Forgotten Hero Who Saved The World To Finally Be Honoured

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A Russian naval officer who stopped the launch of a deadly nuclear missile is to be honoured in London almost 20 years after his death.

Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov was executive officer aboard the Foxtrot-class B-59 Soviet submarine during the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962 – he watched as an American destroyer, the USS Beale began to drop depth charges.

In response, his captain, Valentin Savitsky, who was unaware the charges were non-lethal practice rounds intended as warning shots to force the Russian vessel to the surface, demanded immediate retaliation.

Savitsky ordered the 10-kiloton nuclear torpedo aboard the Russian sub to be prepared to fire – its target was the USS Randolph, a giant aircraft carrier.

The attack would have resulted in countless deaths and untold destruction.

Nuclear radiation would have spread from the sea to the land, in all likelihood triggering American strikes and plunging the world into nuclear war.

Arkhipov refused, disobeying the two senior officers who were aboard the ship and forty years later, Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, simply said ‘a guy called Vasili Arkhipov saved the world’.

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His bravery, independence and forward-thinking averted nuclear war and now, at a time when the tensions between North Korea and the US seem at breaking point, Arkhipov’s actions will be poignantly honoured.

The naval officer, who was born to a poor family and worked his way up to greatness, died in 1998 at the age of 72 with little public recognition, but now it’s set to change through an event held at the Institute of Engineering and Technology in the Savoy Place, London.

Organised by the Future of Life Institute, a Boston-based not-for-profit organisation, the event will recognise Arkhipov’s actions as ‘perhaps the single most valuable contribution to human survival in modern history’.

For his efforts, a $50,000 (£38,182) posthumous prize will be granted to Arkhipov’s daughter, Yelena Andriukova, who is now 65, and his grandson, Sergei, 34.

Arkhipov is the first person in history to be honoured in this way by the Future of Life Institute, which works to mitigate existential risks faced by humanity including nuclear warfare and advanced artificial intelligence.

On the scientific advisory board sit Stephen Hawking and Tesla chief Elon Musk, who recently warned we’re more likely to be killed by AI than North Korea.

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Beatrice Fihn, director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, told The Times Arkhipov’s story shows how close to a nuclear catastrophe we have been, cementing its importance now ‘the risk of nuclear war is on the rise’.

Presumably, Fihn is referring to the public pissing contest currently in full swing between President Donald Trump and North Korean despot, Kim Jong-un.

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Both leaders are waging verbal warfare on the other, in the name of propaganda, with Trump calling Kim a ‘Rocket Man’ and the so-called Supreme Leader retaliating and dubbing Donald a ‘mentally deranged dotard‘.

If you don’t know what it means, look it up. Its archaic definition is surprisingly apt, according to anti-Trump Twitter.

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Now, more than ever, it seems we need to channel the independent thought and quiet caution of Vasili Arkhipov.

Long may he be remembered.


Francesca Donovan

Francesca Donovan

A former emo kid who talks too much about 8Chan meme culture, the Kardashian Klan, and how her smartphone is probably killing her. Francesca is a Cardiff University Journalism Masters grad who has done words for BBC, ELLE, The Debrief, DAZED, an art magazine you've never heard of and a feminist zine which never went to print.