Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Man Who Prevented the Next World War

Stanislav Petrov is perhaps a name that doesn't mean almost nothing for the most of us. And still, it is the name of a man who avoided a Third World War, a nuclear war that could have lead slowly to the end of the earth we inhabit.

On 26 September 1983, in moments of big tension between the United States and the Soviet Union, Stanislav Petrov was the commander of a short notice secret bunker, Serpukov 15. This bunker was one of the Strategic Rocket Force bases and was situated near Moscow.

The Soviet - American relations were getting worse. Only three weeks before, the Soviet Military Aviation destroyed a South Korean aircraft, aboard which there was an important American official, the congressman Larry McDonald.

The Serpukov 15 bunker made part of an early satellite based warning system, used for the tracking of ballistic intercontinental rockets via SUA - the so called Oko warning system, of which the Kremlin leaders were very proud.

Petrov`s responsibilities consisted in the observation of the warning network through satellite and the immediate notification of his superiors about the inevitability of any nuclear attack over the Soviet Union. If the warnings were to be intercepted by the warning system, the strategy of the Soviets consisted in an immediate nuclear counterattack with all available rockets. This scenario was adopted by both parties and specified in the Commune Doctrine of Mutual Destruction, in the hope of mutual intimidation.

Shortly after nightfall, the computers from the bunker detected an intercontinental rocket attack, launched over the Soviet Union by the United States. The system was informing about five rockets, which were heading with speed towards the URSS. Instead of alerting the command center, which would have lead to a change of nuclear attacks from both sides, Petrov has decided to trust his own judgment. He believed that the warning was a false alarm. The human factor and the wish for peace of a normal human being turned out to be stronger than the political and military ideologies, with which the Kremlin used to wash the brains of its secret agents.

Petrov`s judgment turned out to be right. The system had a major malfunction. It was a false alarm. What was interpreted by the system as missiles was actually an optic phenomenon - the unusual reflection of the sunlight on clouds of high altitude.

Many months of surveys, questionings and researches followed for Stanislav Petrov.

His superiors praised him initially for his saving gesture, but he did not receive a prize or a public appreciation. On the contrary, he was quickly laid to rest and retired silently after a short period of time. This event was a particularly embarrassing one for the Kremlin leaders. Their damaged warning system exposed their vulnerability.

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