Washington's big red phone to the Kremlin is the stuff of Cold War fantasy
Direct communication between the superpowers was never established with a direct, dedicated phone line, it has emerged.
Oliver Duggan has a BA in Politics and Parliamentary Studies from the University of Leeds and an MA in Newspaper Journalism from City University London. He works as a freelance reporter and editorial assistant for The Independent and i with a focus on Home Affairs and politics.
Thursday 27 June 2013
For decades it was an image that captured the imaginations of a generation; the height of Cold War tensions, Russian warships move towards Cuba at Premier Khrushchev’s ordering and President Kennedy reaches for the big red phone to demand the Soviet Union stop their advance or face catastrophic consequences.
But now it seems it was all a myth, or at least, the bit about the big red phone. According to the Smithsonian Museum, there was never a phone in the White House with a dedicated line to the Kremlin but rather a wire telegraph where messages could be typed out.
It was in fact during the Cuban Missile Crisis that the two global superpowers decided it was too dangerous to rely on message relays that could take up to half a day to reach their destination. They decided as a result to install direct communication, but the technology for a permanent phone line wasn’t yet available.
In a memo from June 1963, the two governments agreed that “for use in time of emergency the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics” ought to “establish as soon as technically feasible a direct communications link between the two Governments.”
But instead of a phone, messages were to be sent to the Soviet Union along a 10,000-mile-long transatlantic cable from Washington to London, onward to Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki and finally to Moscow.
The first president to use the device was reportedly Lyndon Johnson, who was able to communicate with the Soviets during Israel’s Six Day War. Since then, the Smithsonian reports, the hotline has been updated with a satellite connection in 1971, a high-speed fax in the 1980s, and a fibre-optic link for email and conferencing in 2008. The red phone, on the other hand, was a Hollywood creation.
- 1 Exclusive: Abusers using spyware apps to monitor partners reaches 'epidemic proportions'
- 2 Margaret Thatcher 'expressed fears of Asian rising' at Anglo-Irish summit in 1984
- 3 Sussex couple die in suspected Christmas Day 'suicide pact'
- 4 The 'Black Museum': After 150 years, public set to see exhibits from police’s grisly crime museum
- 5 The Unluckiest People of the Year 2014 (and one very unlucky giraffe)
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
Immigrants make UK racist, says Ukip councillor Trevor Shonk
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever
Katie Hopkins speaks out on childhood obesity: 'Parents of fat children should be prosecuted for child cruelty'
Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...
£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...
£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...
£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...