Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Man Who Saved the World

...lives on a $50/month pension.

On September 26th, 1983, at 12:40 AM, a Soviet Oko satellite detected a missile launch from Malmstrom AirForce Base in Montana, the main U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) field. In 20 minutes the missile would impact in Russian territory.

In an early warning bunker south of Moscow, Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov was charged with verifying and reporting missile launches as potential attacks on the Soviet Union.

Verification of an attack would bring immediate and massive retaliation by Soviet nuclear missiles.

Lt. Col. Petrov had less than 10 minutes to decide the fate of the world.

Knowing that a massive launch by the Soviets would certainly result in a corresponding massive launch by the Unitred States, nuclear disaster, nuclear winter and hundreds of millions killed in the explosions, and hundreds of millions more killed world-wide by the radiation, devastation and starvation, Col. Petrov hesitated.

The warning was automatically forwarded to Dmitri Ustinov, the Defense Minister and others in the Soviet General Staff.

With klaxons going off and 'CTAPT' (START) flashing on his control board, Col. Petrov had to decide if the Soviet Union was really being attacked.

He thought that no one would start a war with only one missile, so he did not inform the Politburo.

A few minutes later another launch was detected, and then another. Col. Petrov was under pressure from Ustinov and the General Staff to take some sort of action. Then, two more launches were detected. Now a total of 5 missiles appeared to be flying toward the Soviet Union. It was getting more and more difficult to dismiss the satellite warnings as mistakes, but Col. Petrov thought that was just what they were. Given the large number of ICBM's both sides had, why launch only 5? No one starts a major war with just 5 missiles.

There's a movie here. Not just in the obvious drama of his decision, but in the way he was treated after -- as persona non grata and invisible-man -- because making him a "hero" would have publicized the weakness and danger of the Soviets' entire early response system.

This guy needs an agent. His life-rights should sell for quite a bit, enough to augment his generous pension.


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