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The Moscow-Washington 'Hotline': Remembering A Cold War Icon 49 Years Later.

Forty-nine years ago Friday, one of the most famous and enduring symbols of the Cold War came into being.

On Aug. 31, 1963, the United States and Soviet Union installed the 24-hour-a-day "hotline" communication system so that the leaders of the world's two superpowers and biggest nuclear players could quickly contact each other in order to prevent World War III from erupting accidentally.

The idea for the instant communication device arose in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis the prior year - which saw Moscow and Washington very nearly enter into a cataclysmic nuclear war. (During that dangerous period, communications between the two rivals could take up to 12 hours - long enough for a miscommunication to spark an unprecedented conflagration).

In the beginning the "hotline" was not a telephone, but rather teletypes and a duplex wire telegraph circuit. (Indeed, in the beginning there was no voice element at all, over worries that verbal communications could easily lead to misunderstandings and potential gaffes).

The Kremlin installed an American teletype machine to receive messages from the Kennedy administration, while Soviet teletypes were put into the Pentagon (not the White House, as some mistakenly believed).

The Americans and Russians also had to exchange encoding devices so each side could decipher the messages coming in (so, in effect, communications were not really "instantaneous" since they had to be decoded).

Also, since the messages were transported by a transatlantic cable thousands of miles long, security precautions had to be implemented in order to prevent the interception of messages by third parties.

The first message that Washington sent was the playful: "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog's back 1234567890." (This seemingly inane message was employed because it used every letter in the English alphabet and all the Arabic numerals).

The "hotline" was first used for a serious purpose during the Six-Day War in 1967 between Israel and Egypt. During that crisis, the U.S. and Russia notified each other of their respective military maneuvers in the Middle East and Mediterranean, in order to ease any fears over provocative moves by either side.

By 1971, under President Richard Nixon, the hotline added a telephone, while the principal telegraph line was augmented by two satellite communication lines.

The "hotline" was used during a number of subsequent regional conflicts, including the 1971 India-Pakistan War; the 1973 Yom Kippur War; the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974; and in 1979, when the Russians invaded Afghanistan.

Even after the Cold War ended, the hotline remained in effect between Moscow and Washington, and still does today.

India and Pakistan also installed a similar "hotline" in 2004. The U.S. also has a similar communication arrangement with China.

On a lighter note, one of the most iconic devices of 1960s pop culture - the "batphone" from the "Batman" TV series - was a spoof of the real "hotline" between Moscow and Washington. Another 1960s spy spoof, the U.S. TV program "Get Smart," also lampooned the hotline.

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Publication:International Business Times - US ed.
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 30, 2012
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