Vasily Arkhipov- Lessons in Non-violence

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Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence has inspired many across the world. While celebrating his legacy, it’s crucial to remember other figures who, through their actions, upheld principles that changed the course of history. Vasily Arkhipov, a Soviet naval officer, not known for nonviolence, exemplified this during a critical moment in world history.

This topic of “Vasily Arkhipov- Lessons in Non-violence” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.

The Man Who Saved the World

  • Background
    • Arkhipov is credited with preventing a potential nuclear war.
    • This war could have escalated to World War III.
  • The Cuban Missile Crisis Context
    • October 1962: A global confrontation due to USSR’s decision to place nuclear missiles in Cuba.
    • Arkhipov’s role:
      • Commodore of a Soviet flotilla.
      • Executive officer of the submarine B-59.
      • The submarine was submerged near Cuba.

The Pivotal Moment

  • October 27th Events
    • US navy destroyers detected Soviet submarines.
    • Depth charges were dropped to force the submarines to surface.
    • Miscommunication led some Soviet officers to believe that a war had started.
  • Decision on the B-59
    • The captain decided to launch a nuclear torpedo.
    • Soviet protocol: Three officers must approve a nuclear launch.
    • Arkhipov’s choice:
      • As the chief of staff, he dissented.
      • He persuaded the captain to surface and wait for orders from Moscow.
      • Missile crisis ended, and B-59 returned to the Soviet Union.

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Aftermath & Legacy

  • Return to the USSR
    • The officers faced criticism for procedural issues.
    • Arkhipov’s specific contributions remained ambiguous.
    • He was later promoted to Vice Admiral and had an honorable retirement.
  • Recognition
    • 2002: US National Security Archive director dubbed Arkhipov as “the man who saved the world”.

Reflecting on Nonviolence

  • Modern Relevance
    • The enthusiasm for answering violence with escalated violence is evident today.
    • Questions arise:
      • Is violence seen as “contained” or are we indifferent to its toll?
      • Despite evidence, why does the cycle of violence persist?
  • Understanding Nonviolence
    • Often seen in absolutes or caricatured.
    • At its core, it’s about transforming opponents through compassion.
    • Arkhipov’s decision underlines the broader principle of nonviolence.

The Power of Self-Restraint

  • Arkhipov’s Legacy
    • Demonstrated the power of restraint over aggression.
    • His decision emphasizes the gray area in the violence-nonviolence spectrum.
  • Challenges
    • Perception of self-restraint as a weakness.
    • The debate: Is self-restraint riskier than aggressive reactions?

Way Forward

  • Acknowledge those who prioritize restraint over aggression.
  • Foster global environments that prioritize communication over confrontation.
  • Understand the nuances of nonviolence and promote its values in society.


The tale of Vasily Arkhipov underscores the significance of individual decisions in shaping global events. His choice during a critical juncture emphasizes the importance of restraint and understanding, qualities that remain ever pertinent in our complex world.

Practice Question for Mains

Examine the importance of individual restraint in resolving international confrontations. (250 words)

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