The patience and foresight of a Soviet officer saved the world from a possible nuclear war in the 1980s

Anita Durairaj
Stanislav Petrov in 2016Photo byQueery-54; CC-BY-SA-4.0

It was during the Cold War on 26 September 1983 that one man, a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Air Defense Forces became a hero.

His name was Stanislav Petrov (1939 - 2017) and he played an important role in an incident that came to be known as the 1983 Soviet nuclear false alarm incident. An article in Vox mentions the incident as the day that the planet came close to experiencing a nuclear holocaust.

Petrov was the officer on duty in a bunker that housed the command center of the Soviet Union's early warning satellites.

While he was on duty, the early warning system displayed in large red letters that the Americans had launched an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). It started off with the system flagging that one missile had been launched and then it became a total of five ICBMs launched.

Instead of reporting the missile strike to his superiors, Petrov and his staff thought about it first and then concluded that they were detecting a false alarm.

There were a few reasons for Petrov to consider the warning to be a false alarm. First, if the Americans were to have launched ICBMs, they would have launched a hundred simultaneous missiles at a time for maximum impact and to hit the Soviet's defenses. They would never have launched just five missiles.

Secondly, Petrov had no confidence in the computer system and he expected it to be prone to error.

It was eventually determined that the computer system had detected the sun's reflection off the clouds as missiles.

A potential nuclear war had been avoided due to an officer's patience and logical thinking.

Petrov received no reward or praise for his actions from his superiors. Instead he was reassigned to a different post.

Later, he was honored by the United Nations and received the Dresden Peace Prize. There is also a Petrov Day that commemorates the anniversary of the September 26 incident when the world was almost in danger.

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Trained with a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Cincinnati, I write unique and interesting articles focused on science, history, and current events.


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