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Did Stanislav Petrov Really Save The World?

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Did Stanislav Petrov Really Save The World?

It would certainly be nice to be credited with “saving the world”. The title of “World Savior” would normally lead to fame, money and your name cemented in the history books. But not for Stanislav Petrov.

It would certainly be nice to be credited with saving the world. The title of “World Savior” would normally lead to fame, money and your name cemented in the history books. But not for Stanislav Petrov. A man whose name you likely never heard of. A man who may very well be the greatest hero of all time — by doing nothing at all.

The Cold War

On September 1st, 1983, during the peak of the cold war when tensions were at their highest, Soviet jets shot down a Korean Air civilian airliner after it crossed into Soviet airspace. For reasons still unknown, the airliner failed to respond to radio hails from the Soviet jets. The Soviets weren’t taking any chances and decided to obliterate it. The destruction of the airliner caused 269 deaths, including a US Congressman.

President Reagan called it “inhuman brutality”, “barbarism”, and said it was “a crime against humanity that must never be forgotten”. Andropov, the ailing Soviet leader, believed the US was planning a first strike. The KGB sent a flash message to all of its agents telling them “to prepare for a possible nuclear war.

On September 23rd, just a few weeks after the airplane disaster, the officer who was supposed to be on duty that day called in sick. This meant that Petrov was stuck working a double shift monitoring the satellite activity at a secret bunker. Late into his shift, the unthinkable happened, “suddenly the screen in front of me turned bright red,” Petrov told BBC News. “An alarm went off. It was piercing, loud enough to raise a dead man from his grave.”

The U.S Launched A Nuclear Attack?

According to the Soviet’s system, the United States had just launched five missiles, all of which were speeding towards Soviet territory. The U.S.S.R believed it was under attack. All Stanislav had to do was push the big red flashing button on the desk in front of him, and the Soviets would retaliate with their own bombardment of missiles, resulting in a full-scale nuclear war.

Stanislav Petrov“For 15 seconds, we were in an absolute state of shock,” he told the BBC. “We needed to understand, what’s next?”

In the bunker, there were flashing lights, beeping signals, and officers screaming for everyone to remain calm. There was a large flashing screen from the automated computer system saying simply “Начало” (START in Russian). The protocol of the Soviet Union’s military called for launch on warning. This is because the Soviet Union’s land radar could not detect missiles over the horizon, and waiting for positive identification would limit the response time to minutes. What Petrov reported in the next minute would be relayed to his military superiors, who would use that information to decide whether to start a nuclear war.

Though the atmosphere in the bunker was chaotic, Petrov, who was a trained scientist, patiently took time to study and analyze the data carefully before making a decision. He figured if the U.S. did attack, they wouldn’t be launching just five missiles. He told the BBC that it was “a gut feeling”.

The Man Who Saved The World

So Petrov made his final decision, a decision that saved the world. He decided that he would trust his gut feeling and declare it a false alarm based solely on his belief that if the U.S did launch a nuclear attack, they wouldn’t have launched just 5 missiles. If he was wrong, he knew nuclear missiles from the United States would shortly begin raining down on the Soviet Union. He waited. The minutes and seconds passed. Everything remained quiet — no missiles and no destruction. His gut feeling had been correct. Stanislav Petrov had prevented a worldwide nuclear war. He was a hero. Those around him congratulated him for his superb judgment. Later it was discovered that the false alarms had been created by a rare alignment of sunlight on high-altitude clouds and the satellites’ Molniya orbits.

Nuclear war WOPRUnfortunately for Petrov, he didn’t exactly receive a heroic reward from the former Soviet Union. Embarrassed by their own mistakes, and angry at Petrov for breaking military procedure, he was forced into an early retirement with a pension of just $200 USD a month. Petrov’s brave act was kept secret from the outside world until the publication of a book by one of Petrov’s fellow officers in 1998, who was there and witnessed his courage on that terrifying night.

Stanislav Petrov has said in interviews that he does not regard himself as a hero for his actions on that day. Though in terms of the incalculable number of lives that were saved by Petrov’s inaction, he may very well be one of the greatest heroes of all time.

Citation – Wikipedia
Citation – BBC news

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. ana

    June 30, 2011 at 2:44 am

    Wow, I didn’t know that story. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Medals4petrov

    February 8, 2012 at 10:26 pm

    This man deserves much more then he ever got! I thank him for my children, my grandchildren.. Who would have never been born. I thank him because his actions changed my mind of What I had been taught in public schools… that the USSR wanted a war with the United States would do anything to take over. Petrov’s actions that day in 1983 proved to me that we American’s were being lied to (No big surprise), the Soviets didn’t want war with us anymore then we did with them. It was just a small group of nuts who thought war with the two countries would be good. Thank God Petrov stay at work that nite, otherwise they (the manipulators) would have gotten what they wanted. This man goes in my book of hero’s of the 19th century..

    • MensaMaster

      October 3, 2013 at 11:47 am

      19th century? Then he saved us in the 1800s? Impressive!

    • tern

      November 7, 2013 at 6:30 am

      Ludicrous. 1. For an ordinary person not to want a war never proves anything about what his government wants – in every warlike regime there have always been good ordinary people in the system who did not want it to happen. 2. Of course the Soviets did not want an even-handed nuclear war that they would get destroyed in – and it showed so by not pressing the button in the Able Archer crisis a few weeks after this, too. That means in an even-handed situation up against your bombs it was deterred, deterrence worked. That does not prove at all that it would not have wanted a war in a one-sided situation where it could win one, if you had given up all your bombs and were not defended. When any warlike regime perceives it can win instead of perceiving its own destruction, its attitude changes totally.

  3. david

    March 11, 2014 at 12:59 am

    Wow, I think it’s hypocrisy on the part of the Soviet Union to hush such an intuitive act that, as rightly stated, saved the world. They should have at least given him some recognition and not shown obstinacy, which frankly, is pathetic considering the implications of his actions.

    Stanslav Petrov truly epitomized the power of an intuition which I had no idea saved so many lives. Something new to learn everyday, haha.

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