It was 1963, just several years after World War II came to an end. You wake up to the sound of bombs falling from the sky. You hear the screams of people from the outside. Confused, you get up and check. Downstairs, you see your parents embracing each other while crouching down underneath the coffee table. They’re listening intently to the radio.
“A nuclear war is on the way!” You hear the announcer scream. You look at your parents as though you’re asking “What do we do now?” Without speaking a word, they looked at you lovingly and pulled you in their tight embrace. You knew this might be the end. This could have been the reality of thousands of families back in 1963, but thanks to one man, he was able to stop such a sad scenario from occurring…
After World War II
It seems the world was slowly adjusting to the way it was after World War II. The war devastated millions of families. The economy had also collapsed as countries tried their best to recover from the catastrophic war. But the tension between some nations didn’t end there.
The Soviet and the US
The relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States was complicated. As the tension started to rise, the two superpowers continued to face off and plunged the world directly into the cold war.
The Cold War
The US and the Soviets would eventually try to keep one-upping each other by showing off their nuclear capabilities. But one particular disagreement between these two superpowers had the potential to change the fate of mankind entirely.
The Cuban Missile Crisis
In 1961, the US would desperately attempt to overthrow Cuba’s communist government but they failed. This event was called the “Bay of Pigs.” Cuba, worried about the threat of US armies penetrating them, sought help from the USSR and Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Premier was more than happy to comply.
Nikita saw this as the perfect opportunity to deploy missiles to Cuba. He knew that the US had been keeping missiles in both Italy and Turkey and Nikita did this to serve as a counteraction. Eventually, US intelligence heard about Nikita’s plan.
US military advisors were convinced that an airstrike and invasion would be an appropriate response but the late President John F. Kennedy had other plans.
Kennedy wanted to try a more subtle approach. It was on October 22, 1961, that he announced that he would block all shipments to Cuba. It was a bold and dangerous move since such a command is considered a declaration of war. Kennedy called it a quarantine, he didn’t block basic necessities from entering Cuba but nonetheless, the Soviets were not happy about this.
Wanting to ease the tension, Kennedy initially recommended that they do nothing. He wanted to use their diplomacy to pressure the Soviets into following their demands. He also planned to block Cuba to prevent any missile attacks from coming.
If all else went downhill, Kennedy was willing to launch airstrikes to destroy missiles and if the need arises, he was willing to overthrow Castro’s regime in Cuba.
The Soviets were outraged by this move. Nikita then wrote a letter to Kennedy. “The violation of freedom to use international waters and international airspace is an act of aggression which pushes mankind toward the abyss of world nuclear-missile war,” he wrote.
Cold War Intensifies
The next six days that would ensue would be the most intense days during the cold war. The US demanded Russia to withdraw the nuclear missiles they placed in Cuba but Russia insisted that they were only for defense.
The US, not taking any sh*t from them, prepared for a possible invasion.
The USSR ultimately ignored the blockade made by the US and for the first time in US history, authorities raised the alert system to DEFCON 2, which is just one small step away from an all-out nuclear war. Nuclear bombers were on 24-hour alert, prepared to bite the USSR with their fangs anytime.
145 American IBMS was ready to launch with some directly aimed at Cuba. It would only take a matter of time.
As if the tension wasn’t already bad enough, on October 27, things started going downhill for both parties. Major Rudolph Anderson was piloting a spy plane and to his surprise, his plane was attacked by a Soviet missile. This caught the US off-guard. They were obviously not happy about this.
On that same day, a nuclear-armed Soviet submarine received a signal from a US-navy vessel, telling the unwanted submarine to go up. But they were too deep underwater and the signal was so bad, the Russian easily misunderstood the signal. This could have been the make or break moment for them.
The Russian submarine was too deep in the ocean that communicating was difficult. The commanders in the submarine thought that the war was about to begin. They were preparing to launch a nuclear torpedo and the decision was up to the three officers. The decision should be unanimous and it was all up to the three of them.
It was a difficult decision. All three men were aware that their decision would be crucial in whether the nuclear war would begin or not. Time is ticking and they were starting to feel the pressure fall on their shoulders. The fate of the world rests in their hands.
Both the officer and the captain authorized the launch of the nuclear missile but one of the officers disagreed.
The third officer
The officer and the captain thought that it wouldn’t matter whether they launch the missile or not, they were convinced that war had already started against the US and they were ready to attack at any moment. But the commander of the whole Soviet submarine, Vasili Arkhipov thought otherwise.
If Arkhipov had not been aboard, the decision of the two senior ranking officials would have been followed and the nuclear war would have been on its way. Arkhipov did not let peer pressure get to him, he stood his ground and defended his decision but the two high ranking officials were starting to get impatient and the pressure from being underwater for too long was starting to get in their heads…
The doomsday clock was starting to tick, the temperature was rising in the compressed submarine. Submarine Commander, Valentin Savitsky was ready to launch the nukes. “Maybe the war has already started up there… We’re gonna blast them now! We will die, but we will sink them all—we will not become the shame of the fleet,” the impatient commander shouted.
But one man kept his cool despite the rising temperature and intense pressure.
They were several miles deep in the ocean, Arkhipov and the captain were debating intensely on whether it’s time to launch the nukes or not. While the submarine concealed itself under the ocean, the Americans had no idea that a tactical nuclear torpedo was ready to launch anytime. But the 3 authorities were too busy arguing whether they should press the button or not.
Arkhipov was actually just second-in-command of the submarine they’re on (B-59), he was still the commander of the entire submarine flotilla. So he did his best to use his influence to persuade Sativsky to make a rational decision, go up the surface and wait for the official orders from Moscow. But will Sativsky listen to Arkhipov’s feisty request?
In the end, the hot-headed Sativsky was able to calm down thanks to Arkhipov’s cool demeanor. They were able to come to an agreement and made a rational choice that the US would have no idea about until after 50 years later when the former belligerents met up during the 50th reunion. And it was all thanks to one man who stood up for what he believed in, that the world was saved from what could have potentially been one of the worst nuclear disasters.