I thought this was a really interesting story I cam across recently: in 1983, during the Cold War, a Soviet officer in a secret bunker outside Moscow sees a warning appear: Soviet defense systems had detected five nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles were flying from the United States towards the Soviet Union.
No, this is not the plot of some thriller film I watched, it’s what actually happened 26 years ago. Had the man in question, one Stanislav Petrov, acted defensively (as could well be understood) then both nuclear superpowers would have begun launching missiles at each other and large portions of the world would have been annihilated. I for one would probably not be sitting here typing this.
As it turned out though, Mr. Petrov “had a funny feeling in [his] gut” about the “attack”. There were only five missiles being detected and everyone expected a nuclear first strike to involve dozens or hundreds of missiles so as to take out as many targets as quickly as possible, ideally before a response could be made. Ground radar could not detect the missiles – real or not – at that distance, but Petrov decided not to sound the alarm. The clock ticked, and no missiles detonated above their targets. It was ultimately revealed that the “missiles” had been due to a glitch in the Soviet satellite system that was supposed to watch for missiles.
Petrov has spent most of the rest of his life as a quiet pensioner in Russia. He was awarded a World Citizen Award in 2004, but in my opinion, someone who ended up saving the lives of hundreds of millions of people deserves more recognition than he gets. So thank you, Stanislav Petrov, for keeping cool and not jumping to a devastating conclusion.