This Fame Day, I’ll be continuing my past line of praising men and women who have shaped our world and yet remained largely uncredited. There is perhaps no man more deserving of our admiration and respect in this regard than Vasili Arkhipov (1928-1998): “the man who saved the world.”
Arkhipov, born to a peasant family in what was then the USSR, joined the navy, participating in World War II, and further earning distinction as being a survivor of the K-19 submarine. Yeah, as in K-19: The Widowmaker.
The Widowmaker (also called The Hiroshima), for anyone who doesn’t know, was a nuclear submarine created by the USSR. Midway through it’s maiden voyage, The Widowmaker‘s nuclear safeguards failed, forcing the crew to heroically sacrifice their lives as they took shifts to rectify the problem, Vasili among them (the crew, not the problem). This event also inspired a movie.
Now the fact that he willingly exposed himself to radiation to help save his crew mates is a feat in and of itself, however, Arkhipov’s true claim to fame was to come a year later, in October of 1962.
This was the height of Cuban Missile Crisis, and Arkhipov was serving as second-in-command on a Soviet nuclear submarine bound for Cuba. While in international waters, the submarine came into contact with a number of American vessels, which began dropping depth charges in an attempt to scare the submarine off. The submarine captain, having been without any contact from Russia for days and suspecting that a war between the US and USSR may have already started, ordered the launch of a nuclear torpedo. Arkhiphov stood up the captain, and after a heated debate, convinced him, along with the other submarines they were traveling with, to stand down. The simple result of Arkhipov’s refusal to let this torpedo be launched was the prevention of a nuclear holocaust and the saving of billions of lives. Without this man, it is almost certain that none of us would be alive today.
So here’s to Vasili Arkhipov, one of the unsung heroes of human history to whom we all owe an unimaginable debt. Thanks for being the sole barrier between mankind and its own bloody self-annihilation!