Friday, September 28, 2007

The Man Who May Have Saved the World

I wonder how many of you know the name Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov. If you don't, you need to read this article. Because he may well have saved your life, as well as the world as we currently know it.

I'm not going to recap the whole article, but on September 26, 1983, at a time of extremely high tension between the United States and the Soviet Union, Strategic Rocket Forces Lieutenant Colonel Petrov was on duty, monitoring the Soviet satellite early-warning network. His responsibilities included alerting his supierors of any impending nuclear missile attack. On that night, he received a computer report that indicated a nuclear missile being launched from the United States and headed toward Moscow. Reasoning that the US would not have launched a single missile, he--did nothing. But then the computers indicated more missiles, five altogether. Petrov still chose not to respond. In the end, Petrov turned out to be right. But being right came at a price. He was sent into early retirement with a poverty-level pension, and into a nervous breakdown, for breaking military protocol.

There is debate concerning whether Petrov's actions actually averted all-out nuclear war. The Soviets maintain that Petrov didn't actually have his finger on the proverbial "button," and that the lack of corroborating evidence would have prevented any missile launch on their part. But the decision would have had to be made in a matter of seconds or minutes. Who knows?

I guess this affects me strongly because I wonder how those of us who were supporters of a tough stance during the Cold War would have felt if we had known about this incident. How would we have felt if one of the officers in our bunkers had made the same judgment call? (Who knows but what some of them did?) Did we really take seriously the possibility of an accidental war?

It's easy to take positions based on ideology, or being tough, or sincerely believing that we're in the right. But we need to think through, really think through, the implications and possible consequences of our positions. Because there may be more riding on them than we had thought.

HT: Jollyblogger

Technorati Tags: , ,

1 comment:

  1. Wow. That was a really amazing story. I hope that they go through with the documentary.