Saturday, October 1, 2016

The man who saved the world

Stanislav Petrov was a lieutenant in the Soviet army on September 26, 1983. The cold war was at its peak, and Petrov was on duty at the Serpukhov-15 bunker near Moscow. His job was to watch the satellite early warning network and let higher-ups know if any missiles were approaching the Soviet Union. At 40 minutes after midnight, computers indicated one American missile was approaching. Petrov assumed it was a false alarm. The Americans would never attack with just one missile. A short time later, computers spotted a second missile and then a third. If he failed to report these missiles, they would destroy Moscow in 22 minutes. If he did report them, Russia would launch its own missiles toward the United States under the "Mutual Assured Destruction" (MAD) policy followed by both nations. Petrov decided to regard all the computer readings as false alarms.

Under extreme pressure, he made the right decision, but it defied military protocol. Petrov was not punished, but neither was he rewarded, since his actions revealed imperfections in the Soviet military system and cast his superiors in a bad light. He was no longer considered a "reliable" officer and was reassigned to a less sensitive post until he retired. Today he is a pensioner, living in relative poverty. He does not regard himself as a hero. He says, "I was just doing my job." But other disagree. In 2004 the Association of World Citizens gave him its World Citizen award and $1,000, and in 2006 he was honored at the United Nations.

No comments:

Post a Comment