Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov. You probably never heard this name before, but you owe this man your life. During the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy ordered the naval blockade of Cuba in order to prevent the Soviets from transporting additional nuclear arms to the island. When a U.S. destroyer detected a Soviet B-59 submarine trying to penetrate the blockade, it dropped depth charges as a warning sign, merely to force a retreat. What they did not know was that the Soviet submarine carried a T-5 nuclear torpedo, as powerful as the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima and capable of obliterating not only the U.S. destroyer, but also the aircraft carrier and eleven Navy ships enforcing the blockade. The Soviet submarine had lost all contact with Moscow and its captain was unsure if war had erupted. How should he respond?
According to Soviet policy, all three highest-ranking officers of the submarine had to agree before launching the nuclear torpedo. And so deliberations began. The air conditioning was broken and the smoldering temperature in the submarine was hellish. Irate, the captain argued that war had broken out and that he would be damned if he was going down as the shame of the fleet. The second officer quiescently agreed. Vasili Arkhipov did not. He argued that they had no proof that war had erupted and that the depth charges were merely warning signs to force a retreat. Launching a nuclear strike solely based on an assumption was unjustifiable to say the least. Under fire, Vasili Arkhipov thought about his wife and family. And so the fateful vote was taken. All agreed to launch the nuclear torpedo, all except Vasili Arkhipov. As a result, the Soviet B-59 submarine retreated and the warring parties eventually reached an understanding. I lived to write these words; you lived to read them.
At the time, President Kennedy was under intense pressure from General Curtis Lemay to order a nuclear first strike. Under those extreme circumstances, launching that fateful nuclear torpedo would have triggered the apocalyptic chain reaction of Mutual Assured Destruction and global thermonuclear war would have ensued. All of human civilization would have ceased to be. Those unlucky enough to survive would have partaken in a real life reenactment of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”.
Despite solving some intractable problems in my life, the sheer absurdity of this story has always confounded me. This is where my thoughts break down, the point where logic fails to see. Nuclear deterrence is a prison from which there can be no release, so long as weapons of mass destruction are amassed, they will never set us free. Words of love have long been written down, but words of hatred are all we tend to read. If this is our history, what will our future be?