In October 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, a group of American destroyers trapped a Soviet submarine near Cuba. When the ships began dropping depth charges, the sub’s captain prepared to launch a nuclear-tipped torpedo, believing that a war between the superpowers might already be under way.
But the launch was permitted only if three officers agreed to it, and second-in-command Vasili Arkhipov held out against his superior. An argument ensued, but eventually he persuaded the captain to surface instead and seek orders from Moscow.
“The lesson from this,” remarked NSA director Thomas Blanton in 2002, “is that a guy called Vasili Arkhipov saved the world.”