For the 50th anniversary of what historians agree was the most dangerous
moments in human history, Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science
and International Affairs and Foreign
Policy magazine are sponsoring a contest for scholars and citizens to reflect
on the lessons of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and its lessons for
challenges the U.S. faces today.
Your challenge is straightforward: In 300 words or less, contestants should present the most persuasive, original lesson flowing from the confrontation
that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war over 13 days in October
1962. What can statesmen
learn from the most dangerous confrontation in human history to better address
challenges of war and peace today?
Harvard's Belfer Center and Foreign
Policy magazine are inviting policymakers, scholars, students, and members
of the public to think about this question and propose lessons.
Question: What can statesmen learn from the most
dangerous confrontation in human history to better address challenges of war
and peace today?
- Participants submit a proposed lesson from the Cuban Missile
Crisis that answers contest question.
- The text of the submission must be no more than 300 words.
- When writing proposed lesson, participants should try to
distill lesson into one topic sentence; remainder of submission should provide
supporting evidence and argument.(See
below for an example.)
- Entry must be original: not merely repeating a lesson already
noted by analysts, scholars and statesmen in the past.
- When constructing your lesson, please reference
the list of lessons catalogued by the Belfer Center to ensure your lesson's
- Belfer Center and Foreign
Policy will accept submissions until October 15, 2012.
- Winners will be announced on October 19, 2012.
- New 64 GB iPad (wifi only) or cash equivalent ($699).
- Publication of entries on Belfer Center's Cuban Missile
Crisis website and on Foreign Policy's
Cuban Missile Crisis website.
- Free subscription to Foreign
Policy for one year.
- The Belfer Center will select ten top finalists in each
category. Those finalists will be submitted to a Board of Advisors nominated by
Foreign Policy magazine and the Belfer Center. The Board will pick one winning
entry in each category.
- The judges' decision will be final.
- Contestants will be judged in one of three categories:
Middle and high school students: Grades 6 through 12 (students aged 11 to 18).
Practitioners/scholars: this category includes (1) individuals currently pursuing a
Masters or PhD; (2) individuals
who have a PhD in a relevant subject; or (3) individuals who have or are
currently serving in a government or international organization or at an
agency/organization involved in international affairs (the Belfer Center
reserves the right to determine what constitutes an agency working in
General public: all
other entrants, including those that have received a masters-level degree and
have not been employed by a government agency dealing with international
- Employees of
the Harvard Kennedy School (and their family members), and of Foreign Policy (and their family
members) are ineligible to enter the contest.
- The subject line of the email must be "Lessons of the Cuban
- The entry should be included in the body of the email.
Please do not include attachments. Any Word documents submitted will not be
- Please include at the end of your submission: a brief
description of your background, age, academic qualifications (degree or highest
level of education achieved), and current (or past) occupation (if relevant to
aforementioned categories), as well as a word count. This information will not
be counted against your word allowance.
- All contest enquiries should be sent via email only.
- Only one entry per person.
of Proposed Distillation of Lesson
Adapted from comments made by the late Ernest
May in 2001. The Belfer Center has taken his lesson and converted it into a
format suitable for submission to this contest.
During crisis, it is necessary to have deliberate, thoughtful and unrushed
discussions on possible solutions.
My lesson from the crisis is that presidents must not allow themselves to
be hustled into premature decisions. In 1962 it took time for people to work
out the possibilities, to see options that they didn't see, even for President
Kennedy to cool down, because he was prepared in the initial sessions to resort
to an immediate attack, which we now know could have been catastrophic.
This is a difficult lesson to acknowledge today, in an era of 24-hour
media, because there is almost no chance that any president of the United
States will have that leisure to deal with a crisis of that magnitude in the
Ernest May, Professor of American History, Harvard
The board of advisors of this initiative includes Graham
Allison, Nicholas Burns, Michael Dobbs, David Rothkopf and Philip Zelikow. Allison and Zelikow are co-authors of Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban
Missile Crisis, 2nd edition, 1999; Dobbs is the author of Foreign Policy's blog on the Cuban Missile Crisis and
author of One Minute to Midnight:
Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War; Rothkopf is
the CEO and Editor-at-Large of Foreign
Policy, as well as CEO and President of Garten Rothkopf, an international
advisory firm; former US Under Secretary of State Burns is Professor of the
Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics and Director of the Future of
Diplomacy Project at the Harvard Kennedy School.
Questions should be sent by email only to
phone calls to the Belfer Center or to Foreign
ForeignPolicy.com launched The Cuban
Missile Crisis +50, a special section of its award-winning website curated by journalist and
noted historian Michael Dobbs, to provide innovative coverage of the crisis
through Dobbs's "On the Brink" blog and Twitter
feed @MissileCrisis62 dedicated to live-tweeting the key
developments of the months and weeks leading up to the 13 days in October.
Dobbs, author of One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on
the Brink of Nuclear War, provides readers with a gripping history of the
crisis through a modern-day lens.
Belfer Center has created a website, www.cubanmissilecrisis.org, providing a
wealth of source materials, including video and audio recordings from the 13
days of the crisis over the Soviet Union's secret program to install nuclear
missiles in Cuba, and the American response to halt that deployment. Among the
documents are excerpts of secret tape recordings by President John F. Kennedy
of his administration's tense deliberations. The Belfer site also provides
links to dozens of lessons from the crisis drawn by former presidents, scholars
and political analysts. The website also provides tools to teachers who want
their students to use the 50th anniversary to think about the dangers the
crisis posed and how they were averted.