Stanislav Petrov, the man who saved the world from nuclear war
The Manhattan Project and the launch of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki marked the beginning of an escalation in fighting for the development of nuclear weapons (bombs and missiles) that marked the second half of the twentieth century and cause the tense Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union maintained a dangerous balance around the disturbing concept of Mutually Assured Destruction . While tension was decreasing in recent years of the Soviet era (and then some with its dissolution), many countries (including Russia and the U.S.) that keep nuclear weapons in their arsenals and, therefore, dangerous nuclear club still valid (and countries interested in joining him). Aside from the experimental tests, the only nuclear bombs used for military purposes were those of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, however, the world has been on the brink of annihilation on more than one occasion and while it is a well known Missile Crisis in Cuba (1962) and also spent a few minutes talking about the incident of the wrong tape (1979), the world was able to attend a major disaster in September 1983 had it not been for the intervention of a man who literally saved the world: Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov Yevgrafovich .
Funny how someone like Petrov not extremely known by the public despite having received in 2006 a tribute to the UN headquarters, having received several awards and citations, or even have the odd documentary filmed around of his figure. Petrov, in this sense, has always been very modest and always commented that it was only “the right person at the right time” and the truth is that it was so.
In 1983, the tension between the Soviet Union and the United States was still in force, therefore, both superpowers were monitored at each other and their detection systems scanned the skies for any movement or start attacking. The disturbing nuclear deterrence strategy was based primarily on the fact that both arsenals could destroy both sides and, therefore, if someone fired, the other (although he was doomed to death) would have sufficient scope to shoot his arsenal and annihilate the other (complete self-destruction). That is, if the U.S. NORAD detected Soviet missiles, the United States launched its arsenal in response and vice versa. Therefore, any signal or detection of attack was likely to activate the entire response system (a protocol requiring tabulated quite cold enough blood and, especially, left no doubt many).
In September 1983, the situation between the United States and its allies against the Soviet Union was quite tense, the Korean Air Flight 007 with 269 passengers from South Korea had been shot down by entering Soviet airspace, NATO had organized maneuvers ( Able Archer 83 ) and the network of KGB spies reported to Moscow that the U.S. and its allies were preparing to attack the Soviet Union. With this pre-alarm as a backdrop, Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov was in his position as an officer on duty on the morning of September 24, 1983 at Serpukhov-15 bunker in Moscow, where they controlled the early warning system the missile command, although he played that night not be on call.
The OKO system (eye in Russian) was the early warning system that used the Soviet Union, a satellite-based system that pointed to the main launch sites and thus served to detect missile launches. Soviet satellites “looked to the horizon” with the idea of detecting the silhouette of a missile as opposed to the “blackness of space” maintained in a special called Molniya orbit. The system had only one year of operation and, therefore, this was their first autumn equinox.
At 00:14 Moscow time, bunker alarms started ringing when one of the satellites detected the launch of a missile from the base of Malmstrom (Montana) having an impact expected time of about 20 minutes. According to the established protocol, Petrov, who was the duty officer, had to start the response protocol (a counter) and warn their superiors, however, Petrov did not act as he had been trained. For Petrov, the U.S. started its own annihilation launching a missile was something that made no sense. Since his post was intermediate, ie information was studying the bunker operators and passed to his superiors in the chain of command, Lieutenant Colonel decided to wait because he sensed that the system was wrong (and it was the first error had this system) and ordered to cancel the alarm.
Soon after, alarms showed a second missile which was followed 3 more, making a total of 5 missiles in the air. The alarms were sounding and Petrov still did not give the alert to his superiors because 5 missiles were still few (compared to the response that could give the Soviet Union).
People do not start a nuclear war with only five missiles
Petrov wanted to wait for confirmation of ground radar system, a confirmation that delineated a few minutes the response range and performance (endangering lives of his countrymen) but which, however, will confirm that the attack was either real or simply was right and the system is wrong. Time passed and the ground radar Petrov confirmed suspicions that it was a failure. All decisions and data collected were part of the daily operations of that night and the top of Petrov, General Yuri Votintsev was informed at all times of the “false alarm” and awaiting confirmation. After finishing the incident, General Petrov Votintsev promised that this would be honored for saving the world from war.
So what really happened? Logically, the system failure and underwent an incident investigation determined that the Sun, Earth and the satellite OKO had experienced a strange lineup that made the sunlight reflected from clouds high levels will confound with the launch of a missile, thereby activating the alarm network.
Lt. Col. Petrov far from being honored (or deemed Hero of the Soviet Union, the highest decoration of the country), was also investigated and the military authorities concluded that I act unruly. According to the military, Petrov had to follow the chain of command and report to their superiors, leaving them the skills of decision. Although Petrov was neither tried or punished for the incident, was transferred to less responsible positions (since lost the confidence of the controls) and ordered to keep the incident secret (and thus was not until 1998, at which time the Votintsev generally revealed in his memoirs the incident). Soon Petrov retired from the army with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel (did not reach up the ladder) and, for several years, was nervous and anxiety problems as a result of these 15 minutes of tension.
After his retirement from the army, Petrov lives in the city of Fraizino (Russia), first as an anonymous retired more and now as the man who saved the world from nuclear holocaust. What would have happened if Petrov had not been on duty that night? What would have happened if Petrov had communicated directly, without questioning the alert was receiving information? Perhaps the world today would be a very different place.
Just doing my job, I was the right person at the right time. That’s all
To see more of this story is worth checking out the documentary The Red Button and the man who saved the world where Petrov himself tells the story of what happened that night of September 26, 1983.Cold War, History, Nuclear Bomb, Stanislav Petrov