Thursday, August 30, 2018

Hotline

Legendary Jewish comedian Mort Sahl shared the following anecdote during an appearance on the Merv Griffin show:

Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, while meeting with President Ronald Reagan, saw three phones on the president’s desk in the Oval Office. Reagan explained that the red phone was “The Hotline” to Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev, the white phone reached NATO and the blue phone was a direct line to God. Begin asked to speak to God. After 20 minutes, he hung up and David Stockman, Reagan’s Budget Director, told Begin that the call cost $23.85.

A month later, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Samuel Lewis visited Begin’s office in Jerusalem and saw a blue phone on his desk. Begin confirmed that indeed, it was also a phone to God. Begin responded, “It would be my pleasure to reciprocate and allow you to speak to God.” After 20 minutes, Lewis asked Begin how much it cost, and Begin responded, “a dime, because here, it’s a local call!”

On August 30, 1963, the “Moscow-Washington Hotline” was instituted, linking the Pentagon with the Kremlin, as one way of trying to directly relieve any tensions between the world’s two greatest nuclear powers. While the presence of a “red phone” and a “hotline” are apocryphal, the “hotline” was initially a teletype machine and, in 1986, became a fax machine. A secure computer link replaced the fax in 2008, enabling protected emails to be shared between the United States and Russia.

Talk of enhanced communication between the Cold War rivals, was an issue in the 1960 presidential election, and after the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, where the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were closer to war than ever before. The concept of a hotline was approved, and fast-tracked.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, diplomatic messages took six hours to deliver, and it took the U.S. military 12 hours to receive and decode U.S.S.R. Chairman Khruschev’s 3,000-word dispatch regarding a settlement for the standoff. While the United States crafted its response to Khruschev, a different and less generous offer was received. Ultimately representatives of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. signed the “Memorandum of Understanding Regarding the Establishment of a Direct Communications Line” on June, 20, 1963 in Geneva, Switzerland.

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