have readers in the global south who I wish a happy Christmas and summer to] and if you're the religious sort, in Dave Allen's words, may your God go with you - Billy.

Who is Billy King?
A long, long time ago, in a more innocent age (just talking about myself you understand), there were magazines called 'Dawn' and 'Dawn Train' and I had a back page column in these. Now the Headitor has asked me to come out from under the carpet to write a Cyberspace Column 'something people won't be able to put down' (I hope you're not carrying your monitor around with you).

Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little about horses even if someone with a similar name is found astride them on gable ends around certain parts of Norn Iron).

Copyright INNATE 2021