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Blowing it



News Hits left a recent showing of Thirteen Days: A) relieved anew that Khrushchev and the Kennedys didn’t blow up the world, B) relieved that Kevin Costner didn’t sink another movie, and C) curious about how the film squares with the facts. Even News Hits could see that for all the drama, the film’s makers shirked any serious effort to explain why the Cubans and Russians might risk sneaking strategic nukes in Cuba in the first place — references to the bungled Bay of Pigs invasion and U.S. nukes in Turkey aside. An essay at the National Security Archive at Georgetown University grouses about that and more, unleashing a small arsenal of footnotes. The film mangles Cold War history so badly, writes American University professor Phillip Brenner, that it “turns history on its head and drums into our heads exactly the wrong lessons.” Which is to say, there’s no sense of the threatening (to the Soviets) superiority of U.S. nuclear weapons at the time, nor of the low-level war already being waged against the Castro government. Other inaccuracies, small and large, abound, though Brenner gives the film points for its depictions of crisis management and “a laudable sense of … tension.” The essay is at along with audio excerpts of White House meetings (including some portrayed in the film), the original U2 spy plane photos, and other documents. Brenner is mum about Costner’s acting, but notes that his character is blown way out of proportion.

Rebecca Mazzei is Metro Times arts and culture editor. Send comments to

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