Thirteen Days (2000)

Updated: Mar 11

Hollywood has taught us what a war hero looks like. He or she is covered in mud, fighting in the trenches. But what if a true war hero is one that stops a war from breaking out? This is what the movie Thirteen Days is about.

The Cuban Missile Crisis

World War II ended with the explosions of two nuclear bombs in Japan, but that was immediately followed by the Cold War and a series of nuclear tests. Over time, the world powers developed weapons that could bring such severe damages to mankind that we get a false sense of comfort in that they could never be used. But the world only just barely escaped a nuclear war. By hours. In 1898, Cuba expelled its Spanish colonists with the help of the Americans. Americans took over the island for 4 years. Even though the island nation finally was granted independence in 1902, it remained dominated by American businessmen, who owned hotels, restaurants, and casinos. Cuba was turned into a giant resort for the Americans, while the locals remained poor. A revolution broke out eventually. On January 1, 1959, Fidel Castro's forces swept into Havana and established a communist government. The US was extremely uncomfortable with a communist nation sitting 90 miles away. This led to a series of attempts to either invade the island or assassinate Fidel Castro. Although all these efforts failed, Castro grew insecure about his position. So along with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, they drafted up a plan to install nuclear weapons in Cuba. The plan was approved by both governments in July 1962, and installation began in August. On October 15, 1962, through a spy surveillance mission, the US confirmed that nuclear weapons were being installed in Cuba. Once installed and operational, these missiles could reach the United States in 5 minutes, potentially taking out 80 million people. What happened next was ultimately down to one man: US President John F. Kennedy.

How history played into the crisis

As Kennedy brought his top advisors together, two historical references were brought to the discussion: The Guns of August, a book that outlined the start of World War I, and the Munich Agreement, which aided Germany at the start of World War II. From 1914 to 1918, Europe went through four devastating years of war, leading to 22 million deaths as a direct result of the war. But why did 22 million people lose their lives? It began with an assassination of a prince, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, by a terrorist. This is what Barbara Tuchman explained in her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Guns of August. Even though Archduke Ferdinand was arguably not the most important person, European nations somehow all dragged themselves into the war through a series of alliances and rapid escalations. In addition, everyone had overestimated their abilities to end the wars quickly. Military men, who were eager to fulfill their duties, used the rules of yesterday to assess the wars of today, which ultimately led to a complete mess that quickly became uncontrollable. The Guns of August, published in 1962, was a good reminder that it took 4 years to end World War I, a war that everyone thought would be over in 4 weeks. After World War I, Europe barely had any time to recover before another crisis loomed. In the Spring of 1938, the German Nazi military entered Austria and formally annexed the country. This was followed up with the Nazis making claims on the territory of Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, an area dominated by German speakers. Czechoslovakia turned to Britain and France, with whom they had a mutual military assistance agreement, for help. But scarred by the previous war, British prime minister Neville Chamberlain was not eager to go to war with the Nazis. Instead, he made three trips to Germany with the intent of negotiating for peace. Hitler, though, correctly guessed that Chamberlain was not willing to go to war. As such, even though favourable terms were offered to Germany, Hitler upped his demand repeatedly. On September 22, Hitler demanded the immediate cession of Sudetenland, and this was followed up by troop mobilizations across the borders. A war was seemingly imminent. At the last minute, Britain and France agreed to Hitler's final demand: Sudetenland was ceded to Germany, and an international commission would decide the future of other disputed areas. Czechoslovakia was broken up as a result. This was known as the Munich Agreement. Although Chamberlain would return to the UK to a great reception for delivering peace, this peace would not even last for a year. On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland which ultimately lifted the curtains on World War II, while forever relegating Chamberlain to the man who tried to appease the devil. And for some, the Munich Agreement served as a good reminder of why one shall never negotiate for peace with the devil.

Thirteen Days, the movie

Following the two world wars, the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 was the next event that pushed the world to the edge. Thirteen Days outlined the struggle inside the White House to find the right answer to the crisis. Diplomacy or military. Seemingly no one can agree on which option to take. Such decisions are never easy, and you can always second guess the decision. In hindsight, it may be hard to argue that America's wars in Vietnam and Iraq were a success. But equally, when the Syrians were being targeted by chemical weapons, or when the Rohingya were facing ethnic cleansing, were they not longing for the world's help, and do the world not have the responsibility to take military actions? One thing, though, is for certain. Those who are waiting for the world to liberate them may not always get their wish. Thirteen Days scored a 7.3 / 10 on IMDB, and 80% on Rotten Tomatoes on 25,000+ ratings. You can stream it here via Amazon Prime Video.

Thirteen Days Director: Roger Donaldson Starring: Kevin Costner, Bruce Greenwood Release date: December 25, 2000 Running Time: 145 minutes You can watch Thirteen Days here through Amazon Prime Video or purchase a hardcopy here on Amazon. I will receive a small commission for your purchase made through this link at no extra cost to you.