Stanislav Petrov is the name of a man who you have probably never heard of. Instead he is a man who may very well be the greatest hero of all time!
The event leading to this heroism occurred near Moscow in the former Soviet Union just after midnight on 26 September 1983
In 1983 it was the time of the cold war and the United States and the Soviet Union were bitter enemies. The two powers did not trust each other and therefore this distrust led to a dangerous consequence. In addition to that the Soviet Military shot down a Korean Jet on Sept 1, 1983 (just three weeks before the event of Stanislav Petrov) killing all the 269 people, including many USA citizens. The Americans leadership began referring to the Soviet Union as an “evil empire”.
The two countries during the cold ware built thousands of nuclear weapons which would be used against each other should a war ever break out between them. If there was a war, they would certainly devastate each other and much of the world.
The Soviets feared that the west was planning a first attack, and therefore their strategy was to fire back its arsenal as soon as possible after receiving indications of an attack by the American.
In this very tense atmosphere, Lieutenant Stanislav Petrov worked in the military and it was his duty to use computers and satellites to warn the Soviet Union if there was a nuclear missile attack by the United States. On this particular day, 26 September 1983, had to work a double shift because his co-worker had called in sick.
Suddenly while he was in front of a computer, something went wrong and an alarm sounded, warning that an American missile was heading to the Soviet Union. Petrov decided that it was a computer error because believed that it was unlikely that the US would only send one missile. He dismissed the warning.
A short time later, the situation turned serious because the system indicated that a second missile had been sent, then a third, a fourth and a fifth. Still was not convinced that was real, because for him was strange that all the missiles were coming from the same place.
Now in front of him the word START was flashing, all he had to do was press the button to launch a counter attack, but he didn’t press it.
Why didn’t he push the button? For some reasons that even he can’t explain, he just believed that the computer was wrong and he decided to follow his intuition and declare it a false alarm. He waited and seconds became minutes, everything remained calm. There were no missiles and no destruction.
His decision was right and he had prevented a nuclear war between USA and URSS.
If he had decided to launch a counter attack, Soviet missiles would have destroyed Britain entirely, at least half of Germany, France. USA would have lost maybe 30% of its cities and infrastructures. Of course in turn it would have brought a devastating response from the Pentagon.
Although he was congratulated by those around him, and he had showed great skill, there was a problem; he had disobeyed military procedure. He went through severe questioning by his superiors and it seems e was no longer considered a reliable military officer because he could not be trusted to follow orders and procedures without question.
In the end he was neither rewarded no punished for his actions. He was reassigned to a less important position and shortly after was retired from the military. He went on to live as a pensioner in Russia.
This event had fortunate ending for USA, USSR and the rest of the world, but for Petrov, it ruined his career, his health and took away his peace of mind.