Wednesday, October 10, 2007
I'm nearly a week late noting it, but October 4 was the 50th anniversary of the Soviet launch of Sputnik.
This is shameless self promotion, but one of my early publications (in Armed Forces & Society, Fall 1994; available here) focused on the importance of Sputnik in regard to cold war threat inflation. Basically, President Eisenhower had strong information about the status of the Soviet missile program -- and was not particularly worried about the threat (for good reason) -- but the satellite triggered great fear inside the U.S.
Most of that was explained by domestic politics. Democrats blamed Ike for keeping the US behind in the "space race." JFK did not actually use the phrase "missile gap," but that was the (false) fear at the time.
The U.S. image was further damaged when the Vanguard blew up on the launch pad in December, 1957. Time then named Nikita Khrushchev "man of the year" for 1957.
As explained in my article, the roots of the Cuban Missile Crisis can be found in the U.S. over-reaction to Sputnik.
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