Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Man Who Saved the World

September 26, 1983. I am of the firm conviction that God intervened in the affairs of human history on this date. This day is not well known, certainly not mentioned in our history books. What happened is not marked, noticed or celebrated. On this date however, more lives were saved than all those lost, cumulatively, on all sides, in all wars since and including World War II.

Stanislav Petrov was an engineer in the Soviet Union, with a commissioned post in the Red Army at that time. He was not much of a military man and more concerned with machines than infantry tactics. He stood at his post in Serpukhov-15, a nuclear ballistic missile command and control bunker that monitored possible nuclear missile launches from the United States. It was his job to push the button that would clear a launch for a complete retaliatory nuclear strike against the United States. He disobeyed orders.

This was during the time when our president, Ronald Reagan, was calling the Soviet Union "the Evil Empire." It was also around this time that Reagan had joked during a radio interview that he would begin bombing Moscow in 5 minutes. This raised the nuclear alert level in the Soviet Union to its highest alert level. Korean Air Lines jet 007, a civilian plane, was shot down by a MiG and all 269 persons aboard perished, including a congressman and many American citizens.

As these events were occurring, an intersection of incidents took place that put the United States in great peril. The Soviets were expecting reprisal. They were thinking that our leaders would think as they would- payback x 10.

Lt. Col. Petrov was taking a shift as the duty officer in the monitoring station late in the evening. In fact, he had taken part in writing the protocols should a missile launch and attack occur. The procedure was highly computerized to remove the factor of human error from the equation.

A blaring alarm sounded and red lights began flashing from the terminal. The entire crew jumped from their seats. The United States had launched an attack on the Soviet Union from one of their missile bases! They checked the operation of the computers on the different levels of the complex and all came back affirmative, that this information was correct, with a probability factor of two, the highest probability.

A new alert signal appeared on the monitors, and the alarm pitch went higher. Another missile had just been launched from the same base. Then a third. Then a fourth. Petrov had a phone in one hand talking to superiors and an intercom in the other to issue orders to subordinates. According to the protocol, he was to press the button, which would give Andropov, the General Secretary with his nuclear briefcase, 10 minutes to decide whether to launch a complete retaliatory strike.

Lt. Col. Petrov was struggling between two choices. Fulfill his duty or err on the side of the possibility of a computer mistake. Why would the US launch an attack from just one base? The infra red data from the satellite showed the launches, but nothing could be observed in the optical band.

Petrov decided to hold off on pushing the button. It did indeed turn out to be a computer error, the refraction of light off the lens of the satellite, at a certain angle with respect to the sun and the position of the silos.

It is only within the last 12 years that this information has been made public. Petrov was dressed down for his actions over the next few weeks (as any commendation would mean that *someone* in the higher levels of the military had made a mistake,) and today lives on a pension of less than $200 a month, for 35 years of military service.

Thank you, Mr. Petrov, for making the decision that saved countless lives. You are a true hero. Thank you Lord, for saving us, by having the right man in the right place at the right time. Your love and long suffering towards us truly endures forever.

armchair coach
amateur historian

1 comment:

Brandon said...

Thank God for Petrov.