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This man saved the world.

October 26, 2010

Birds sing, the sun shines, and you and I are alive. Because of this man.


Vasili Arkhipov saved the world. And you probably never heard of him. This man saved mankind. And there isn’t even a statue or plaque in his honor. Because of Vasili Arkhipov everything you know, everything you love, everything you hate… absolutely everything… exists.

Birds sing, the sun shines, and you and I are alive. Because of this man.

This week marks the 48th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis…. an international “incident” most people know shockingly little about. I won’t lecture you on the subject now but, when Kennedy and Khrushchev had their countries on the brink, it was this man, Vasili Arkhipov, who was on the frontline. And it was this man whose ability to remain cool and calm saved billions of lives.

It was forty-eight years ago today, October 26, 1962, that Vasili Arkhipov was an officer aboard the B-59, a Soviet submarine, just off the coast of Florida. It was forty-eight years ago today that the USS Randolph, a Navy aircraft carrier, along with eleven U.S. destroyers, detected, surrounded, and trapped the Soviet sub. And, it was forty-eight years ago today that, unbeknownst to the United States, this Soviet sub was armed with a 15 kiloton nuclear torpedo.

Vasili Arkhipov, aboard the B-59, was one of three Soviet officers aboard the submarine who, upon unanimous consent, could order the use of the nuclear-armed torpedo in naval combat. And it was Vasili Arkhipov alone who held out against the decision. As the U.S. warships dropped practice depth charges upon them in an effort to force the sub to surface (and, one could assume, be destroyed) the other two officers, including captain Valentin Savitsky and political officer Ivan Semonovich Maslennikov, under the assumption that war had already begun (keep in mind, once submerged these submarines have no communication with the outside world) and out of complete desperation, ordered the use of the torpedo.

But Arkhipov held firm.

This was the most pivotal moment of the Cold War… and this is probably the first you’ve heard of it. Imagine that situation.  Imagine the intensity.  It’s unlike anything we will ever experience.  Sure, we all applaud Kennedy and Khrushchev for keeping their cool-headedness and, ultimately, keeping the peace. But would they have been so cool seventy miles off their enemy’s coast, with depth charges going off above their hull? Would they have been so calm arguing against an entire crew, staring mutiny in the face?

Vasili Arkhipov did.  And every human being alive at that time, October 26, 1962 – and every human being born since – has him to thank. For if Vasili Arkhipov waivered, if he let the pressure of an inevitable nuclear apocalypse get the better of him, none of us would be alive today.

So, on behalf of us all, I thank him.


read more here.

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