As his country faces daily bombardment of its cities by Russian planes and tanks, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine is, understandably, very disappointed that the countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) have not rallied to Ukraine’s side and imposed what he calls “a no-fly-zone” in the skies adjacent to Ukraine.
He has suggested that if the NATO countries do not want to engage in an air war with Russia, they should at least allow countries like Poland and Hungary (neighbours of Russia’s which are members of NATO) to provide Ukraine with Soviet-made Mig-29 warplanes (supplied to them when they were members of the Soviet empire’s “Warsaw Pact”). His idea is thatt Ukrainia has pilots who were trained to fly those warplanes when Ukraine was part of the USSR. So the Ukrainian pilots can fly such planes to protect Ukraine from daily bombardment by Russian warplanes fropm the air, and tanks from the ground.
But Mr Lezensky has been told by NATO that his suggestion cannot be adopted for a very good reason: Russia would react against Poland and Hungary to take out any Mig-29s they possess. That’s because the NATO Treaty provides that “an attack on one NATO member is an attack on all NATO members.” And a NATO attack on Russian planes, in fulfilment of the NATO pledge, would almost certainly be met with nuclear weapons by Russia.
The ability of both Russia and the NATO countries to deploy nuclear weapons as and when they feel threatened, is what is called “mutually assured destruction”. Or “a balance of terror”. In other words, no country, or group of countries, which possess nuclear weapons, can use them on another country, or group of countries, which also possess nuclear weapons. It’s a matter of “all die!” the moment a nuclear attack is launched.
The bizarre “dance-of-death” situation in which the world finds itself is not at all theoretical. In 1948, the world came very close to enacting the dance-of-death scenario when the Soviet Union imposed an embargo on West Berlin to prevent the people of that city from obtaining food and other supplies from the Western countries. The Americans and their allies defeated the objectives of the blockade by flying thousands of planes to West Berlin, carrying food and supplies to the inhabitants of the city.
the defeat of the blockade inspired East Germans to continue to flee to the West. it is estimated that million East Germans fled to West Germany. And the Soviet Union thought it could stem the flight to the West by building a wall to separate East from West Berlin.
But the wall became a propaganda disaster for the Soviet Union, as East Germans East Germans used ingenious and sometimes dangerous, ways to escape to the West. Many were shot dead by the East German police as they attempted to escape. But escapes – many opf which were given wide publicity – continued until 1989, when the wall was broken down by East Germans, after the Gorbachev reforms that enabled many Eastern European to go to the West without opposition from either their own their own Government or the Russians.
Prior to the Gorbachev era, much bitterness existed between the USSR and the West, due to “Tye Cold War” that gave rise to situations like what existed in divided Germany. In 1962, military rivalry between the West and the USSR reached a point where the world came within inches of witnessing a nuclear war.
What happened was that the USA discovered that the USSR was trying to use the island of Cuba as a base for stationing nuclear missiles aimed at the USA, only 90 miles away from Cuba. What happened during the “Cuban missiles crisis” has been extensively recounted in a book written by Robert Kennedy, brother of the then US President, John f Keenedy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirteen_Days_(book)
But Robert Kennedy’s account, although quite frank, left out many details, and it wasn’t until Kennedy’s Defence Secretary, Robert McNamara, appeared in a television programme in 2003 that the world got to know that although diplomatic efforts played a part in preventing the USA and the USSR from engaging in a thermonuclear war over the missiles in Cuba, it was sheer luck that prevented them from launching a nuclear attack against each other.
This is what Robert McNamara said in the programme:
QUOTE: “ROBERT MCNAMARA REFLECTS ON THE CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS (
In 2003 former US Secretary of Defence, Robert McNamara appeared in a documentary programme called The Fog of War. Here he reflects on the decisions and outcomes of the Cuban missile crisis:“Under a cloak of deceit, the Soviet Union introduced nuclear missiles into Cuba, targeting 90 million Americans. The CIA said the warheads had not been delivered yet. They thought 20 were coming on a ship named the Poltava. We mobilised 180,000 troops. The first day’s air attack was planned at 1080 sorties, a huge air attack.
“I said to Kennedy: Mr. President, we need to do two things, it seems to me. First, we need to develop a specific strike plan. The second thing we have to do is to consider the consequences. I don’t know quite what kind of a world we’ll live in, after we’ve struck Cuba. How do we stop at that point? I don’t know the answer to this…
“Kennedy was trying to keep us out of war. I was trying to help him keep us out of war. And General Curtis LeMay, whom I served under as a matter of fact in World War II, was saying ‘Let’s go in, let’s totally destroy Cuba’.
On that critical Saturday, October 27th, we had two Khrushchev messages in front of us. One had come in Friday night and it had been dictated by a man who was either drunk or under tremendous stress. Basically, he said, ‘If you’ll guarantee you won’t invade Cuba, we’ll take the missiles out’. Then before we could respond we had a second message that had been dictated by a bunch of hardliners. And it said, in effect, ‘If you attack, we’re prepared to confront you with masses of military power’.
So, what to do? We had, I’ll call it, the soft message and the hard message.
At the elbow of President Kennedy was Tommy Thompson, former US ambassador to Moscow. He and Jane, his wife, had literally lived with Khrushchev and his wife upon occasion. Tommy Thompson said ‘Mr. President, I urge you to respond to the soft message’…
In the first message, Khrushchev said this: ‘We and you ought not to pull on the ends of a rope which you have tied the knots of war. Because the more the two of us pull, the tighter the knot will be tied. And then it will be necessary to cut that knot, and what that would mean is not for me to explain to you. I have participated in two wars and know that war ends when it has rolled through cities and villages, everywhere sowing death and destruction. For such is the logic of war. If people do not display wisdom, they will clash like blind moles and then mutual annihilation will commence’.
