Friday, November 6, 2015

"The Man Who Saved the World" - Second-in-Command Vasili Arkhipov

For whatever the reason, I thought that this post had already been published a couple of days ago, only to find it in my unpublished list just now. So, here it is, better late than never:

Thought this was an anniversary most certainly worthy of mention. Today, November 4th, marks the 53rd anniversary of a little known act, or rather, refusal to act if you will, during an event. It might seem that one man's refusal to go along with something might be a drop in the water but, in this particular case, it actually probably did save the world.

It was the fall of 1962, and the entire world was watching the developments in the Caribbean Sea, as American war ships were preventing Soviet submarines from bringing nuclear missiles into Cuba. These American  warships were dropping depth charges near the submarines, trying to force them to surface, although it appears that they did not know that these submarines actually carried nuclear weapons on board.

Inside, Soviet officers in charge had lost radio contact with Moscow, but had somehow come to the belief that all of this must have meant that World War III surely had started, and that it was time to respond in kind. Two officers wanted to "blast the warships out of the water."

But Second-in-Command Vasili Arkhipov disagreed, and stood his ground. He was the one officer who dissented, as the other two agreed that sinking the warships was the correct course of action to take. Unanimous consent was a requirement in such instances before taking action, and Arkhipov's refusal was the one and only thing that prevented an action that likely would have launched a real World War III, and the nuclear holocaust that it quite possibly, even probably, would have led to.

And so it is, on this day, we should come to recognize the wisdom of one man's hesitation and refusal to simply react (or rather, overreact) and just go with the flow of what others assume to be true, particularly when the stakes are at the highest. So many people only see the value of taking strong, decisive action. But Arkhipov, in choosing not to dive head first into an empty pool, in trying to stall for just a little bit of time to find out what was really going on before starting a war, showed the benefits of the wisdom of not taking such action, or in knee jerk reactions to aggressive and provocative actions taken by the United States which themselves  almost led to an entirely unnecessary third world war.

I had admittedly never heard of Vasili Arkhipov before, but on this day, I honor his memory, particularly in exercising his right not to react too strongly. His hesitation might not be the glorious act that comes to mind among many aggressive minded people, yet it was this hesitation that likely permitted the world to go on as it was, and which saved the day from what truly would have been a worst case scenario!

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