50 years ago last month the fate of our species was in the hands of three men. Soviet submarine commanders near Cuban shores that had been granted authority by their superiors at their own discretion to launch a first strike nuclear attack against the United States. US bombers were in the air ready to launch an immediately and devastating nuclear retaliatory strike in Russia should the submarine fire and that would have triggered an additional devastating strike from Soviet missile sites in Cuba and elsewhere. Kennedy had ordered depth charges be dropped to compel the submarine to surface. Inside the submarine the men had been subjected to a full week of temperatures in excess of 120°F. They were being blasted with sonar loudspeakers as a means of torture coming from US destroyers. And they heard the depth charges exploding around them. These combined factors compelled 2 of the 3 Soviet officers to initiate the nuclear strike, but they were resisted by one man. Vasili Ahrkipov refused to agree to launch, calmed his fellow officers down, and convinced them to allow the submarine to surface. An amazing and frightening story explained in more detail in this excellent PBS program that provides a re-enactment. This is a man we should sing songs to every year at this time. If not for him perhaps none of us would be here.
It's important to recognize that the threat of nuclear annihilation is not passed. To understand why watch this 10 minute clip featuring Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg.