Stanislav Petrov, the guy that saved your life

Posted on Friday 22 January 2010 at 08:57 am in category: Helden - Heroes
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He saved your life too!

You probably don't know this, but there is somebody that saved millions of lives, including yours. He might even have saved the whole planet. The guy I'm talking about is Stanislav Petrov. Back in 1983, when the Cold War was still going strong and Miley Cyrus wasn't even born yet, Stan had a pretty important role in the army of the Sovjet Union. As a lieutenant colonel, he was responsible for monitoring the Sovjet satellites hovering over the United States, to make sure somebody wasn't firing nuclear missiles at the motherland.

Like I said, the whole world was still involved in the Cold War at that time, and the tension was pretty high. On September 1st 1983, the Russians had accidentally brought down a Korean airplane, with 269 people on board (and an American congressman) because they thought it was a military aircraft. You can imagine that the rest of the world was pretty pissed off about that little mistake.

Anyway, a couple of weeks later, on September 26, Petrov was asked to work a double shift, because somebody had called in sick (funny how these little things have a way of changing history). So there is Stan, sitting in his secret underground bunker Serpukhov-15, and all of a sudden one of the screens goes red, and a number of sirens start to howl. After looking at the screen, it appears that 5 nuclear missiles have been fired from the USA in the direction of the USSR. Of course, this wasn't very unlikely, given the little incident with the Korean airplane and all.

According to protocol, Petrov would now have to push the big red button, setting things in motion that could only be stopped by Yuri Andropov. And given his health, that wasn't going to happen.

Of course these things don't happen every day, and our friend Stan thought he'd take a second look, and check some other systems first. It seemed strange that only 5 missiles had been fired anyway. You see, if you're going to start an all-out nuclear war, wouldn't you fire at least a hundred? After double checking with some other computer systems, Petrov decided it was a false alarm, and did not push the button.

So by doing nothing, Stanislav Petrov actually saved the world from a nuclear war. For some reason, the Sovjet army didn't like this too much, because of course Petrov had failed to do what he was supposed to do, hereby conveniently forgetting that he had probably saved them as well. So he retired early, keeping his salary of about $200 a month. Also, the Russian government decided to keep the whole incident out of publicity until 1998, when one of Stan's co-workers published a book about what happened that night.

Eventually Petrov received some praise for what he did (or didn't, really), and in 2004 the Associaton of World Citizens gave him the 'World Citizen Award', and in 2006 he was honored by the United Nations.

More information here: The Red Button and the Man who saved the world.