Nonviolence Archives

September 26, 2005

Thank You, Stanislav

stanislav_petrov.jpgTwenty-two years ago today, the world nearly ended.

We owe the fact that it didn't to the level head of one Stanislav Petrov.

Those of you who remember late 1983 might recall that it was a remarkably tense time. The Soviet Union had just shot down a Korean airliner that had flown into Soviet airspace. The US was performing large-scale military exercises within quick reach of the USSR. In the US, President Ronald Reagan talked about the "Evil Empire," while Soviet General Secretary Yuri Andropov ordered the KGB to get ready for an imminent US attack. The two superpowers threatened each other with nuclear missiles in Europe, and shot at each other's proxies in brushfire wars in Central America and Central Asia.

Stanislav Petrov wasn't the regular overnight officer on duty on September 25-26, 1983, at the Serpukhov-15 Ballistic Missile Early Warning System control post. He came in as a substitute to maintain his skills, expecting that -- like every other night since the Oko monitoring satellites had gone into orbit -- it would be a quiet evening.

Forty minutes after midnight, September 26, the computer system registered the launch of a Minuteman missile from the United States. In a 2004 interview for the Moscow News, Petrov described what happened:

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