Sunday, October 11, 2009

Crazy story of the weekend...

I'd never heard this story before ("The man that prevented WWIII), but I find this really interesting.

Ever heard of Stanislav Petrov?
Probably not—but you may very well owe him your life.
Petrov, a former member of the Soviet military, didn’t actually do anything but that’s precisely the point.
In 1983, Petrov held a very important station: As lieutenant colonel, he was in charge of monitoring the Soviet Union’s satellites over the United States, and watching for any sign of unauthorized
military action.

Petrov was stuck working a double shift at a secret bunker, monitoring satellite activity, when “suddenly the screen in front of me turned bright red,” Petrov told BBC News. “An alarm went off. It was piercing, loud enough to raise a dead man from his grave.”

According to the system, the United States had launched five missiles, which were rapidly heading into Soviet territory. The U.S.S.R. was under attack.

All Petrov had to do was push the flashing red button on the desk in front of him, and the Soviets would retaliate with their own battery of missiles, launching a full-scale nuclear war. (My comment: This is disputed. Apparently Mr. Petrov did not have the ability to launch missiles on his own, but he would have reported the "attack" further up the chain of command).

“For fifteen seconds, we were in a state of shock,” he told The Washington Post. “We needed to understand, what’s next?”
Though the bunker atmosphere was chaotic, Petrov, who had trained as a scientist, took the time to analyze the data carefully before making his decision. He realized that, if the U.S. did attack, they would be unlikely to launch a mere five missiles at once. And when he studied the system’s ground-based radar, he could see no evidence of oncoming missiles.
He still couldn’t say for sure what was going on, but “I had a funny feeling in my gut,” he told The Post. “I didn’t want to make a mistake. I made a decision, and that was it.”


Luckily for all of us, he decided not to push that button. Later, his instincts were proven right—the malfunctioning system had given him a false alarm, and the U.S. had not deployed any missiles. Thanks to Petrov’s cool head, nuclear war had been narrowly averted, and millions of lives were saved.

Unfortunately, Petrov didn’t exactly receive a heroic reward from the Soviet military: Embarrassed by their own mistakes, and angry at Petrov for breaking military protocol, they forced him into early retirement with a pension of $200 a month.

It seems like someone should figure out how to set up a paypal account for Mr. Petrov so we can all wire him $50 or something for his trouble.

Cheers!

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