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A Hairsbreadth From Utter Destruction

Article #19 • Written by Josh Harding

September 26th, 1983 doesn't stick out in the annals of history as a day to remember. It wasn't the day of a great discovery. It wasn't the beginning of a new era in science or art. For many years, the only thing of note that happened on this day was that the Australians beat the Americans in the Americas Cup. In reality, it became the day that the world was literally saved by the enemy.

1983 found the world in the middle of the Cold War. The Communist Soviets and the Capitalist Americans looked over the oceans at each other with propagandically driven distrust, fear, and hate. It was the beginning of the age of spy satellites, nuclear rockets and itchy trigger fingers. The world was still reeling from the aftermath of Korean Air Flight 007.

On Sept 1st of that year, the Soviets had shot down a straying Korean Air flight, killing all 269 passengers aboard, including a US Senator. The flight had strayed into an area usually targeted by US spy planes but hadn't turned back as the spy flight usually did. The Soviets, thinking of this as a provocation, scrambled their jets and blew it out of the sky 55 km out to sea. The world was shocked. The US called it a "massacre", an "act of barbarism", and a "crime against humanity". Political ties were strained to breaking and the Russian state airline Aeroflot was driven out of the United States. In a scene that could have been taken from "Crimson Tide", "War Games", or "Dr. StrangeLove", unfolded one of the most frightening moments in history.

Deep in a secret bunker near Moscow, Colonel Stanislav Petrov was in command of a listening post designed to monitor the nuclear launch detecting satellites in the event that the United States attacked Russia. It was all part of the Mutually Assured Destruction doctorine which didn't really care, however futile, if anyone survived a nuclear attack, but was more concerned with making sure your missles were launched back in retaliation before you were blown into nothingness.

Suddenly, a large red button with the word "START" lit up. According to the early warning system, the US had just launched a nuclear rocket. Stanislav related that it was a moment of "collasal shock", everyone jumped up from their posts and looked at him. Thirty levels of confirmation said it was an attack, but he decided it had to be a glitch. There there was another alarm, and another and another and another. According to his computer system 5 nuclear warheads were on their way to destroy his homeland.

Colonel Petrov had 2-3 minutes to make a decision. If he waited too long, it would be too late to attempt a counter strike. If he pressed the button it would allow former head of the KGB turned Soviet leader Yuri Andropov to launch a counter offensive that would kill millions. In a moment of intuition, inspiration, just dumb luck, he decided to go with what he knew. He said, "In two or three minutes you aren't going to fully analyze anything. Intuition is all that is left. I had two arguments. First, a nuclear attack doesn't start from one base, but from all of them. Second, the computer by definition is an idiot. What wouldn't it recognize as a launch..."

So, going against everything he was trained to do, even against the protocols he himself had written, Colonel Stanislav Ephriamavich Petrov did NOT push the button.

In the investigation that followed, it turned out that the new satellite system was not very complete. Instead of geosychronous orbits, the satellites were in elliptical orbits and very often were in positions where there was only one in the sky over a certain area. The "rocket launches' they detected were sun rays bouncing off of high altitude clouds.

The investigative committee neither condemned nor rewarded Petrov. He says that if they had rewarded him, they would have had to punish someone else. Especially those who designed the satellite system. Instead, Petrov slipped into the woodworks and retired after a few months. Some say he was driven out. He says he got tired of military life.

Either way, he is living out his life in a small city outside of Moscow on a meager pension. Invitations from admirers go unheeded. He has stacks of cards from visiting journalists, only 3 of which are Russian. The West sees him as a hero. He just says, "I just did my job. At the right place. At the right time."

Article written by Josh Harding, published on 28 September 2005. Josh is a contributing editor for DamnInteresting.com.

Article design and artwork by Alan Bellows. Edited by Alan Bellows.
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14 Comments
Newssearcher1
Posted 23 October 2005 at 06:59 am

There's a tribute Web site that tells of Stanislav Petrov's heroism:

http://www.brightstarsound.com - It has articles, photos, links, an audio/video interview with Stanislav Petrov, etc. -- all well worth seeing.


Newssearcher1
Posted 23 October 2005 at 07:00 am

There's a tribute Web site that tells of Stanislav Petrov's heroism: http://www.brightstarsound.com -- It has articles, photos, links, an audio/video interview with Stanislav Petrov, etc. -- all well worth seeing.


JustAnotherName
Posted 05 November 2005 at 06:20 am

Personally, I thank Jehovah God. Psalms 83:18, Psalms 37:29, Psalms 115:16, Ecclesiastes 1:4, Isaiah 45:18, Matthew 5:5, and Revelation 11:18b states "...and to bring to ruin those ruining the earth."

To look up scriptures online go to http://www.watchtower.org and scroll down to "Read the Bible Online".

Thankfully, the U.S. and some other countries have Freedom of Speech. Get it while you can because a speechless Government is coming to a country near you.


Josh Harding
Posted 07 November 2005 at 07:02 am

JustAnotherName said: "Personally, I thank Jehovah God. Psalms 83:18, Psalms 37:29, Psalms 115:16, Ecclesiastes 1:4, Isaiah 45:18, Matthew 5:5, and Revelation 11:18b states “…and to bring to ruin those ruining the earth.”

To look up scriptures online go to http://www.watchtower.org and scroll down to “Read the Bible Online”.

Thankfully, the U.S. and some other countries have Freedom of Speech. Get it while you can because a speechless Government is coming to a country near you."

Although I do not consider myself a Bible scholar, I am familiar with them and use them quite often....but the point of this comment is lost on me. What, pray, does this have to do with the article? Perhaps, maybe you posted the comment on the wrong one? Of course, I was using the King James version...not sure how much the New World translation differs on these verses.


Dementia
Posted 26 March 2006 at 02:46 pm

I don't think there ever should be a big red button that'll set off a huge amount of missiles. It makes it too easy to wreak destruction without a second thought.
And huzzah to this guy, who shall heretofore be referred to affectionately as "Stan".


Drakvil
Posted 04 November 2006 at 11:56 pm

Stories like Petrov's are the reason I have hope the human race will survive and become more than it is now.

Dementia said: "I don't think there ever should be a big red button that'll set off a huge amount of missiles. It makes it too easy to wreak destruction without a second thought."

Actually, if you read the article carefully, the big red button does not set off a huge amount of missiles. Instead, "...it would allow former head of the KGB turned Soviet leader Yuri Andropov to launch a counter offensive...". Not that I don't think Andropov could have launched them anyway, should he have felt like it, but there's a distinction.


rev.felix
Posted 14 December 2006 at 09:33 am

Yay, Stan!


MyStupidMouth
Posted 21 January 2007 at 03:40 pm

An astounding example that would fit perfectly in Malcolm Gladwell's new book "Blink" which says that gut decisions and intuitions, when accepted properly, are usually more right than "official scientific evidence" which can be very biased, focus on the wrong aspects or plain wrong. Absolutely fantastic that he resisted the urge to retaliate in sucha time and position, because his instincts said it did not make sense. Truly commendable not as "a genius" or anything, but as a brave and intelligent man who knew how to interpret his gut instincts. He would even get a high five from me, and I don't hand those out so easily.


Merciless
Posted 04 June 2007 at 02:21 pm

Not that it matters. But besides Stan being an obvious gut instinct hero, which he most certainly is, I would like some clarification please. During the cold war you have several different countries with "bombs and missles" to wreak havoc across the globe. One of the countries launches. The alarm is sounded and weather or not the missle(s) is aimed at them, retaliatin takes place. Did I get the jist of this. Woah!!! Can I get a Damn Interesting "Hip-hip-hooray" for Stan.


Former-Marine
Posted 11 October 2007 at 10:09 pm

I am currently reading "The Purpose Driven Life", by Rick Warren. No I am not a holy-roller, and Thank God that I'm not a jehovahs witness, but I am looking for the purpose of my life. Damn good book! Everyone should read it (even you jehovahs witnesses). Anyway, it seems like "Stan" found out his purpose in life. Thanks for "thinking" buddy! It's tough to be unpopular...but "what if" you are right. It takes balls to carry through with your intentions; what a pity that there isn't enough people out there with them (ie "balls"). Millions of us around the world owe you a bit of Thanks.


Dropbear
Posted 22 May 2008 at 12:46 am

"September 26th, 1983 doesn't stick out in the annals of history as a day to remember." ...Except it was my birthday..... Huzzar indeed for Stan!


DanThinksDances&femaleGspot
Posted 26 July 2008 at 09:52 pm

Enter your reply text here. OK

An ordinary person in the position of power, at a time of huge circumstance. People at this time usually have adrenaline for leadership and intuitive skills are bolstered. Colonel Stanislav Petrov "had to" do his method and so would many of you. It is not hard to be "brave ballsy" in a "have to" situation.

//////////////////////////////////JustAnotherName #3 November 5th, 2005 6:20 am
Personally, I thank Jehovah God. Psalms 83:18, Psalms 37:29, Psalms 115:16, Ecclesiastes 1:4, Isaiah 45:18, Matthew 5:5, and Revelation 11:18b states "…and to bring to ruin those ruining the earth."//////////
To look up scriptures online go to http://www.watchtower.org and scroll down to "Read the Bible Online".////////
Josh Harding #4 November 7th, 2005 7:02 am
Although I do not consider myself a Bible scholar, //////////I am familiar with them and use them quite often…. ////////////////////I was using the King James version…not sure how much the New World translation differs on these verses.///////////////////////////////////////

I love in America we have the right (thank you George Washington - call me Mr. President) to say Fuck Religion & Faith is Salvation in the same sentence. Also, Colonel Stanislav Petrov problobly is an athiest commie. Even he would not want to destroy the world. He is a hero.


BenKinsey
Posted 17 October 2008 at 01:24 pm

Thanks Stan!!


RoflBeard
Posted 12 January 2010 at 04:52 am

It's a shame this man never really got the credit he deserved for an amazingly level headed and important decision.
However he will know on his death bed that himself alone avoided millions of deaths.


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