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The Russian Who Averted a Nuclear War

October 27, 1962 was the day the world almost ended. One man, Vasily Arkhipov, displayed the virtue of self-control. He was the second in command of the Soviet submarine B-59 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Located deep underwater near Cuba and unable to receive outside communication due to mandated radio silence, the crew had not heard anything from Moscow in days when they were detected by the US Navy. The Americans released explosives intended to force B-59 to the surface.

The crew was unsure how to proceed. Battery power in the submarine was dwindling, and the extreme heat in the vessel became unbearable. Some members of the crew suspected that war had broken out and wanted to launch nuclear warheads toward the US mainland to aid the Soviet offensive. Of course, if war had not broken out, this action would certainly begin one and likely result in global devastation.

The captain and the third-in-command both wanted to launch the missile, but Soviet protocol required that all three officers make the unanimous decision to strike, and Arkhipov wanted to think about it. He eventually decided that he wouldn't agree to the launch, but instead would wait for orders.

As Arkhipov’s cooler head prevailed, the sub surfaced. The US Navy surrounded them and forced them to return to the Soviet Union in shame. For years, Arkhipov endured taunts in his home country for choosing to surface. However, in 2002, Robert McNamara, the former US Secretary of Defense, publicly acknowledged that Arkhipov's decision prevented a nuclear war at “the most dangerous moment in human history.” Arkhipov is a notable example of someone who displayed self-control and integrity despite direct pressure to do the opposite.

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