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The Greatest Hero You Have Never Heard Of

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I thought instead of talking about what is crap all the time I should lighten things up and talk about nuclear war.

You see, there is someone you may not have heard of, or will be only vaguely aware of, that probably saved billions of lives. Information about him is incredibly scarce and I can’t find any pictures of him available on the net.

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His name was Vasily Arkhiphov.

In the Cuban missile crisis an American fleet had started to drop depth charges in order to force a Russian submarine to surface. Unknown to them at the time, the Russians had managed to put nuclear weapons onto their submarines by this point.

The captain gave the order to fire. Arkhipov managed to persuade the other officers to refuse the order.

This is from the Washington Post. Thomas S. Blanton is executive director of the National Security Archive at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

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washingtonpost.com: Good morning, Tom, and thanks for joining us. You just recently wrapped up a conference in Havana with some of the key players of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Even with all you know about those 13 days, what surprised you to uncover?

Thomas S. Blanton: The most surprising new evidence revealed that we were even closer to nuclear war than the policymakers knew at the time, and that’s saying something, because on Saturday, October 27, Robert McNamara thought he might not live to see the sunrise. At the time, there was a crescendo of bad news: a U-2 shot down over Cuba, another U-2 straying over Siberia with US Air Force jets (also armed with nuclear air-to-air missiles) scrambling to head off possible MIG interception. The Joint Chiefs had recommended air strike and invasion of Cuba, as of 4 p.m. The Cubans were firing on all the low-level US recon flights. At the conference, we found out that exactly at that moment, US destroyers were dropping signaling depth charges on a Soviet submarine near the quarantine line that was carrying a nuclear-tipped torpedo — totally unbeknownst to the US Navy. The Soviet captain lost his temper, there could be a world war up there, let’s take some of them down with us, etc. Cooler heads prevailed, specifically the sub brigade deputy commander named Vasily Arkhipov, who was onboard and calmed the captain down. The sub came to the surface about 15 minutes after Soviet ambassador Dobrynin left Bobby Kennedy’s office carrying RFK’s urgent message to Khrushchev, time is running out, invasion in 48 hours, if you take the missiles out, we will pledge not to invade Cuba, plus we’ll take our missiles out of Turkey as long as you don’t mention that part of it publicly. Early the next morning, Khrushchev announced the Soviet missiles would be coming out.

Events can sometimes gather their own momentum. However, some of the greatest people in history were those who refused to be forced down the path directly in front of them. Looneys all around him, Vasily Arkhipov allowed rationality and sanity to be his guides.

So if you think the world needs a hero, try looking up to one of the people who said no to dogma and violence rather than one who said yes.

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Scotland's Michael Greenwell has worked, at various times, as a university tutor, a barman, a DJ ("not a very good one," he clarifies), an office lackey, supermarket worker, president of a small charity, a researcher, a librarian, a volunteer worker in Nepal during the civil war there, and "some other things that were too tedious to mention." Nowadays, he explains, "I am always in (more...)
 

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