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.”

January 23, 2019
Charles McKelvey
Popular Democracy in Cuba
Kenn Orphan
The Smile of Class Privilege
Leonard Peltier
The History Behind Nate Phillips’ Song
Kenneth Surin
Stalled Brexit Goings On
Jeff Cohen
The System’s Falling Apart: Were the Dogmatic Marxists Right After All?
Cira Pascual Marquina
Chavez and the Continent of Politics: a Conversation with Chris Gilbert
George Ochenski
Turning Federal Lands Over to the States and Other Rightwing Fantasies
George Wuerthner
Forest Service Ignores Science to Justify Logging
Raouf Halaby
In the Fray: Responses to Covington Catholic High
Kim C. Domenico
No Saviors But Ourselves; No Disobedience Without Deeper Loyalty
Ted Rall
Jury Trial? You Have No Right!
Michael Doliner
The Pros and Cons of Near Term Human Extinction
Lee Ballinger
Musical Unity
Elliot Sperber
The Ark Builders
January 22, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
On the Brink of Brexit: the Only Thing Most People Outside Westminster Know About Brexit is That It’s a Mess
Raouf Halaby
The Little Brett Kavanaughs from Covington Catholic High
Dean Baker
The Trump Tax Cut is Even Worse Than They Say
Stanley L. Cohen
The Brazen Detention of Marzieh Hashemi, America’s Newest Political Prisoner
Karl Grossman
Darth Trump: From Space Force to Star Wars
Glenn Sacks
Teachers Strike Dispatch #8: New Independent Study Confirms LAUSD Has the Money to Meet UTLA’s Demands
Haydar Khan
The Double Bind of Human Senescence
Alvaro Huerta
Mr. President, We Don’t Need Your Stinking Wall
Howard Lisnoff
Another Slugger from Louisville: Muhammad Ali
Nicole Patrice Hill – Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Scarlet “I”: Climate Change, “Invasive” Plants and Our Culture of Domination
Jonah Raskin
Disposable Man Gets His Balls Back
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
January 21, 2019
W. T. Whitney
New US Economic Attack Against Cuba, Long Threatened, May Hit Soon
Jérôme Duval
Macronist Repression Against the People in Yellow Vests
Dean Baker
The Next Recession: What It Could Look Like
Eric Mann
All Hail the Revolutionary King: Martin Luther King and the Black Revolutionary Tradition
Binoy Kampmark
Spy Theories and the White House: Donald Trump as Russian Agent
Edward Curtin
We Need a Martin Luther King Day of Truth
Bill Fried
Jeff Sessions and the Federalists
Ed Corcoran
Central America Needs a Marshall Plan
Colin Todhunter
Complaint Lodged with European Ombudsman: Regulatory Authorities Colluding with Agrochemicals Industry
Manuel E. Yepe
The US War Against the Weak
Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail