Meet the Russian Who Saved Humanity from Extinction

Wes O'Donnell
6 min readOct 4, 2022

As nuclear rhetoric picks up in Russia, and the West prepares contingency plans in the event Putin detonates a nuclear weapon in Ukraine, I’m reminded of all the times our species has come close to nuclear annihilation.

Each story is harrowing in its own right, but few nuclear “near-misses” come close to the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the events that took place beneath the waves in October of 1962.

Weeks before the American blockade of Cuba, four Soviet Foxtrot-class submarines left Russia en route to Cuba.

Each of the Soviet subs carried a nuclear warhead that was to be delivered to Castro in Cuba and set up at one of the many launch sites.

The captains of these vessels were given strict instructions from Moscow to go to Cuba and stop for nothing along the way.

A Soviet-built Cuban Foxtrot Class patrol submarine underway. Public Domain.

Also, they were told that if war broke out between the Soviet Union and the Americans, then they should use their nukes against U.S. targets via torpedo.

Per the Russian nuclear doctrine of the time, the sub captains were only to use their nukes if direct orders to do so were received from Moscow. But the sub captains were permitted on this occasion to use their best judgment if communication with Moscow was broken.

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Wes O'Donnell

US Army & US Air Force Veteran | Global Security guy at War is Boring, GEN, OneZero | Intel Forecaster | Law Student | TEDx Speaker | +Democracy | +Human Rights