Bryan Walsh in Vox:
Homo sapiens have existed on the planet for about 300,000 years, or more than 109 million days. The most dangerous of all those days — the day when our species likely came closer than any other to wiping itself off the face of the Earth — came 60 years ago today, on October 27, 1962. And the person who likely did more than anyone else to prevent that dangerous day from becoming an existential catastrophe was a quiet Soviet naval officer named Vasili Arkhipov.
On that day, Arkhipov was serving aboard the nuclear-armed Soviet submarine B-59 in international waters near Cuba. It was the height of the Cuban missile crisis, which began earlier that month when a US U-2 spy plane spotted evidence of newly built installations on Cuba, where it turned out that Soviet military advisers were helping to build sites capable of launching nuclear missiles at the US, less than 100 miles away.
That led to the Cold War’s most volatile confrontation between the US and the Soviet Union — 13 days of high-stakes brinkmanship between two nuclear powers that seemed one misstep away from total war.