I want to say, and this is very important: in the end we ‘lucked out.’ It was luck that prevented nuclear war. We came that close to nuclear war at the end. Rational individuals: Kennedy was rational; Khrushchev was rational; Castro was rational. Rational individuals came that close to total destruction of their societies. And that danger exists today.
The major lesson of the Cuban missile crisis is this: the indefinite combination of human fallibility and nuclear weapons will destroy nations. Is it right and proper that today there are 7,500 strategic offensive nuclear warheads, of which 2,500 are on 15-minute alert, to be launched by the decision of one human being?
It wasn’t until January 1992, in a meeting chaired by Castro in Havana, that I learned 162 nuclear warheads, including 90 tactical warheads, were on the island at the time of this critical moment of the crisis. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, and Castro got very angry with me because I said, ‘Mr. President, let’s stop this meeting. This is totally new to me, I’m not sure I got the translation right’…
In a sense, we’d won. We got the missiles out without war. My deputy and I brought the five Chiefs over and we sat down with Kennedy. And he said, ‘Gentlemen, we won. I don’t want you ever to say it, but you know we won, I know we won’.
And LeMay said ‘Won? Hell, we lost. We should go in and wipe ’em out today’. LeMay believed that ultimately we’re going to confront these people in a conflict with nuclear weapons. And, by God, we better do it when we have greater superiority than we will have in the future…
It’s almost impossible for our people today to put themselves back into that period. In my seven years as Secretary, we came within a hair’s breadth of war with the Soviet Union on three different occasions. Twenty four hours a day, 365 days a year for seven years as Secretary of Defence, I lived the Cold W
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Secrets of the Dead
Secrets of the Dead
The Man Who Saved the World
Premiere: 10/22/2012 | 00:00:31 | NR
October 1962, as nuclear warships and submarines gathered in the waters separating Cuba and the United States, one man refused to launch the missiles and saved the world from World War III and certain destruction. 10/9/2013
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About the Episode
Fifty years ago, in October 1962, the world teetered on the brink of nuclear war. On October 22, 1962, after reviewing photographic evidence, President John F. Kennedy informed the world that the Soviet Union was building secret missile bases in Cuba, just 90 miles off the shores of Florida. For the next 13 days, the world held its breath as the Soviet Union and the United States confronted each other about missiles stationed in Cuba. While politicians sought a resolution to the standoff, no one was aware of the events taking place inside the Soviet submarine B-59 in the waters off the coast of Florida.
As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Secrets of the Dead chronicles how the actions of one man, during arguably the most dangerous moment of the Cold War, averted nuclear war.
The Man Who Saved the World, premiering Tuesday, October 23 at 9 pm ET on PBS (check local listings), tells the unsung story of Soviet naval officer Vasili Arkhipov, the Brigade Chief of Staff on submarine B-59, who refused to fire a nuclear missile and saved the world from World War III and nuclear disaster.
For decades, Arkhipov’s story was hidden, only emerging in recent years. The events depicted in The Man Who Saved the World unfolded over four hours on October 27, 1962, when fear over the Cuban Missile Crisis was at its highest. It combines dramatizations – set in a claustrophobic submarine running out of air – with eyewitness accounts and expert testimony to reveal the terrifying events happening beneath the waves.
Four Soviet submarines were sent on a mission known only to a handful of Communist party officials. Their destination was a mystery to be revealed once they were at sea. Under their orders, each submarine was to travel 7,000 miles from a top secret naval base in the Arctic Circle across the Atlantic to be permanently stationed in Mariel, Cuba where they would serve as the vanguard of a Soviet force a mere 90 miles from mainland America.
The commander of each submarine had permission to act without direct orders from Moscow if they believed they were under threat. Each of the four subs was carrying what the Soviets called a ‘special weapon’, a single nuclear torpedo, comparable in strength to the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The torpedo could only be fired if the submarine captain and political officer were in agreement. Each had one half of a key which, when joined, unlocked the firing mechanism.
Ryurik Ketov, who is interviewed in The Man Who Saved the World, commanded one of the four subs. “I had a written order that I could release it,” says Ketov. “And if there was an order to fire the torpedo I would do it without a second thought. For the first time in life a commander of a submarine had a nuclear weapon and had the authority to fire the missile at his command.”
However, aboard the B-59, three men—not two—needed to be in agreement. As commander of the entire submarine fleet, Arkhipov had the power to veto firing the missile and was one of the only men who knew about the mission in advance. Fifty years later, The Man Who Saved the World recounts Arkhipov’s courageous story and how, with a single act, he stopped the destruction of life as we know it.
Secrets of the Dead: The Man Who Saved the World is a Bedlam Production for THIRTEEN in association with WNET and Channel 1 Russia. Executive producer for WNET is Steve Burns. Coordinating producer is Stephanie Carter. For 50 years, THIRTEEN has been making the most of the rich resources and passionate people of New York and the world, reaching millions of people with on-air and online programming that celebrates arts and culture, offers insightful commentary on the news of the day, explores the worlds of science and nature, and invites students of all ages to have fun while learning.
These programs are among the full-length episodes available for viewing on Secrets of the Dead Online (pbs.org/secrets). Along with the extensive online video catalog, the series web site provides resources for educators with lesson plans for middle school and high school teachers.
Secrets of the Dead has received 10 CINE Golden Eagle Awards and six Emmy nominations, among numerous other awards.
By CAMERON DUOU