Stanislav Petrov is a man who has most likely done more for the betterment of mankind and the planet (single-handedly) then any other person that is living or has ever lived. His quick thinking and foresight in the face of an extremely stressful situation quite literally prevented WWIII. By not following protocol and using his own gut feelings to assess a potentially very deadly situation, he put his career at risk, but proved that the actions of one man with quite a bit of intestinal fortitude can change the fate of many.
On September 26, 1983, Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov was on duty when an alarm sounded that would change his life. Petrov was responsible for monitoring a satellite system that tracked nuclear missile activity in the U.S. The system was meant to warn the Soviet Union if there were any missiles headed in their direction. If they were detected, it was Stanislav’s job to push a button marked “START” that would set a plan to launch a nuclear attack on the United States in motion.
At 12:30 a.m., the equipment that Stanislav Petrov was monitoring gave the warning that a missile had been launched in the direction of the Soviet Union by the U.S. Petrov thought this was rather odd because it was unlikely that the U.S. would send only one missile to kick off a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. He chalked it up to a false alarm, but then four more warnings came through, making it a total of five missiles that had been picked up by the satellite. The alarms were blaring and Petrov was being pressured to make a choice. Push the red button and essentially launch a nuclear attack or go with his instincts?
Stanislav Petrov still believed that the alarm was a false one. Even five missiles is a quite small amount to send if you intend to start a war. In a matter of mere moments, Petrov made the decision to wait it out rather than push that button. His decision payed off in a big way. There were no missiles. No nuclear bombs landed in the Soviet Union and Petrov was a hero, but he wasn’t exactly treated as such.
Obviously there were many people that were relieved that the Lieutenant Colonel had not pushed that button. However, he had not followed protocol and was subjected to an investigation and intense questioning as a result. In the end, he was not punished, but neither was he rewarded, as he should have been. He was removed from his position and retired from the military within two years of the incident. It wasn’t until May 21, 2004 that Stanislav Petrov gained anything for his actions on the day in 1983; he received a monetary award from the Association of World Citizens. This isn’t much by way of gratitude for a man who changed the course of history, but enough for a man who says that he doesn’t feel like much of a hero. We should all beg to differ with him.
Paderson, Glen, Earthkeeper Hero: Stanislav Petrov, retrieved 11/01/09, myhero.com/myhero/hero.asp?hero=Stanislav_Petrov
Lebedor, Anastasiya, The Man Who Saved the World Finally Recognized, retrieved 11/01/09, worldcitizens.org/petrov2.html