The Cuban missile crisis in 1960 'is /was' ....

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Allegro molto

Senior Member
Japanese
Hello

The Cuban missile crisis in 1960 was probably the closest we have been to nuclear war.
(from a dictionary)

If "the closest we have been to nuclear war" implies "the closest we have been to nuclear war up to the present", wouldn’t "was" have to be "is"?

Thank you
 
  • armour65

    Senior Member
    United States English
    Wait for opinions from other fellow English speakers, but a few observations about both options:

    (1) Both forms are correct
    (2) "Was" simply places more emphasis on the actual crisis (or whatever it is you are discussing) rather than just speaking in general. If you are referring to "up until today", I would tend to use "is" since "was" can (although generally is not) be interpreted as "during a specific period of time in the past, and not up until now". For example:

    * The Cuban missile crisis in 1960 was probably the closest we have been to nuclear war in the 20th century (here you are not referring to up until today..I would say that using "is" in this sentence would be incorrect).

    (3) "Is" refers to a very general statement and is probably your better alternative when speaking about "up until the present".
     

    Fabulist

    Banned
    American English
    I qualify—English is the only language I can speak. :)

    Either is correct. There is a possible difference in emphasis.

    Was: Using the past tense emphasizes that the event occurred in the past—48 years ago. It might be used as part of a more extensive description of the event, which would have to be in the past tense: The Russians "installed" missiles in Cuba, Kennedy "responded," the Russians famously "blinked," etc.

    Is: Emphasizes that it was the closest "we" had been to nuclear war up until that time and continues to be the closest we have ever been, right up to the time of writing.

    The author might have used the past tense because he was using it for the rest of the description, or he might have chosen it deliberately to emphasize that our close brush with nuclear war really is behind us now.
     

    newname

    Senior Member
    Vietnamese
    I have tried to figure out where has been would fit. Can you demonstrate?
    It has been because there's this latest North Korean's threating to send its brother neighbour SK an atomic bomb; because Al qaeda might have had access to nuclear technology and enriched uranium; because etc. This crisis is one of those and has been the closest. Am I correct?
     

    pops91710

    Senior Member
    English, AE
    It has been because there's this latest North Korean's threating to send its brother neighbour SK an atomic bomb; because Al qaeda might have had access to nuclear technology and enriched uranium; because etc. This crisis is one of those and has been the closest. Am I correct?
    Okay, I see now what you meant. I was trying to envision the sentence with has been plugged some place and it would not fit.

    Take it from me, we have had planes in SK airbase runways ready to launch with nukes on board back when NK shot down an American EC-121. I was there!! (1969).
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    Was is not wrong:

    The closest to nuclear war that we have ever been was probably during the Cuban missile crisis in 1960. [not is]
    In 1960, at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, we were probably closer than we have ever been to nuclear war. [not are]
    The Cuban missile crisis in 1960 was probably the closest we have been to nuclear war. [makes sense the same way]

    But the Cuban missile crisis, besides being a time in the past, is (not just was) a part of history:

    The closest to nuclear war that we have ever been is probably (not the current mess in Korea but) the Cuban missile crisis (which happened) in 1960. [we compare that part of history to this, in the present]
    The Cuban missile crisis in 1960 is probably the closest we have been to nuclear war. [makes sense too]

     
    First of all, none of the sentences are correct because the Cuban missile crisis happened in 1962, not 1960. :D

    That said, I agree that "was" or "is" are both possible, but I think "was" is better. Consider the same question in a less explosive context:

    My trip to Quebec in 2004 was the furthest north I have been in Canada.

    To me, "is" would sound odd here. I think when the year, which so exactly dates the event in the past, is included in the sentence, "was" works better. If the year were removed, it might not matter. Let's see:

    My trip to Quebec is the the furthest north I have been in Canada.

    I think that works, as does:

    The Cuban missile crisis is probably the closest we have been to nuclear war.

    Here's another thought: The entire problem can be avoided by using "remains" instead of "is/was." Since it means "is still," it clearly puts the discussion in the present and has to be in the present tense. Come to think of it, "is still" would be OK, too.

    The Cuban missile crisis in 1962 remains/is still probably the closest we have been to nuclear war.

    This is correct and retains - in fact, emphasizes - the idea that nuclear war remains a possibility, and we might yet come closer than we did during those days in October, 1962.
     
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