“The siren howled, but I just sat there for a few seconds, staring at the big, back-lit, red screen with the word ‘launch’ on it.”
Stanislav Petrov, a Soviet officer almost single-handedly prevented nuclear war on the 26th of September 1983.
While on duty at a secret command centre just outside of Moscow, a radar screening detected US ballistic Missiles launched toward the Soviet Union. Petrov under Red Army Protocol was under orders to retaliate, however, if it had not been for his “gut instinct” the world would’ve have plunged into World War III.
“All I had to do was to reach for the phone; to raise the direct line to our top commanders.” he told the BBC’s Russian Service.
He sat, and considered his options. Go with his gut instinct or fire a counterstrike on the US, triggering a war that would destroy the world within a matter of minutes.
Image: Stanislaw Petrow in der Küche seiner Wohnung in Frjasino, 03.07.2016
Petrov reached for the phone, the fate of the world at his fingertips. Still unsure, he dialled in a malfunction in the warning system.
“Twenty-three minutes later I realised that nothing had happened. If there had been a real strike, then I would already know about it. It was such a relief.”
There had been a problem with one of the satellites. It saw a reflection of the sun off the top of a cloud and mistook it for a missile launch. This technical error could have resulted in the destruction of the USA.
Petrov was completely unknown until 1998 after Gen Yur Votintsev’s memoirs were published. Petrov’s actions were praised internationally, though at the time the Soviet authorities reprimanded him.
In 2006 he was recognised as the “man who averted a nuclear war” by the Association of World Citizens at the UN headquarters and awarded the Dresden Peace Prize.
Stanislav Petrov, the unspoken saviour of the world died on the 19th of May this year. And although his death was not reported till yesterday his actions during the Cold War will forever be remembered. Much of this world owe “the man who averted nuclear war” their lives.
Lead Image: A mushroom cloud, PHOTOGRAPH BY U.S ARMY AIR FORCE VIA LIBRARY OF CONGRESS