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Remembering the Cuban Missile Crisis: The Brink of Nuclear War

10/21/2011 02:18 pm ET | Updated Dec 21, 2011

I recently saw two movies dealing with the end of the world -- Melancholia and Tree of Life. These artsy films sparked a remembrance of fears I once felt.

What has come to be known as the Cuban Missile Crisis, the frightening days from October 14 to October 28 1962, was the closest we have ever come to all-out nuclear war. Day after day, as the United States and the Soviet Union moved toward inexorable conflict, there was a growing dread that there would be an annihilation.

Cuba is 90 miles from the Florida keys. In 1962, Fidel Castro had recently taken over that island, and the first wave of Cubans had arrived in South Florida. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was sending missiles to a base in Cuba, the United States had found this out by aerial photographs and there was a standoff: President Kennedy wanted the missiles removed under threat of nuclear war. Khrushchev wouldn't budge and authorized deployment if the missiles were removed.

At first my friends didn't mention this dire situation, as if ignoring would make it go away. But as the days passed, almost in slow motion, it became the number one thing we thought about upon waking and the last thing we thought about before sleep.

I was studying at the University of Florida in Gainesville. I saw trucks carrying soldiers and missiles down the Florida highway toward Miami. Each day we feared more that the nuclear confrontation that we had jumped under our desks for years to escape would actually happen.

At that time I was president of my sorority, and the administration huddled all of the sorority and fraternity presidents in a small hot room and the university president gave us a page of instructions: what to do in the event of a nuclear event, and how to lead our groups to shelters.

And they warned us not tell anyone about the meeting, and not to panic. I walked back to the sorority house in the dark, frightened, silent and pretty sure that I'd die a virgin.

The Cuban Missile Crisis passed. Kennedy and Khrushchev ranted in public but found a way -- through careful words and round-the-clock negotiations -- to compromise. The Soviet bases were dismantled. Our warships retreated. Coolness prevailed in the midst of searing heat, and I lived to lose my virginity.

From that moment I became aware of how important it is to elect a president who has a steady hand over the nuclear button. Someone who understands the nuances of the world and the dangers that surround us at every turn, and someone who has the gravitas and sense to reason and use diplomacy before violence.

My hope is that we never face a doomsday except in movies, but please remember when you cast a vote in 2012 that it already almost happened for real.