Has anyone ever literally saved the world?

There are numerous examples of people saving the world in fiction. Sometimes multiple times before lunch.

What’s the best example of this in real life? Who can be said to have saved the most human lives?

I would wager that whoever was most responsible for solving the Cuban Missile Crisis would have to be on the shortlist for consideration. Perhaps the saner heads on both sides could win the award jointly, as a Yank-Russo nuclear exchange would have resulted in the most catastrophic and preventable loss of human life ever.

Me, by repeatedly not gunning down millions every single day of my life.

Stanislav Petrov may qualify. He probably prevented a nuclear exchange between the US and USSR in 1983 by correctly identifying a missile attach warning as a false alarm.

Whoever had a hand in ensuring that nitrogen could be fixed from the air and made available to the soil as a fertilizer, ensuring food for the billions of people on the planet. Without this process, soils would be nitrogen depleted and billions would starve to death.

Great user name creepy post combo.

Anyhoo, I figure you gotta know what you’re doing for it to count, right? Probably countless people have unintentionally prevented the loss of millions of human lives. That’s just how history works. Someone mentors little Liang at the right moment and he doesn’t grow up to become a mass murdering dictator. But that doesn’t count. We had to know there was an imminent threat and someone had to prevent it.

And second, the harm avoided has to be a real doozy. Other than averting nuclear war or the spread of some manmade supervirus, we’re going to have to get pretty loosey-goosey about defining “save the world.”

Al Gore? (I kid). Kennedy seems like a good bet.

This was the first person that came to mind here.

He is the one I thought of as well and is probably the closest answer.

Norman Borlaug?

Similar to Stanislav Petrov and speaking of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a chap called Vasiliy Arkhipov would probably count. He was stationed on a Soviet nuclear sub in 1962, which was being harassed by U.S. destroyers dropping practice depth charges in an effort to make it surface and identify itself. 3 officers were required to authorise a nuclear-tipped torpedo in retaliation, and Arkhipov was the sole dissenter.

Maybe not saving the world, but preventing the loss of millions of lives through vaccination and penicillin, I nominate Louis Pasteur and Alexander Flemming.

Fritz Haber

Ironicly he also is called “the father of chemical warfare”.

My answer also relates to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Here’s the people I nominate, in order:

(1): Robert McNamara: As Secretary of Defense, he was the individual who “was most responsible for solving the Cuban Missile Crisis”. He was the first to suggest a Naval blockade within Kennedy’s inner circle. Had he remained CEO or whatever for Ford, we very likely would **not **be here now.

I think it’s deeply offensive for all those who are thrilled by McNamara’s recent death because of his deep and powerful influence in vigorously pushing the Vietnam War, but if saving the world doesn’t count at least as a mitigating factor against those charges, what would?

(2): John and Bobby Kennedy: The President pushed McNamara’s blockade idea as opposed to any kind of invasion of Cuba or any other approach. After long and painful negotiating - without JFK being present – Bobby Kennedy finally got all the cabinet as well as the Joint Chiefs to agree to a blockade.

(3): Nikita Khrushchev: He, too, pushed back hard against the Soviet hardliners urging him in that “pleasant” old Soviet way of threatening to purge Khrushchev and make war in his place. However, Khrushchev’s contributions towards avoiding a nuclear war went much, much farther. The key was his personal (if odd) secret message to JFK of offering a compromise that would allow both nations to end the hostilities while saving face for both. (And how I’d love to read that letter! But I can’t find it.)

When soon after, a demand was sent to JFK from the hard liners and the Soviet military drastically hardening the terms of Khrushchev’s previous letter, the Kennedy inner circle – quite brilliantly – convinced the President to ignore the hardline letter and respond instead to Khrushchev’s letter – odd contents and all. This apparently returned Khrushchev to power, so he was *essential *in ending the Crisis.

If the above had not happened as it did, it’s very difficult to estimate how many humans and other animals and plants would have been destroyed by the full-scale WW III followed by probable mass extinction.

We know now as we look back at what might have happened, that any U.S. military strike, by air, see, or invading ground troops against Cuba, would have opened Pandora’s box and led inevitably to WW III. Why? Because we learned in the last few years that Cuba already had its own battlefield nuclear weapons and and fully ready to go had any military action be taken against them. Unlike the actual missiles the Cuban Missile Crisis was meant to alleviate, these battlefield nukes were fueled up and ready to go at a moment’s notice, and they were under direct Cuban control, which meant that the battlefield nukes could be fired at will without authorization from Castro, let alone Khrushchev!

There’s no question that this was the closest we ever came to WW III, and any deviation from what Kennedy and Khrushchev actually did would have spelled doom indeed!

I’d place Stanislav Petrov next down on the list…

From the House of Commons Hansard Debates for 10 December 2008, Prime Minister’s Questions, Column 527:


I’ve never heard this story before… that’s terrifying…

One nitpick, as I remember the report, the tactical nuclear weapons were not under Cuban control, they were under the control of the Russian military stationed in Cuba. The Cubans would have, and were vigorously arguing for, the immediate use of nuclear weapons based on what the US had already done. If they had been in charge, things had already gone too far and nuclear war would have commenced. If any pilot or ship captain had pulled a trigger on a conventional weapon during the blockade, nuclear war would have erupted almost immediately.

Even more scary, the West had no idea how close we were to war for 30 years.

Thank you, rbroome!

And thanks also for your corrections.

Bit of an overstatement there. I was only a kid when all of this happened, but we were scared. We were fully aware of what was up. My school ran a special drill in which every child walked home from school and recorded the time it took them to reach home. We did the duck and cover drill, and my family had a meeting about what we were all supposed to do if the situation came to war.

We may not have known exactly how close it was, but an awful lot of people had brownies in their shorts.

I have to wonder if we can really credit JFK for saving the world, since he was the one that precipitated the crisis. Kru had only done what anybody in his position would have done. Kennedy had attacked a sovereign nation, and Kru had only responded with the only option available. The US had missiles installed within 2 miles from USSR territory. When Kru installed his missiles, 90 miles away from the US, Kennedy went, er, ballistic, and the crisis was on.

I think that’s a good point. Is it really “saving the world” if the supervillan disables the planetary-death-ray that he designed, built, and pushed the countdown button for?