Photography is more than just an art form or a means of reporting events. Many different professions make use of photography in helping them with their jobs. Film crews and studios use photography to decide where best to shoot their movies. Police use photography in line-ups to help point the finger at a suspect in a crime. Insurance companies use photography to help determine when insured property was damaged and whether or not their policy covers that damage. However, one of the most well-known non-artistic uses of photography is military reconnaissance photography.
Military units around the world make use of both satellite and aerial photography to determine what they might be about to face. Such information can help them deploy their forces in the best method to defeat their opposition or to use maneuvers that would force their opposition into an undesirable or untenable spot. Use of these tactics and this kind of information gathering has been part of many nations’ military doctrine since airplanes first became practical in warfare during the first World War. However, one of the most dramatic events of reconnaissance photography shaping the course of history occurred in 1962: the Cuban Missile Crisis.
For those of you who, like me, weren’t around during that time and, unlike me, don’t have access to a history major who has no issue contacting his parents to ask them questions for me, the Cuban Missile Crisis was the closest the world has ever come to a full-out nuclear war and the catastrophic and apocalyptic destruction that such a war would bring in its wake. The short version is that the leader of the USSR, Nikita Khrushchev, thought that the President of the USA, John F. Kennedy, would not take any hard action to stop the USSR from putting missiles in Cuba and would be willing to trade West Berlin for the USSR’s removal of the missiles. However, when aerial photographs from the Corona satellite and U-2 overflights of Cuba came to Washington DC, the Kennedy administration went into action.
While the US was preparing different strategies to contain or destroy the missiles in Cuba, the USSR was claiming that the missiles were purely defensive and that the US was being provocative. Further overflights of Cuba were ordered and Naval photographers came back with clearer pictures that the missiles were not “defensive” but were capable of hitting every city in the United States except for Seattle. These photographs, presented to the UN by Adlai Stevenson, gave the US support for their quarantine of Cuba and their insistence that any vessel attempting to enter Cuba be searched by them in order to stop any more missiles from getting into Cuba.
In the end, the USSR agreed to remove the missiles. Six months later, the US removed its obsolete Jupiter missiles from Turkey. Berlin remained divided into East and West. No nuclear weapons were fired. Only one death occurred in combat during the Cuban Missile Crisis: that of Major Rudolf Anderson, Jr.
— da Bird