20 September 2017

The Soviet Officer Who Saved the World

The word hero is bandied around all the time.

It is the cheapest and most meaningless praise of our time.

And you realize that especially when you encounter a real hero.

This is a story I did not know and I thought it was really unfair that the world was largely uninformed about the actions of one remarkable man.

On 26 September 1983 Stanislav Petrov "was the duty officer at the command center for the Oko nuclear early-warning system when the system reported that a missile had been launched from the United States, followed by up to five more."

This was a little over three weeks after the Soviet Air Force shut down the Korean Airline Flight 007 killing all 269 passengers and crew on board.

The incident was met with global indignation and brouhaha and the relations between the US and Soviet Union were very tense. We are talking about the Reagan Administration with an actor fronting a bellicose military firmly in charge.

Petrov was dubious from the beginning. He thought it made no sense to launch a nuclear attack with only five ballistic missiles since the US knew that the Soviets would retaliate with massive force.

Fire and fury in The Orange Man's words.

But, as any military personnel will tell you, it was not up to him to decide whether the attack was real and what to do about it. He was obligated to report the incident right away.

However, Petrov realized that if he called it in, there was no way his superiors would demure and investigate the matter further. With only two minutes at their disposal, they would have pressed the proverbial button.

That, in turn, would have triggered an even bigger assault by combined Nato forces and life, as we know it, would have ceased to exist on our lovely Blue Planet.

Now, a hero is someone who acts selflessly in addressing such an extraordinary dilemma. If Petrov was wrong he would have caused immense casualties in his own country. If he called it in, he would have destroyed the planet.

The man assume the responsibility of doing nothing and risk everything, including his life and the life of his loved ones.

It turned out Petrov made the right call it was an equipment malfunction.

Almost anybody else, including, as I recently mentioned, the US officer who carries the nuclear football, would have made the opposite call and informed his superiors.

And the rest would have been history. With no one left to record it.

The Soviet army did not punish him, nor did they reward him. They appreciated what he did, but rewarding him would have made hem look bad as the idiots behind the shaky early warning system.

In the end, Petrov retired early as after the incident he suffered a major nervous breakdown.

As he later put it, this was the only time such an event occurred during the Cold War and it happened to him.

And we are all glad that it was him and not someone who mindlessly obeyed orders.

Remarkably, this  is how this real life hero saw what he did.
Petrov has said he does not know that he should regard himself as a hero for what he did that day. In an interview for the film The Man Who Saved the World, Petrov says, "All that happened didn't matter to me — 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. 'Nothing. I did nothing.
He died quietly this last May.

No one in the West knew of his passing until this week.

Because we were too busy admiring our heros.

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