What you are about to hear is presumably true.
It was September 25th, 1983 - a Sunday afternoon in America - midnight in Moscow. It could have been the last day on Earth for hundreds of millions of people, and the destruction of much of the Earth. Some say it should have been. But things did not go according to plan. One man's judgment saved the Earth.
At a military site south of Moscow, in Soviet Russia, 44-year-old Stanislav Petrov - a lieutenant colonel - was in charge of a military center monitoring the skies for possible enemy missile attacks. He ordinarily would not have been there this day, but by chance, he was assigned to be on duty.
The day had been routine; nothing out of the ordinary. However shortly after midnight, the unthinkable happened: As Colonel Petrov watched, the satellite warning system in front of him sounded an alarm, indicating a nuclear missile had been launched from the United States and was heading toward the Soviet Union. The warning system in front of him began flashing in bright letters the word "START."
There had been questions in the past about the reliability of this system - it had been rushed into service - and Colonel Petrov immediately reasoned this warning must be a computer malfunction, since he was certain any attack from the United States would be a massive assault - not just a single missile. So he waited.
But then, moments later, he saw what he did not want to see - heard what he did not want to hear: Again the alarms; his computers indicated a second missile was approaching the Soviet Union, then a third, then a fourth and a fifth.
The sound of the warning alarms was deafening. He had a telephone in one hand - an intercom in the other - and still flashing in front of him in huge lettering, the word "START."
Still, something about the warnings did not feel right to Colonel Petrov. But there was no more time. He had to decide whether to notify the highest level of the Soviet leadership. In spite of all the warnings of an impending attack, he made his final decision: "NO" - he would NOT tell his superiors to launch a Soviet missile attack against the United States. He told them it was a false alarm.
But if the computer warning system were correct, in a matter of minutes the American missiles would destroy Moscow and other parts of Russia. He waited. No missiles - no destruction. A feeling of tremendous relief. His legs felt like rubber, he was later to say. He felt as if his chair were burning under him.
What had happened was some of the Soviet warning satellites had mistakenly interpreted sunlight reflections off clouds as the vapor trails of approaching enemy missiles. The system had failed, misleading those in the Soviet command center.
But Colonel Petrov's judgment had prevented an unspeakable catastrophe, and those around him congratulated him. But then, some hours later, an angry superior officer - embarrassed by the satellite system failure - severely lashed out at Colonel Petrov for disobeying military procedure and for defying the technology he was instructed to obey - the computer instruction to launch a nuclear attack.
After this incident, Colonel Petrov's advancement in the military came to a halt. He was re-assigned to a less-sensitive position, and within two years, was retired from the military. He went on to live his life in Russia as a pensioner.
It is unnerving to think of the alternative that day in 1983. All because a man trusted his instincts - rather than technology - the world was spared unspeakable grief. But suppose someone other than Colonel Petrov had been in the commander's chair that day - blindly following the computer's instructions to launch an all-out missile attack on America. And just as important, somewhere in the world, what will happen next time?
Albert Einstein once said, that with nuclear war, it is not a question of "IF" it will happen - it is a question of "WHEN."
That day in 1983 - with Soviet missiles in a state of high alert - without Stanislav Petrov, the outcome COULD have been MUCH different:
(sound effects of imaginary nuclear attack on the United States) (many American cities and states named)
15-YEAR-OLD GIRL: "Dad - what's happening?!!"
11-YEAR-OLD BOY (with dog barking): "Mom - help!!"
7-YEAR-OLD BOY: "Good-bye, Daddy..."
WOMAN: "Please...no more...."
WOMAN (whispers): "Help mankind find a way to end the risk.... Please...."
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