36 years ago today, one man saved us from world-ending nuclear war

  
Via:  kavika  •  3 weeks ago  •  29 comments

36 years ago today, one man saved us from world-ending nuclear war

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T


On September 26, 1983, the planet came terrifyingly close to   a nuclear holocaust .

The Soviet Union’s missile attack early warning system displayed, in large red letters, the word “LAUNCH”; a computer screen stated to the officer on duty, Soviet Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov, that it could say with “high reliability” that an American intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) had been launched and was headed toward the Soviet Union. First, it was just one missile, but then another, and another, until the system reported that a   total of five Minuteman ICBMs   had been launched.

“Petrov had to make a decision: Would he report an incoming American strike?” my colleague   Max Fisher explained . “If he did, Soviet nuclear doctrine called for a full nuclear retaliation; there would be no time to double-check the warning system, much less seek negotiations with the US.”

Reporting it would have made a certain degree of sense. The Reagan administration had a far more hardline stance against the Soviets than the Carter, Ford, or Nixon administrations before it. Months earlier President Reagan had announced the   Strategic Defense Initiative   (mockingly dubbed “Star Wars,” a plan to shoot down ballistic missiles before they reached the US), and his administration was in the process of   deploying Pershing II nuclear-armed missiles to West Germany and Great Britain , which were capable of striking the Soviet Union. There were reasons for Petrov to think Reagan’s brinkmanship had escalated to an actual nuclear exchange.

But Petrov did not report the incoming strike. He and others on his staff concluded that what they were seeing was a false alarm. And it was; the system mistook the   sun’s reflection off clouds for a missile . Petrov prevented a nuclear war between the Soviets, who had   35,804 nuclear warheads in 1983 , and the US, which had 23,305.






A 1979 report by   Congress’s Office of Technology Assessment   estimated that a full-scale Soviet assault on the US would kill 35 to 77 percent of the US population — or between 82 million and 180 million people in 1983. The inevitable US counterstrike would kill 20 to 40 percent of the Soviet population, or between 54 million and 108 million people. The combined death toll there (between 136 million and 288 million) swamps the death toll of any war, genocide, or other violent catastrophe in human history. Proportional to world population, it would be rivaled only by the   An Lushan rebellion in eighth-century China and the Mongol conquests of the 13th century .

And it’s likely hundreds of millions more would have died once the conflict disrupted global temperatures and severely hampered agriculture. International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War put the potential death toll from starvation at about   2 billion .

Petrov, almost single-handedly, prevented those deaths.

Preventing the deaths of hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people was a costly decision for Petrov. If he had been wrong, and he somehow survived the American nuclear strike, he likely would’ve been executed for treason. Even though he was right, he was, according to the   Washington Post’s David Hoffman , “relentlessly interrogated afterward [and] never rewarded for his decision.”

After the Cold War, Petrov would receive a   number of commendations   for saving the world. He was   honored at the United Nations , received the   Dresden Peace Prize , and was profiled in the documentary   The Man Who Saved the World . “I was just at the right place at the right time,” he told the   filmmakers . He died in May 2017, at the   age of 77 . Two new books about the Petrov incident and other nuclear close calls in 1983 (related to the NATO exercise Able Archer) came out just last year: Taylor Downing’s   1983   and Marc Ambinder’s   The Brink .

Petrov isn’t the only man who’s prevented nuclear war


Petrov was not the only Russian official who’s saved the world. On October 27, 1962, Vasili Arkhipov, a Soviet navy officer, was in a nuclear submarine near Cuba when US naval forces   started dropping depth charges   (a kind of explosive targeting submarines) on him. Two senior officers on the submarine thought that a nuclear war could’ve already begun and wanted to launch a nuclear torpedo at a US vessel. But all three senior officers had to agree for the missile to fire, and Arkhipov dissented, preventing a nuclear exchange and potentially preventing the end of the world.

Even more recently, on January 25, 1995,   Russian early warning radars suggested that an American first strike was incoming . President Boris Yeltsin was alerted and given a suitcase with instructions for launching a nuclear strike at the US. Russian nuclear forces were given an alert to increase combat readiness. Yeltsin eventually declined to launch a counterstrike — which is good, because this was another false alarm. It turns out that Russian early warning systems had picked up a Norwegian-US joint research rocket, launched by scientists studying the northern lights.

But September 26, Stanislav Petrov Day, is as good a time as any to celebrate the ordinary officers who took a stand when it counted to prevent hundreds of millions of deaths. And it’s as good a time as any to remember that as long as the US and Russia retain massive nuclear arsenals, these kinds of close calls will remain possible — and in the future, a false alarm could result in an accidental first strike.

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Kavika
1  seeder  Kavika     3 weeks ago

NO POLITICS

Sorry one day late posting this. 

You have to wonder how many times a ''close call'' has taken place that we are unaware of. 

 
 
 
Buzz of the Orient
2  Buzz of the Orient    3 weeks ago

There are movies about this kind of thing:  War Games, Crimson Tide...

 
 
 
Kavika
2.1  seeder  Kavika   replied to  Buzz of the Orient @2    3 weeks ago

Also the Hunt for Red October.

 
 
 
Trout Giggles
2.1.1  Trout Giggles  replied to  Kavika @2.1    3 weeks ago

One of my favorite movies

 
 
 
Paula Bartholomew
2.1.2  Paula Bartholomew  replied to  Trout Giggles @2.1.1    3 weeks ago

Mine too. Connery never looked sexier.

 
 
 
Trout Giggles
3  Trout Giggles    3 weeks ago

Thank-you, Mr. Petrov.

I would hope that the Russians have got that early warning thingy fixed by now....

