September 26

1983, The world is saved.

From The Spectator: In the early morning of September 26 1983, Stanislav Petrov of the Soviet Union’s Air Defense Force was on duty, monitoring his country’s satellite system, when the siren sounded. His computer indicated that the US had just launched five nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles, and protocol required him to notify superiors immediately. Soviet strategy was to ‘launch on warning’, and many in Moscow believed Ronald Reagan was planning a first strike. But Petrov had a gut feeling this was a false alarm. Five missiles seemed too few, and the system itself was new. He did not inform superiors and within a few minutes it became clear that he had been right. Much of the world could have been destroyed within an hour if Petrov had followed protocol.

He says he was the only officer in his team who had received a civilian education. “My colleagues were all professional soldiers, they were taught to give and obey orders.” So, he believes, if somebody else had been on shift, the alarm would have been raised.

A few days later Mr Petrov received an official reprimand for what happened that night. Not for what he did, but for mistakes in the logbook.

He kept silent for 10 years. “I thought it was shameful for the Soviet army that our system failed in this way.” But, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the story did get into the press. Mr Petrov received several international awards.

He does not think of himself as a hero. “That was my job”, he said. “But they were lucky it was me on shift that night.”

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