But let’s do a bit of lead-up first because when you understand how we got there, you understand how we got here…
World War I was the breaking point for the long-suffering Russian people. In February and November of 1917, a pair of revolutions removes the Tsar from power and leaves the Bolsheviks in charge of the country. Under Lenin, Russia pulls out of WWI by signing the treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany and sets up a federal government with the aim of reorganizing the empire into a social democracy.
This kicks off the Russian Civil War. On one side is the Red Army (the Bolsheviks), on the other is the White Army (mostly pro-monarchy, pro-capitalist, and supported by an Allied military force that includes troops and munitions from the UK, the US, China, France, and Italy). Caught between them are the Green Armies (peasants who were tired of being everyone’s victim). Meanwhile, the other parts of the former Russian Empire (Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland) break away, form their own sovereign states, and engage in their own internal conflicts.
When the Russian Civil War grinds to a halt, the country is devastated. Millions are dead from purges, fighting, and starvation caused by widespread famine. The economy is crippled. Lenin is near death and Stalin has taken power.
Stalin begins a program of forced, rapid industrialization to kickstart the economy and muscle the country into the 20th Century. He reverses the “World Communism” doctrine Lenin and Trotsky supported (for communism to succeed you need global revolution, otherwise capitalist forces will crush you) to institute his socialism-in-one country policy, and then keeps his head down until WWII.
Obviously, this does not sit well with the capitalist interests in the West..
We push forward to WWII. The United States and the Soviet Union emerge from World War II as two dominant but ideologically-opposed superpowers. Harry S. Truman gives us the first of many budgets dominated by massive military spending, all to maintain our prestige on the world stage and “protect” the Western powers from the global threat of Communism.
In 1947, Truman signs the National Security Act into law and creates the CIA. The agency is flush with cash and given free reign. Over the following years, they will engage in everything from mind control experiments, to deposing foreign governments, (see Guatemala in 1954, Haiti in 1959, Brasil in 1964, Uruguay in 1969, Bolivia in 1971, Chile in 1973, Argentina in 1976, El Salvador in 1980, Panamá in 1989, and Peru in 1990), to influencing public opinion on art, and pretty much every other dumbshit idea they could fund. All while not caring about mass murder as long as it’s the enemy being killed.
Japan controls the Korean Peninsula from 1910 until the last days of WWII. The Soviet Union, per their agreement with the US, declares war against Japan in ‘45. Their forces liberate Korea north of the 38th parallel, while US forces liberate south of the parallel. This results in two separate governments, each believing they are the legitimate government and each supported by foreign superpowers.
This blows up in 1950 when the North invades the South, kicking off a conflict between the two halves that quickly brings international intervention: the US and a coalition of UN forces side with South Korea, the Soviet Union and Communist China ally with the North. The brutal conflict lasts for three years before ending in a bitter stalemate. It also succeeds in reframing the Vietnamese battle against French colonial forces into the Cold War struggle that will eventually pull the US into the Vietnam War.
As the Korean War is ending, the Cuban revolution is getting started. That conflict lasts from 1953 through 1959. As soon as Cuba falls, the United States is determined to oust Castro and his communists from power. We’re against communist and its spread, so the thought of a communist country that close to our border is inconceivable.
Near the end of his presidency, Eisenhower has the CIA draft a plan to oust Castro. When Kennedy signs off on it, the CIA recruits, trains, and sponsors a group of Cuban exiles named Brigade 2506. On April 17, 1961, Brigade 2506 invades Cuba.
They fail spectacularly. Once it’s clear to the world that this is a US-backed operation, Castro takes personal command of Cuban Forces, Kennedy changes his mind about air support, and Brigade 2506 is routed in barely 3 days.
But the United States isn’t done with Cuba and Castro knows it. In 1975, the Church Commission is able to substantiate 8 assassination attempts on Fidel Castro occurring between 1960-1965. Fabian Escalante, the man responsible for protecting Fidel, estimates the total attempts and schemes–from Eisenhower through Clinton–at 638. After the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, Fidel asked Cuba’s trade partner the Soviet Union to place nuclear missiles on the island to deter future invasion plans. Krushchev agrees to Castro’s request after the US places Jupiter ballistic missiles in Turkey and Italy.
