Thursday, March 28, 2013

The man who saved the world: Stanislav Petrov

I would like to begin blogging with a not very well known story. The story about a man who saved humanity and...allow me to start this blog!  His name is Stanislav Petrov.

A month ago Mr Petrov was awarded with the Dresden Preis 2013, which includes an award of 25.000 euros. Some years ago, in 2006, he was honored in a meeting at the United Nations and received the World Citizen Award from the Association of World Citizens. Who is him? What is his story?

1983, 26th of September, 00.14 AM, Moscow. Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov, lieutenant colonel of the Soviet Air Defence Forces, was in charge of the Serpujoc-15 bunker, the control center where the Soviet aerospace defence was managed and coordinated. Suddenly, the systems reported a missile being launched from the United States. The USSR military protocol was pretty clear in case of any kind of threaten; the duty officer in charge had to inform to the high command as soon as possible and prepare a counter attack. But Stanislav was not sure at all. He thought that an attack with one only missile was simply ridiculous; it had to be a computer error. But some minutes later the computer detected another launch, quickly followed by a third one; and then a fourth one; and a fifth one.

Pressure was high at the control center, but again, Petrov followed his instinct and judged that the report was a false alarm; only five missiles detected when United States could have used all its nuclear power was completely illogical. And, as we know, he was right. Later investigation confirmed that the satellite warning system had malfunctioned.

“I had obviously never dreamt that I would ever face that situation. It was the first and, as far as I know, also the last time that such a thing had happened, except for simulated practice scenarios. In a general way I had wondered if the Americans would actually attack us. We were trained by the military system to believe that the Americans easily might decide to do that. We had no way of judging by ourselves. We learned written English, but not the spoken language, because we were not supposed to be able to speak to anyone from the West. As a military man I never traveled outside the country; I did not even have a passport. The Cold War was ice cold in 1983.”

The "incident", now known as the Autumn Equinox Incident, wasn't publicly known until 1998 following the publication of General Votintsev's memoirs. Even her wife didn't know anything about her husband actions. Widespread media reports since 1998 have increased public awareness of Stanislav Petrov's story. 

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