This week, just over 30 years ago, a Russian duty officer prevented possible nuclear war when he didn’t retaliate to faulty reports of incoming American nuclear missiles.
In 1983, Stanislav Petrov, a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Air Defence Forces, was the duty officer in charge of the nuclear early warning systems when he received a chilling message. According to Petrov’s computer, America had fired an intercontinental ballistic missile at the Soviet Union. With balls apparently bigger than Siberia, he dismissed the warning. Then his computer told him another four nukes were heading his way. Again, he ignored it, calmly believing any American attack would be made up of hundreds of warheads instead of just five.
Had he reported the warnings to his superiors, there’s little chance that the paranoid Soviet leaders, given only minutes to decide and with a stubborn, nervous belief that America was gearing up for war, wouldn’t have fired back with their own huge arsenal of nuclear weapons. And with that, World War Three would have surely begun.