Little Bits of History

Thin Red Line

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 30, 2013
Jimmy Carter's hot line phone

Jimmy Carter’s hot line phone

August 30, 1963: A direct link between the US and USSR goes live. The Cuban Missile Crisis began on October 15, 1962 when aerial reconnaissance revealed SS-4 nuclear missiles in Cuba. President Kennedy met with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko on October 18 to let him know the US would not tolerate Soviet missiles so close to US borders. The tensions escalated between the two super powers and the world was on the brink of nuclear war. The threat was exacerbated by the painfully slow communications between Washington and Moscow.

On June 20, 1963, spokesmen for both nations signed an accord in Geneva, Switzerland. “Memorandum of Understanding Regarding the Establishment of a Direct Communication Line” made the creation of a “hotline” a priority. During the 1962 October Crisis it took the US about twelve hours to receive and decode Nikita Khrushchev’s 3,000 word settlement – time for him to send a more strongly worded missive. A quick way to communicate was essential to the world’s peace if not outright survival.

The image of a red telephone sitting on the desk in the Oval Office is compelling – and false. Instead the hotline was a full duplex wire telegraph circuit – this means both sides could send messages at the same time. There was no verbal communication since it was thought there was too much chance for misunderstanding. The first line was not a direct line running non-stop from the Pentagon to the Kremlin. There were several stops: Washington – London – Copenhagen – Stockholm – Helsinki – and finally Moscow. Messages were sent in the native tongue and translated after reception.

Telecommunications have improved greatly in the 40+ years since delayed “chat” nearly ended civilization as we know it. With more nations entering the nuclear weapons stage, there is even more need for instant, reliable contact. Automatic signaling service or point-to-point communication is spreading. Nations on the brink of disaster need to forestall total annihilation. The hotline has been upgraded as technology advances arrived on the scene. There is a proposal to set up instant communication between the US and China.

“The newest computer can merely compound, at speed, the oldest problem in the relations between human beings, and in the end the communicator will be confronted with the old problem, of what to say and how to say it.” – Edward R. Murrow

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” – Ernest Hemingway

“The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.” – Joseph Priestley

“Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.” – Rollo May

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update:  Communication is the ability to convey information. This can be done via exchange of thoughts by speech, visuals, signals, writing, or behavior. The delivery is essential, as is the interpretation at reception. Humans convey messages either verbally (which can include the written word) or nonverbally. The latter is what is meant by “tone of voice” or “body language” which can add meaning to the words spoken. Part of the difficulty with online communication is that both of these aspects are missing even with the use of an emoticon added. There is also difficulty with translation. There are some words or phrases which are not readily translated between languages. Even when everyone is speaking the same language, there are issues with dialects. The fact that we can exchange ideas with some level of accuracy is really quite amazing.

Also on this day: Yesterdays and Todays – In 1909, the Burgess Shale site was discovered.
Wreck of the Pandora – In 1791, the Pandora sinks.
Well Being with Sikhs – In 1574, Ram Das Ji became a Guru.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: