My New Hero
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
In the middle of the flight, while accidentally passing through Soviet
air space, Soviet fighter jets appear getting close the aircraft. The
Soviets, who didn't know the plane contained civilians, warned the
pilot that they will shoot down the aircraft if it doesn't identify
itself, and the pilot, for some unknown reason, doesn't respond.
Reports say the pilot never actually received the information,
although theories about this are still unclear. An hour passes as the
fighter jets still accompany the aircraft, and the orders from Soviet
military is to shoot down the aircraft just as the plane was leaving
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.
broke loose. As the Soviets tried to defend their 'mistake', US
President Ronald Reagan described the Soviets actions as "barbaric"
and "a crime against humanity that must never be forgotten".
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.
In the event of such an attack, the Soviet Unionís strategy protocol
was to to launch an immediate all-out nuclear weapons counterattack
against the United States with nuclear power, and immediately
afterwards inform top political and military figures. From there, it
would be taken a decision to further the military offensive on
The bunker was in full-alarm, with red lights all over the place as
the missile was captured by the Soviet satellites via computers.
Petrov wasn't convinced though. He believed that if the US attacked,
they would have attacked all-out, not just sending one missile and
giving a chance for them (the Soviets) to attack back.
Petrov figured something didn't make sense, as strategically, just one
missile from the US would be a strategic disaster. He took some time
to think and decided not to give the order a nuclear attack against
America, since in his opinion, one missile didn't make sense
strategically and it could easily have been a computer error.
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
Due to military secrecy, nobody knew Petrov's heroic judgment until
1998, when a book written by a Russian officer present at the bunker
revealed that World War 3 was closer than people thought, and a
nuclear holocaust was avoided by a close shave.
|Petrov reminisces what
could have been if he didn't get that extra shift that night
Even though the Russians have little sympathy to the man who saved
millions of American lives, the United Nations and a number of US
agencies honoured the man who could have started a nuclear war, but
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.
Without knowing on the cold Moscow night back in 1983, a badly paid 44
year old military officer saved the world, and made himself one of the
most influential persons of the century in the process, saving more
lives than anyone ever did.
Most of today's people don't know it, but today's world as we know it,
is like it is because of Stanislav Petrov.
WIKIPEDIA entry about Stanilav Petrov here
Petrov has said he does not regard himself as a hero for what he did
that day. In an interview for the documentary film The Red Button and
the Man Who Saved the World,
Petrov says, "All that happened didn't
matter to me ó it was my job. I was simply doing my job, and
I was the right person at the right time, that's all. My
late wife for 10 years knew nothing about it. 'So what did
you do?' she asked me. I did nothing."