Friday, November 4, 2011

Stanislav Petrov : The Man That Averted Global Thermonuclear Warfare

Global thermonuclear warfare. Isn't that a fun topic? Sure it is. But what do we do if it actually happens? Hiding in your damp closet in the fetal position probably isn't going to help much. The truth is, an all-out nuclear war would probably mean the end for humanity. So it's safe to say, we should probably avoid it. However, there have been several points in history in which global thermonuclear warfare was as close to reality as you and me. Today, we're going to talk about the 1983 Soviet false alarm incident that could have potentially brought the end of the world as soon as September 26, 1983.

Brought to you as soon as September 26, 1983.

Okay, so you're a Lieutenant Colonel of the Soviet Air Defense Forces, on duty of the Soviet early warning system at the Serpukhob-15 bunker. You're job is to receive the message the warning message from the soviet satellite early warning network and to notify your direct superiors of any nuclear missile attacks against your great nation. As you sit in your chair of undetermined comfortability during the darkness of the night, your computer screen lights up and notifies you of five ICBMs heading towards the Soviet Union from the hated United States of America. It's time. The war's begun. Right?

Instead of being a mindless puppet like his superiors wanted, Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov decided to not notify his superiors and declared the attack as a false alarm. This would have meant certain doom and charges of treason (if the Soviet Union survived) if the attack reached tangibility. Despite protocol of telling his superiors and letting them decide the fate of the world, Petrov went against the status quo and went with his gut. Luckily, he was right.

"What?! We already put the windshield back up and everything!"

Petrov didn't believe that the that the intercontinental ballistic missile was real due to multiple factors surrounding him. First off, he found it extremely unlikely that the United States would start World War III with a five tiny nuclear missiles, since it would have took hundreds of missile attacks to disable the Soviet's ability for a counter-attack. Along with that, he questioned the dependability of the machines used to detect the missiles, which have had it's reliability questioned in the past. He concluded that the computer's detection were false and that there was zero threat ICMB threat at the time-being. This conclusion most likely averted certain mutual assured destruction.

Before he reached his conclusions however, he had no way to prove his theory, it was literally do or die. In order to confirm his suspicion of the faulty computers, they simply stood idle until their ground radars could pick up the supposedly dangerous missiles as they zoomed across the sky. If he was wrong, the Soviet Union would only have minutes of response time before the missile hits. If he was wrong, he would be remembered for the single, most critical mistake made by the any man in history.

Can't be as bad as last weekend, right?

 But if he did report to his superiors, what would have happened?

Around that time period during the Cold War, tensions were already severely strained. Less than a month ago, the Soviet military shot down a Korean passenger Jet as it entered Soviet airspace, killing 269 people on board. Of those 269 people, many Americans were killed, along with a United States Representative of Congress, Larry McDonald. The United States could have easily justified their missile launches with the attack against the American people and it's government. Thankfully, Petrov isn't one to run around believing every computer screen indicating nuclear warfare.

If news hit HQ that five ICMBs were heading towards the Soviet Union, the result would have been almost certain retaliation. During that tense time period, the Soviet Union (and America) was literally on their toes, as they watching their enemy from afar (and at home) to look for signs of a surprise attack. If the leaders of the Soviet Union received notice of a direct attack towards their nation and were given only a few minutes to decide, they would have certainly attacked back. After firing every last missile they have in a dying man's fashion, the United States, along with all the NATO nations would have certainly attack back with every thing they had, leading to a chain reaction of nuclear weapons being thrown at each other until the last man standing.

The last (wo)man standing, in post-apocalyptic earth.

After the nuclear missiles were confirmed as false, he initially received praise for wise decision. Note how I said initially. After that, he went intense questioning for his actions. If it was an attack, would he have made the same call? After all was done and finished, he received neither reward of punishment for his actions. Petrov noted that he was reprimanded for not filing in his paperwork and recording the event. Petrov said, "I had a phone in one hand and the intercom in the other, and I don't have a third hand."

His mustache alone strike fear into the souls of men around the world. But seriously, that's one awesome mustache.

The influential scientists and officers responsible for the construction of the system were 'severely' embarrassed that their brand-new, fancy computer malfunctioned and almost led to World War 3. I would be too.

Soon enough, the incident became widely known during the 90s, in which Petrov was eventually recognized for his actions by multiple organizations, including the United Nations, on May 2004 and January 2006.