 
 
 
Kavika
3.1  seeder  Kavika   replied to  Trout Giggles @3    3 weeks ago

An error on either side spells disaster, Trout. 

 
 
 
Trout Giggles
3.1.1  Trout Giggles  replied to  Kavika @3.1    3 weeks ago

True, but I never heard about our early warning systems failing and almost causing WWIII

 
 
 
Trout Giggles
4  Trout Giggles    3 weeks ago
Even more recently, on January 25, 1995, Russian early warning radars suggested that an American first strike was incoming . President Boris Yeltsin was alerted and given a suitcase with instructions for launching a nuclear strike at the US. Russian nuclear forces were given an alert to increase combat readiness. Yeltsin eventually declined to launch a counterstrike

Here's a question. Weren't our relations with Russia in 1995 fairly good? The Soviet Empire had collapsed and we were all pretty much praising Yeltsin for the way he stepped in and started leading his country. He certainly couldn't think that US was seriously attacking, could he? The Cold War was over and to my recollection we weren't pissed at Russia for anything in 1995...were we?

 
 
 
NV-Robin6
4.1  NV-Robin6  replied to  Trout Giggles @4    3 weeks ago

Jimmy Carter saved our asses too during a Norad training video gone awry. We were something like 8 minutes away from pushing the button. Jimmy said he wanted to see them in the sky first. There weren't any. 

 
 
 
Kavika
4.1.1  seeder  Kavika   replied to  NV-Robin6 @4.1    3 weeks ago

If this is the incident you're speaking ov NV-Robin here is a link to some background. 

https://gizmodo.com/the-computer-simulation-that-almost-started-world-war-i-1686123550

 
 
 
Kavika
4.1.2  seeder  Kavika   replied to  Kavika @4.1.1    3 weeks ago

Or the time the US Air Force dropped an atomic bomb on South Carolina. 

https://history.howstuffworks.com/american-history/nuclear-bomb-air-force-south-carolina-1958.htm

 
 
 
Trout Giggles
4.1.3  Trout Giggles  replied to  Kavika @4.1.1    3 weeks ago

I stand corrected that we didn't have our own foul-ups

 
 
 
Kavika
4.1.4  seeder  Kavika   replied to  Trout Giggles @4.1.3    3 weeks ago

LOL, indeed we have had some doozies.

 
 
 
Ed-NavDoc
4.1.5  Ed-NavDoc  replied to  Kavika @4.1.2    3 weeks ago

Don't forget about the ones we lost in Greenland and Spain. The South Carolina and Greenland ones have never been found as far as I know.

 
 
 
NV-Robin6
4.1.6  NV-Robin6  replied to  Kavika @4.1.1    3 weeks ago

Yes

 
 
 
NV-Robin6
4.1.7  NV-Robin6  replied to  Kavika @4.1.1    3 weeks ago

Yes, that is it. Thanks for linking it! How many cooler heads would have prevailed in Jimmy's shoes?  Not many!

Too close for any of us to ever be comfortable then and especially now.

 
 
 
Kavika
4.1.8  seeder  Kavika   replied to  Ed-NavDoc @4.1.5    3 weeks ago

Here is a link to the incident in Greenland. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1968_Thule_Air_Base_B-52_crash

 
 
 
Ed-NavDoc
4.1.9  Ed-NavDoc  replied to  Kavika @4.1.8    3 weeks ago

I read it. My thanks.

 
 
 
Drakkonis
4.1.10  Drakkonis  replied to  Ed-NavDoc @4.1.5    3 weeks ago
Don't forget about the ones we lost in Greenland and Spain. The South Carolina and Greenland ones have never been found as far as I know.

That's because SPECTRE has them. 

 
 
 
Kavika
4.2  seeder  Kavika   replied to  Trout Giggles @4    3 weeks ago

The Cold War ended in 1991 so I would think that 1995 would have not have been a confrontational year between our countries. But, there is always a put there was a pressure inside of Russia with the changing of the guard so to speak. So anything is possible. 

 
 
 
Trout Giggles
4.2.1  Trout Giggles  replied to  Kavika @4.2    3 weeks ago

Ah...yes. I do remember hearing about the hardliners and then there was the sticky problem of nukes falling into the hands of Chechynan rebels or something

 
 
 
MUVA
4.2.2  MUVA  replied to  Trout Giggles @4.2.1    3 weeks ago

They actually lost some suitcase nukes back then they are still missing.

 
 
 
dave-2693993
4.3  dave-2693993  replied to  Trout Giggles @4    3 weeks ago
The Cold War was over and to my recollection we weren't pissed at Russia for anything in 1995...were we?

Actually, I would say we missed a golden opportunity for global world peace in that time frame.

It is what it is.

 
 
 
Ender
5  Ender    3 weeks ago

Interesting. That we/they rely on a  fallible system. Take actual people out of the picture and there is no telling how it could have all went down.

I do have to say, he looks very familiar.

 
 
 
Kavika
6  seeder  Kavika     3 weeks ago
Take actual people out of the picture and there is no telling how it could have all went down.

Good point, it could have a disaster to say the least. 

 
 
 
dave-2693993
7  dave-2693993    3 weeks ago

I read about this incident some time ago.

In that era, it took a very strong willed person in that soviet culture to take the stand he did.

We can probably thank all of our lives for his actions.

 
 
 
shona1
8  shona1    3 weeks ago

As the song goes and we in the West can forget at times..."Remember the Russians love their children too"....

 
 
 
Kavika
9  seeder  Kavika     3 weeks ago
"Remember the Russians love their children too"....

Let's hope that all sides remember that, Shona. 

 
 
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