JFK+50: Volume 6, No. 2054HOTLINE NOT WHAT IT USED TO BE
Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog's back." No, that's not the sentence JFK practiced typing in the Oval Office, but it is the first test message sent over the HOTLINE from the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia to the Kremlin in Moscow. That message was transmitted fifty-three years ago today, August 30, 1963.
In June 1963, the hot line agreement had been signed by representatives of the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The agreement came in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 when the world came close to nuclear war. The White House issued a statement saying the hotline would "help reduce the risk of war occurring by accident or miscalculation." The sentence transmitted included the numbers 1234567890.
The idea for the hotline came from Harvard professor Thomas Schelling who credited the novel Red Alert* with making governments more aware of direct communication in the nuclear age. The hotline was advocated by Jess Gorkin, editor of Parade Magazine and Gerald C. Smith of the US State Department.
Ironically, the Republican Party platform of 1964 was highly critical of the hotline. One of the planks states that the Kennedy administration...
"has alienated proven allies by opening a 'hotline' first with a sworn enemy rather than with a proven friend," and compared the concept to appeasement at Munich.
Bryan Bender, writing for Politico.com, tells us that the hotline "was never a telephone line and no red phones were used." It was originally a teletype device, but in 1986 became a secure fax machine. Then in 2008, the hotline became a secure computer link in which communication was done by email.
Mr. Bender says that the hotline is still tested but "seldom used." In fact, after the Russians invaded the Crimea there has been little communication of any kind between the United States and Russia.
*Red Alert, a novel written by Peter George in 1958, was originally published in the UK as "Two Hours to Doom." It became the inspiration for the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove.
"The hotline to Moscow goes cold," by Bryan Bender, October 2, 2015, www.politico.com/