Cuban Missile Crisis
|Date||16 October 1962 - 20 November 1962|
|Description||A military standoff between the USSR and USA involving nuclear brinksmanship.|
After learning that the Soviet Union had begun shipping missiles to Cuba, Kennedy announced a strategic blockade of Cuba and warned the Soviet Union that the U.S. would seize any more deliveries.
On the day when JFK resolved the Crisis, he told his brother, RFK, "this is the night I should go to the theatre", referring to the Lincoln assassination. His brother replied "if you go, I want to go with you".
He began to understand just how insecure was his position as president.
Sixty years on
On 27 October 2022, Vox reported:
President John F. Kennedy had ordered what he called a “quarantine” of Cuba, stationing a flotilla of naval ships off the coast of the island to prevent Soviet ships from carrying weapons to Cuba and demanding that the USSR remove the missiles. On October 27, the Russian sub B-59, which had been running submerged for days, was cornered by 11 US destroyers and the aircraft carrier USS Randolph. The US ships began dropping depth charges around the sub.
The intention wasn’t to destroy it but to force it to surface, as US officials had already informed Moscow. But unknown to Washington, the officers aboard B-59 were out of contact with their superiors and had every reason to believe that their American counterparts were trying to sink them.
“We thought, ‘That’s it, the end,’” crew member Vadim Orlov recalled to National Geographic in 2016. “It felt like you were sitting in a metal barrel, which somebody is constantly blasting with a sledgehammer.”
The end in this case meant not just the fate of the submarine and its crew, but potentially the entire world. Cut off from outside contact, buffeted by depth charges, its air conditioning broken, and temperatures and carbon dioxide levels rising in the sub, the most obvious conclusion for the officers of B-59 was that global war had already begun. But the sub had a weapon at its disposal that US officers didn’t know about: a 10-kiloton nuclear torpedo. And its officers had permission from their superiors to launch it without confirmation from Moscow.
Two of the sub’s senior officers wanted to launch the nuclear torpedo. That included its captain, Valentin Savitsky, who according to a report from the US National Security Archive, exclaimed: “We’re gonna blast them now! We will die, but we will sink them all — we will not become the shame of the fleet.”
Thankfully, the captain didn’t have sole discretion over the launch. All three senior officers had to agree, and Vasili Arkhipov, the 36-year-old second captain and brigade chief of staff, refused to give his assent. He convinced the sub’s top officers that the depth charges were indeed meant to signal B-59 to surface — there was no other way for the US ships to communicate with the Soviet sub — and that launching the nuclear torpedo would be a fatal mistake. The sub returned to the surface, headed away from Cuba, and steamed back toward the Soviet Union.
Arkhipov’s cool-headed heroics didn’t mark the end of the Cuban missile crisis. The same day, US U-2 pilot Maj. Rudolf Anderson was shot down while on a reconnaissance mission over Cuba. Anderson was the first and only casualty of the crisis, an event that could have led to war had President Kennedy not concluded that the order to fire had not been given by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.
That close call sobered both leaders, leading them to open back-channel negotiations that eventually led to a withdrawal of Soviet missiles in Cuba, a later pullback of US missiles in Turkey in response, and the end of the closest the world has yet come to total nuclear war.
In a situation as complex and pressured as the Cuban missile crisis, when both sides were operating with limited information, a ticking clock, and tens of thousands of nuclear warheads (most, it should be noted, possessed by the US), no single act was truly definitive for war or peace. But Arkhipov’s actions still deserve special praise. Trapped in a diesel-powered submarine thousands of miles from home, buffeted by exploding depth charges and threatened with suffocation and death, Arkhipov kept his head. Had he assented to the decision to fire a nuclear torpedo, likely vaporizing a US aircraft carrier and killing thousands of sailors, it would have been far more difficult for Kennedy and Khrushchev to step back from the brink. And the most dangerous day in human history may well have been one of our last.
For his courage, Arkhipov was the first person to be given the Future of Life award by the Cambridge-based existential risk nonprofit the Future of Life Institute (FLI), in 2017. It was posthumous — Arkhipov died in 1998, before the news of his actions was widely known. But he may well be, as FLI president Max Tegmark said at the award ceremony, “arguably the most important person in modern history.”
No nuclear weapon has been used in war since the atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. But as tensions between the US and Russia only grow over the war in Ukraine, and as Russian President Vladimir Putin makes veiled threats about wielding his country’s nuclear arsenal, we should remember the awful power of these world-ending weapons. And we should celebrate those, like Vasili Arkhipov, who in moments of existential decision, choose life rather than extinction.
|Document:The Time to Negotiate Peace in Ukraine Is NOW||Article||24 October 2022||Richard E. Rubenstein||Are things in Ukraine getting worse? Yes, for both sides. This is precisely the right time to give peace a chance.|