Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Unsung Hero - The Man Who Saved The World

Came across this story on my internet travels .

Stanislav Petrov was a Soviet army officer monitoring the satellite system for signs of a U.S. attack, the year was 1983, and his instructions, if he detected missiles targeting the Soviet Union, were to push the button and launch a counter-offensive.

Half an hour past midnight on September 26, 1983, he saw the first apparent launch on his computer monitor in a glass-walled room on the top floor of the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) command and control post. Then the warning system was by now showing five missile launches in the U.S., headed toward the Soviet Union. The "START" command , that's start a retaliatory strike , Petrov was expected to give would have started an irreversible chain reaction in a system geared to launch a counter-strike without human interference.

Why didn't he do it? All the data checked out and to all appearances, the system was right .

"I just couldn't believe that just like that, all of a sudden, someone would hurl five missiles at us. Five missiles wouldn't wipe us out. The U.S. had not five, but a thousand missiles in battle readiness." It just didn't seem like any scenario considered by military intelligence before.

The second thought on Petrov's mind every time he was on duty was this:

"I imagined if I'd assume the responsibility for unleashing the third World War - and I said, no, I wouldn't."

A real life Dr Strangelove scenario . Petrov reported the alarm to his superiors and declared it false. And world -wide nuclear destruction was averted .

How precarious our existence proves to be when Super-Powers confront one another with the power of small Suns and the reliability of a computer-chip and a computer programme . And the humanity of one man .

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