But for the average college student born after the end of the Cold War, the bigger question may be why the Soviet Union and the United States were willing to rest the fate of the world on the placement of missiles that would soon be irrelevant, particularly once the Soviets achieved a secure second-strike force by the mid- to late-1960s (a fact both sides knew). The crisis, like much of the Cold War, seems bizarre. It is still hard to place and make sense of it.
Perhaps on a similar anniversary fifty years from now, a student, not yet born, will wrestle with the same dilemma about our current standoff with Iran.
Francis J. Gavin is the Tom Slick Professor of International Affairs and the director of the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas.