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Nuclear threat averted in the Cold War

Story ID:785
Written by:Suzana Margaret Megles (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Musings, Essays and Such
Location:Moscow USSR
Person:Stanislav Petrov
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Nuclear threat averted in the Cold War

The Unsung Hero of the Cold War.

I am surprised that I don't remember hearing or reading anything about this heroic man and the crisis he averted on Sept. 26, 1983. Even though we were in the waning years of the Cold War, the threat of nuclear war with Communist
Russia was still something to worry about- big time, and on this day we came as conceivably close as possible to that happening.

On this day Stanislav Petrov sat in his commander's chair inside the secret bunker at Serpukhov-1, the installation where the Soviet Union monitored its early-warning satellites over the United States. Suddenly the alarms went off and the panel in front of him revealed a red pulsating button with the word "Start."

The 44-year-old Lieutenant Colonel had to make a decision as to the authenticity of the signal indicating that a missile had been launched from a base in the United States. He immediately reported to superiors at warning-system headquarters who in turn reported to the general staff. This led to a consult with Soviet leader Yuri Andropov on whether to launch a retaliatory attack.

Petrov was told to evaluate the incoming data. At first the computer indicated that the US fired a single missile across the Atlantic. However, it soon showed that four more were
launched and on their way. But even though it was less than five minutes after the alert began, Petrov decided the launch reports must be false. He recalled having a "gut feeling" and making the intense decision under enormous stress. Electronic maps and consoles were flashing as he held a phone in one hand and juggled an intercom in the other. But he recalls that once he made his decision that this was a false alarm--then that was it.

He had recalled some of the things he had been told - that when people start a war, they don't start it with only 5 missles. This would cause only minimal damage. If he was wrong, he would know it very soon as the bombs would strike within minutes. But no bombs came and his actions under great duress proved heroic and saved untold human lives.

He had been assigned to the satellite early-warning system at its inception in the l970's and later said in an interview that he knew the system had flaws. He was so right. And what was his reward for averting a potential catastrophe? The investigators tried to make him a scapegoat for the false alarm and in the end, he was neither punished nor rewarded. However, he was criticized for not keeping logbook entries as the incident unfolded. To this he responded that that would have been impossible since he had a telephone in one hand and an intercom in the other.

Instead of a promotion, he was reassigned to a less sensitive position and soon took early retirement from the military. But finally this Russian pensioner would be recognized by a grateful United States. In the 1990's his actions became known with the publication
of memoirs written by Col. Gen. Yury Votintsev, the former commander of the Soviet Air Defense's Missile Defense Units. Since then, there has been increased public awareness of Petrov's heroic actions.

On May 21, 2004 the San Francisco based Association of World Citizens presented Petrov
with its World Citizen Award. In January 2006 Petrov traveled to the United States where
he was honored in a meeting at the United Nations in New York City. And hopefully, I will not miss the upcoming documentary called "The Man Who Saved the World," which is expected to be released in the summer or autumn of 2008.

Petrov doesn't consider himself a hero and simply said re the incident that it was his job.
"I was simply doing my job, and I was the right person at the right time, that's all." When
his late wife asked him "So what did you do?" (on that day) This wonderfully humble human
being replied -"I did nothing."

Gerald Korson of Our Sunday Visitor whose article initially interested me in Stanislav Petrov concluded his article on him in the Sept. 26, 2004 issue by writing- "Let's pray for Petrov today in thanksgiving that it was he who was on duty for the Soviets that day, 21 years ago."

Anyone interested in reading this humble man's story, please go to Wikipedia, the free encylopedia. For me, he is a hero.