A truly great man had died.
Actually, he passed in May, in anonymity, and we are Just hearing about it because one of his Western friends tried to phone him to wish Happy Birthday.
“A Soviet officer who prevented nuclear Armageddon has passed away aged 77. Stansilav Petrov was monitoring radar in Moscow at the height of the Cold War in 1983 when it showed that America had launched a salvo of nukes at Russia.Despite panic among his subordinates Petrov decided not to retaliate, and it was later revealed the radar reading was false - generated by sunbeams reflected off some clouds.”
To appreciate Petrov’s greatness we have to remember where the world was in September, 1983. The Cold War had been warmed up yet again by the election of Ronald Reagan, bringing with him to office his strident Anti-Soviet rhetoric. The Soviet Union had, just three weeks previous, shot down South Korean Jetliner 007 which had wandered into Soviet airspace and which the Soviets suspected of spying.
007’s passenger manifest included a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Tensions were high.
Yet, on the night of September 26th, with all his systems telling him that the United States had launched five ICBMs towards his homeland and recommending Petrov initiate retaliation and commence Armageddon, Petrov did a uniquely human thing.
“From the moment the first alarm sounded, Petrov had just 15 minutes to decide whether or not to report the launch, and Russia had 30 minutes to decide whether or not to respond….
But figuring that America would have launched far more than five missiles in the case of an actual attack, Petrov reported that the alarm was a dud.”
Petrov would not know for twenty long minutes whether his instincts had led him to the correct conclusion.
And the world would not know until years later, after the fall of the Soviet Union, of his reluctance to unleash hell upon it in contradiction to his training and the evidence of his early warning systems.
Even his wife, as the story is told, went to her death in 1997 unaware of his heroism.
But I like to think that late at night, in their modest apartment in Moscow, she kissed him on his cheek and thanked him, for all of us, for the day that would dawn on the morrow.
RIP, Stansilav, and thanks….