FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

How One Man Held off Nuclear War

As the possibilities for confrontation between Russia and the United States seem to increase, it is worth remembering how close the world was to a nuclear disaster as a result of the nuclear missiles installed in Cuba by the Soviet Union. At the time, the world was saved from that horrific scenario by the agreement between President John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev, First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

However, it is possible that the world came even closer to annihilation due to similar events that began to be publicly known in 2002. Those events culminated in what is known as Black Saturday, and made U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara state that the United States came “very close” to nuclear war, “closer than we knew at the time.” The hero behind the events mentioned by McNamara was Vasili Arkhipov, a Soviet naval officer.

As politicians discussed how to solve the Cuban Missile Crisis four Soviet submarines were sent on a mission known only to a few top officials of the Communist Party. The destination was unknown, to be revealed once the commanders of the submarines were at sea.

The order was for the four submarines to travel 7,000 miles, leaving from a secret base in the Arctic Circle. They would cross the Atlantic Ocean and remain at Mariel, Cuba, where they could serve as a vanguard for Soviet forces close to the mainland United States.

Probably because communication with Moscow wasn’t always easy, the submarine commanders had orders to act without superiors’ instructions if they deemed it necessary. Those orders involved even firing a nuclear torpedo of terrifying power called a “special weapon” by the Soviets, carried by each one of the submarines.

There was, however, a very strict safety protocol that required that three persons within the submarine be in agreement to launch an attack: the captain, the political officer—both of whom had half a key to activate the release mechanism—plus the Commander of the fleet, Vasili Arkhipov. He was one of the few men who knew about the mission’s objectives in advance. Unable to communicate with Moscow, the men in the B-59 were frightened and disconcerted.

The four submarines, among them the B-59, where Arkhipov was stationed, were diesel-powered and, according to the Americans, totally unfit for the mission. The Americans had deployed the most up-to-date and sophisticated submarine detection mechanisms which included destroyers, helicopters, and surveillance planes. At that time, President Kennedy had ordered U.S. ships to form a ring around Cuba to stop further flow of Soviet weapons. Forty destroyers, four aircraft carriers, and 358 aircraft were ordered to patrol the area.

The crew of the B-59 had been away from home for three and a half weeks, in trying conditions and practically cut off from communication with Moscow. The Soviet diesel electric subs had to surface to recharge their batteries but, afraid of being spotted by the Americans, the B-59 had to dive further down with only enough charge in their batteries to last only for six hours.

In the meantime American planes had spotted three submarines in the area, the B-59 among them. President Kennedy, however, had given strict orders not to attack but that, once spotted, the submarines should be driven to the surface. Unable to communicate with Moscow, the men in the B-59 were frightened and disconcerted.

The aircraft carrier USS Randolph had trapped the B-59 near Cuba and started dropping depth charges, a kind of explosives used to force the submarine to come to the surface for identification. Because the B-59 was stationed too deep to monitor any radio signals, those on board didn’t know if war had broken out.

The captain of the B-59 submarine, Valentin Grigorievitch Savitsky, thought that the war had started and wanted to launch a nuclear attack. A harsh argument broke out among the captain, the political officer Ivan Semonovich Maslennikov, and Vasili Arkhipov, second in command in the submarine but Commander of the fleet of four submarines that included, in addition to the B-59, the B-4, B-36, and B-130.

Arkhipov’s position finally prevailed: he persuaded Savitsky to surface and await orders from Moscow. Thanks to his determination a nuclear war of devastating consequences was averted. A single man’s valor and determination saved the world from annihilation.

More articles by:

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”

Weekend Edition
July 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Atwood
Peace or Armageddon: Take Your Pick
Paul Street
No Liberal Rallies Yet for the Children of Yemen
Nick Pemberton
The Bipartisan War on Central and South American Women
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Are You Putin Me On?
Andrew Levine
Sovereignty: What Is It Good For? 
Brian Cloughley
The Trump/NATO Debacle and the Profit Motive
David Rosen
Trump’s Supreme Pick Escalates America’s War on Sex 
Melvin Goodman
Montenegro and the “Manchurian Candidate”
Salvador   Rangel
“These Are Not Our Kids”: The Racial Capitalism of Caging Children at the Border
Louis Proyect
Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and the Dilemmas of the Left
Patrick Cockburn
Iraqi Protests: “Bad Government, Bad Roads, Bad Weather, Bad People”
Robert Fantina
Has It Really Come to This?
Russell Mokhiber
Kristin Lawless on the Corporate Takeover of the American Kitchen
Patrick Bobilin
In Your Period Piece, I Would be the Help
Ramzy Baroud
The Massacre of Inn Din: How Rohingya Are Lynched and Held Responsible
Robert Fisk
How Weapons Made in Bosnia Fueled Syria’s Bleak Civil War
Gary Leupp
Trump’s Helsinki Press Conference and Public Disgrace
Josh Hoxie
Our Missing $10 Trillion
Martha Rosenberg
Pharma “Screening” Is a Ploy to Seize More Patients
Basav Sen
Brett Kavanaugh Would be a Disaster for the Climate
David Lau
The Origins of Local AFT 4400: a Profile of Julie Olsen Edwards
Rohullah Naderi
The Elusive Pursuit of Peace by Afghanistan
John Laforge
18 Protesters Cut Into German Air Base to Protest US Nuclear Weapons Deployment
Christopher Brauchli
Trump and the Swedish Question
Chia-Chia Wang
Local Police Shouldn’t Collaborate With ICE
Paul Lyons
YouTube’s Content ID – A Case Study
Jill Richardson
Soon You Won’t be Able to Use Food Stamps at Farmers’ Markets, But That’s Not the Half of It
Thomas Knapp
Elections: More than Half of Americans Believe Fairy Tales are Real
Ralph Nader
Warner Slack—Doctor for the People Forever
Lee Ballinger
Soccer, Baseball and Immigration
Louis Yako
Celebrating the Wounds of Exile with Poetry
Ron Jacobs
Working Class Fiction—Not Just Surplus Value
Perry Hoberman
You Can’t Vote Out Fascism… You Have to Drive It From Power!
Robert Koehler
Guns and Racism, on the Rocks
Justin Anderson
Elon Musk vs. the Media
Graham Peebles
A Time of Hope for Ethiopia
Martin Billheimer
Childhood, Ferocious Sleep
Tom Clark
Gameplanning the Patriotic Retributive Attack on Montenegro
July 19, 2018
Rajai R. Masri
The West’s Potential Symbiotic Contributions to Freeing a Closed Muslim Mind
Jennifer Matsui
The Blue Pill Presidency
Ryan LaMothe
The Moral and Spiritual Bankruptcy of White Evangelicals
Paul Tritschler
Negative Capability: a Force for Change?
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS Class Struggle: ‘Social Dialogue’ Reform Frustrations
Rev. William Alberts
A Well-Kept United Methodist Church Secret
Raouf Halaby
Joseph Harsch, Robert Fisk, Franklin Lamb: Three of the Very Best
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail