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27th October: the day we were almost unmade

Today, the 27th of October was a day that we faced extinction, if not for the hand one man, who saved us from Nuclear War.


Today, in words borrowed from elsewhere, could have been a date that lived in infamy, instead of the staid Tuesday it is. Unlike the well-known events the words are borrowed from, the alternate today would have been remembered by a comparative few.

Not for the importance of the day, no, but rather those who’d be left to remember it.

It could have easily come to pass that the existence we sit in today, would not exist, for the world almost fell into the fiery arms of nuclear annihilation. At the cusp of the violent orgasm of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, our continuation as a species was saved by the even head of one man.

The Thermonuclear Age, and those who remember it, will tell you that at the back of every mind, dinner party and/or resting thought was the Cold War. Lives lived under the growing cloud of possibility. The possibility of deliberate or accidental nuclear termination. Missile gaps, the myth of Soviet technological advancement, and the space race, the peace race, the whatever race, sabre-rattling speeches made from behind both ramparts,

The world was on edge.

The run-up to the Cuban Missile crisis was a hurried saunter, awkwardly dodging the hurdles the deteriorating political landscape put up. History shows a spate of near misses; The construction of the Berlin Wall, which momentarily diffused the boiling relationship of East vs West, (with Kennedy famously purporting “A wall….is better than a war”), The US covert operations under the banners of “Northwoods” and “Mongoose” operated by the CIA, with the goal of overthrowing Castro (and the bungled assassination attempts of), the United States mass genital exposing war exercises in early ’62 around the Caribbean.

Both political systems indirectly tiptoed around, but toward international strife.

14/10/62: US spy plane spots Soviet Medium range ballistic missiles in Cuba.

Kruschev thereby ignoring on his promise to JFK (re: no missiles in Cuba). The reasons why are cloudy. There’s an argument that it is because of the US Jupiter missiles in Turkey, or as Kruschev put it: “giving the US a little bit of their own medicine”. From the Soviet standpoint, the missiles were one of nuclear deterrence, a defensive threat mismanaged by Kruschev’s secrecy.

22/10/62 – Kennedy takes strong action, announcing the blockcade around Cuba. Tiptoeing over the invisible line would be seen as an act of war. The US bomber command (SAC) moves to DEFCON 2 – for the first time in history, a decision, made not by Kennedy, but through Air Force Officer Thomas Power (who once apparently said “the whole idea is to kill the bastards, if there is one left of them left, and two of us – we win”)

25/10 – Kruschev mistakenly receives information that the US invasion of Cuba was underway.

Cuba’s defense force numbers 100,000; lead by a Soviet veteran of Stalingrad (Issa Pliyev), unbeknownst to the US, the Cubans possessed around 100 battlefield nuclear warheads.

Despite both Kruschev and Kennedy’s fervent resistance to nuclear conflict, ignoring the pleas of action from hardline elements of their governments, the burgeoning war machine of the superpowers started to speak for them.

All of which was flint, sparking the nuclear bonfire lit on the 27th of October.

The Russian transport armada sailed steadfastly toward the Quarantine zone, bracketed by a number of nuclear armed Russian Submarines, one of which, the B-59 was being actively hunted by the US carrier USS Randolph, dropping depth charges in an effort to draw it to the surface. (The USS Randolph’s intention, did not reach the Russian’s below)

The submarine, rocked by a repeated depth charges, blanketed the sub in suffocating darkness, carbon dioxide choking the environment; the chase continued for four more hours.

It was feared that all was lost, and panic rippled through those onboard.

The captain of the submarine, Valentin Savitsky tried and failed to reach Moscow for instructions, as the sub was too deep to monitor radio traffic, Savitsky thereby assumed that nuclear war had commenced, and at a moment of primordial force, decided to loose the sub’s nuclear payload.

The launch of which had to be approved by the other officer aboard, one Vasili Arkhipov, who disagreed, and thusly a vicious argument broke out, powered by the fear of cowardice, the push of duty and stark facts of approaching death. Vasili stood firm, opposing Savitsky, removing him from the acidic whispering lips of the bomb, single-handedly avoiding nuclear war.

Due to the nervous height of the crisis, it’s not too far of a stretch to imagine what might have been:

B-59 -> Target

US retaliatory strike -> Cuba

Cuba -> US / Russia -> West Berlin

US -> Russia

Russia -> US

How far it could have stretched, nobody knows. What is known, is that the lives of anywhere up to 500 million sat in the calm hands of one.

And for that, take account of your surroundings, feel the sweeping cold breeze against your face, kiss those you love dearest harder, opt for the family sized meal portion this evening safe in the knowledge that what easily could have been, was not.

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