FAQ - Stanislav PetrovI'd heard a bit of this story before, but not with this much detail. Of course he didn't only save American lives. The Soviet system could not wipe out the US arsenal, Trident submarines would have destroyed much of the USSR.
The date is 1 September 1983 and the Cold War between the Soviet Union and USA is in full gear, when from the New York skies Korean Air Lines Flight 007 flies from JFK, destination Seoul, South Korea.
In the middle of the flight, while accidentally passing through Soviet air space, Soviet fighter jets appear getting close the aircraft. ..
... The Soviet fighter jets shot down the plane, with the aircraft plunging 35,000 feet in less than 90 seconds, killing 269 civilians, including a US congressman.
The tension between the two mega-powers hit an all-time high, and on 15 September 1983 the US administration banned Soviet aircrafts from operating in US airspace. With the political climate in dangerous territory, both US and Soviet government were on high-alert believing an attack was imminent.
It was a cold night at the Serpukhov-15 bunker in Moscow on 26 September 1983 as Strategic Rocket Forces lieutenant colonel Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov resumed his duty, monitoring the skies of the Soviet Union, after taking a shift of someone else who couldn't go to work.
Just past midnight, Petrov received a computer report he'd dreaded all his military career to see, the computer captured a nuclear military missile being launched from the US, destination Moscow....
Petrov figured something didn't make sense, as strategically, just one missile...
But then, seconds later, the situation turned extremely serious. A second missile was spotted by the satellite. The pressure by the officers in the bunker to commence responsive actions against America started growing. A third missile was spotted, followed by a fourth. A couple of seconds later, a fifth one was spotted... everyone in the bunker was agitated as the USSR was under missile attack.
He had two options. Go with his instinct and dismiss the missiles as computer errors, breaking military protocol in the process or take responsive action and commence full-blown nuclear actions against America, potentially killing millions.
He decided it was a computer error, knowing deep down that if he was wrong, missiles would be raining down in Moscow in minutes.
Seconds turned to minutes, and as time passed it was clear Petrov was right, it was a computer error after all. Stanislav Petrov had prevented a worldwide nuclear war, a doomsday scenario that would have annihilated entire cities. He was a hero. Those around him congratulated him for his superb judgment.
Upon further investigation it resulted that the error came from a very rare sunlight alignment, which the computer read as missile.
Of course, top brass in the Kremlin didn't find it so heroic, as he broke military protocol and if he would have been wrong, risked millions of Russian lives. He was sent into early retirement, with a measly $200 a month pension, suffering a nervous breakdown in the process...
...In 2008, a documentary film entitled 'The Man who saved the World' is set to be released, perhaps giving Petrov some financial help, thanking him for the incredible part he had in keeping the US and the USSR out of a full-blown war....
There have been other, similar, close calls. I recall reading of 4-5 that have been made public, I assume there are another 5-10 that are still secret.
So why are we still here? How can we keep getting lucky? It's enough to make one wonder about bizarre variants of the anthropic principle, or wonder if the game is rigg.... [abort, retry, fail].