At the time the Soviet Union lacks rocketry capable of carrying a nuclear warhead from their territory to the US. Placing missiles in Cuba means the Soviets won’t have to rely on only on submarines and bombers to deliver a strike in the event of nuclear war.
Krushchev greenlights the secret Operation: Andyr to place missiles, bombers, and mechanized infantry on Cuba.
The mission doesn’t remain secret for long. The US has been flying U-2 spy planes over Cuba since the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and quickly detects the Soviets. Washington calls an emergency meeting. The Joint Chiefs want a full-scale invasion of the island, Kennedy doesn’t, and they argue over several options before decideing on a naval blockade of the island.
And the world holds its breath for next two weeks…
On October 27, while Kennedy and Khrushchev work to reach an agreement, a U-2 spy plane flown by Rudolf Anderson is shot down over Cuba and the USS Beale spots an unidentified submarine. The ship drops practice depth charges as warning to encourage the sub to surface.
Captain Valentin Savitsky is convinced World War III has started. His sub had been dispatched as part of a flotilla to protect Soviet transports to Cuba. The US ship spotted them when they surfaced briefly. One of their blasts knocked the air conditioning out sending temperatures over 100 degrees. Ten more US ships quickly joined the Beale. And his sub has received no contact from Moscow for days.
Savitsky believes a first strike is called for. He orders the ten kiloton nuclear torpedo (in terms of power, just shy of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima) to be readied and aimed at the USS Randolf, the carrier leading US forces. The protocol for firing that weapon requires the Captain and the Political Officer to both agree.
And they do.
However, thankfully, in this one particular instance Vasili Arkhipov gets a vote.
Arkhiprov is described as modest, soft-spoken, and amazingly calm in a crisis. On the sub itself, he has been acting as Savitsky’s second-in-command; however, in terms of the whole Soviet Operation in the area, he is in charge of the entire flotilla.
Arkhipov was a hero who had distinguished himself the year previous with the K-19 sub incident. When the rushed-to-production nuclear sub developed a leak in its coolant system, the entire crew was irradiated and only the quick thinking of the engineering crew who managed to improvise a new coolant system prevented nuclear meltdown and a global catastrophe.
Arkhipov votes no, arguing the charges were a signal to rise and identify themselves, not an aggressive act of war. He insists there are too many unknowns to assume the two nations are now at war.
Savitsky isn’t convinced but Arkhipov refuses to change his vote.
If the Russian sub had fired and vaporized an aircraft carrier, it would have triggered an immediate response from the other US ships and in turn activated the Single Integrated Operational Plan.
When Eisenhower took office in 1953, he inherited Truman’s massive military budget. He believed such expenditures were wasteful and cut it by $5 billion. He thought it was possible to reduce the number of conventional forces but still maintain military prestige while protecting the country and its allies.
However, he did support the doctrine of massive retaliation (even though the Soviets did not have second strike capabilities in the 1950s) as a deterrent. The US Military’s plan for a nuclear response called for a sickening orgy of godlike destruction that would have dropped a combined 7, 847 megatons of nuclear weapons on the Soviet Union, China, and all Soviet-allied states. To put that into perspective, the two bombs we dropped on Japan at the end of WWII had a combined explosive power of 35 kilotons.
Let that sink in for a minute.
Our massive strike would have triggered a response from the Soviet Union and its allies.
Luckily for the entire world, Arkhipov was on board the B-59 that day 55 years ago and held his ground. Even as temperatures continued to rise in the damaged sub and US ships continued dropping charges, he didn’t budge.
Savitsky finally agreed. The B-59 rose to the surface, identified itself, and charted a course back to the Soviet Union. The Americans, meanwhile, didn’t know the B-59 was carrying a nuke until decades later.
Now, we find ourselves in a sickeningly familiar world. We’re allowed ourselves to be ruled by a group of elites who kneel at the feet of their corporate masters while leading us into war after unending war all across the globe for the sake of profit. The propaganda machine rolls ever onward, resurrecting old enemies to direct focus away from real domestic issues and the malfeasance of both parties. Terrible foreign policy again threatens to push us again toward world war.
So the question is, do we finally challenge these entrenched and self-serving systems of power or do we continue on, same as always, hoping that next time we’re standing at the brink of global destruction that there is an average man as calm and as sensible as Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov to save us.