In 1962, relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union weren't so hot. Both powers had huge nuclear weapons pointed at the other, and even at the allies of the enemy. The Soviet Union sent a fleet of four submarines armed to the gills with nuclear torpedoes down to Cuba to get better aim at the U.S. (Cuba wasn't too keen on the U.S. at the time, so supporting the Soviets made sense). The captain of each sub was granted the authority to launch the torpedoes as long as they had the support of the political officer on board. Enter Arkhipov; he was second in command on the B-59, one of the four subs. If any of the captains got word from Moscow to launch, they would do it. But when communication from Moscow was cut off in October of 1962 during the several days the crews were down there, it got complicated.
Vasili Arkhipov is one of the unsung heroes of world history. Though you may have never heard of him, Arkhipov basically saved the world from mutually assured destruction in 1962. He single-handedly prevented the Cuban Missile Crisis from turning into the Cuban Missile, well, Apocalypse. Thanks, buddy!
Cuban Missile Crisis in 5 Minutes
Here's a quick recap of what you should know about this situation.
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Causes of the Cuban Missile Crisis
What puts two major world powers on the brink of nuclear apocalypse?