Saturday, 27 September 2008

A small diversion...

I apologize for a brief diversion from SYW era postings, but I felt this deserves to be mentioned. I repost this from one of the Yahoo loops, because frankly, this guy should have been awarded the Nobel Peace prize...
Friday was September 26th, Petrov Day, celebrated to honor the deed of Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov on September 26th, 1983. Wherever you are, whatever you're doing, take a minute to not destroy the world.


The story begins on September 1st, 1983, when Soviet jet interceptors shot down a Korean Air Lines civilian airliner after the aircraft crossed into Soviet airspace and then, for reasons still unknown, failed to respond to radio hails. 269 passengers and crew died, including US Congressman Lawrence McDonald. Ronald Reagan called it "barbarism", "inhuman brutality", "a crime against humanity that must never be forgotten". Note that this was already a very, very poor time for US/USSR relations. Andropov, the ailing Soviet leader, was half-convinced the US was planning a first strike. The KGB sent a flash message to its operatives warning them to prepare for possible nuclear war.


On September 26th, 1983, Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov was the officer on duty when the warning system reported a US missile launch. Petrov kept calm, suspecting a computer error.Then the system reported another US missile launch.And another, and another, and another.What had actually happened, investigators later determined, was sunlight on high-altitude clouds aligning with the satellite view on a US missile base. In the command post there were beeping signals, flashing lights, and officers screaming at people to remain calm. According to several accounts I've read, there was a large flashing screen from the automated computer system saying simply "START" (presumably in Russian).


Afterward, when investigators asked Petrov why he hadn't written everything down in the logbook, Petrov replied,"Because I had a phone in one hand and the intercom in the other, and I don't have a third hand."


The policy of the Soviet Union called for launch on warning. The Soviet Union's land radar could not detect missiles over the horizon, and waiting for positive identification would limit the response time to minutes. Petrov's report would be relayed to his military superiors, who would decide whether to start a nuclear war.Petrov decided that, all else being equal, he would prefer not to destroy the world. He sent messages declaring the launch detection a false alarm, based solely on his personal belief that the US did not seem likely to start an attack using only five missiles.


Petrov was first congratulated, then extensively interrogated, then reprimanded for failing to follow procedure. He resigned in poor health from the military several months later. According to Wikipedia, he is spending his retirement in relative poverty in the town of Fryazino, on a pension of $200/month. In 2004, the Association of World Citizens gave Petrov a trophy and $1000. There is also a movie scheduled for release in 2008, entitled The Red Button and the Man Who Saved the World.Maybe someday, the names of people who decide not to start nuclear wars will be as well known as the name of Britney Spears. Looking forward to such a time, when humankind has grown a little wiser, let us celebrate, in this moment, Petrov Day.


Bluebear Jeff said...


I was unaware of Col. Petrov's valiant behavior . . . and I am very thankful for your post.

We all play 'war games' . . . but that doesn't mean that we want a war . . . and certainly doesn't mean that we want a nuclear war.

I join with you in saluting this brave man.

-- Jeff

Martin said...

Hi A.J.,

I was serving in the U.S. Army in South Korea when that incident happened! I shudder to think what would have happened if he had "pushed the button". (And here's me thinking that the only close call we had was way back in the bad old days of the Cuban Missile Crisis!) Now I wonder how many other close calls there have been?

Relieved to be here,



Robert said...

Wow! I salute a man who had the moral courage to decide that the interests of humanity trump the interests of the state.

Steve-the-Wargamer said...

Phew! Thanks AJ - hadn't heard of him before now..

C. said...

Yeah, I think we owe this guy our undying gratitude! What a "hero". I hope he gets the thanks he deserves someday soon. :)


Der Alte Fritz said...

I had never heard this story before. Thank goodness Petrov kept a cool head. Imagine how hard it would be to not react. Wow!

A J Matthews said...

I remember that year. My brother said to me "it looks like we'll be drafted before the end of the year." Thankfully Colonel Petrov stayed calm and defied his orders to the benefit of all mankind. I'm only too pleased to spread his story wider, and to hope that one day the world will honor him as he deserves.

Stokes Schwartz said...

Hi A.J.

Pretty amazing (and scary) stuff! I did not know anything about this previously.

Best Regards,