Monday, January 26, 2009

Glad to be Alive

And here's one of the people to whom I owe that: Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces lieutenant colonel Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov. The full story is here with a hat-tip to economist Brad DeLong who got it from someone else I don't know from tnsgrl64.
To summarize, in 1983 Petrov was filling an extra shift for someone else who couldn't show up at work ... watching over the BIG RED BUTTON for the Soviets. The computer announced that the US had launched a nuclear missile at Moscow. That didn't make strategic sense to him: why only one? He guessed that it was a computer error and, despite protocls that told him to fire first and inform his superiors after, held off.

Then a second, third, fourth, and even a fifth missile showed up. Realizing that it could potentially be millions of Russian lives on the line and knowing it would definitely be millions of American lives if he gave the orders to fire, he held his ground as the rest of the officers present said he had to fire.

Seconds turned into minutes and it became clear that he was right. It turned out to be a computer error from some funky sunspots and satellites. He saved the world.

Bureaucracy being what it is, he was first praised and then censured for his actions. The above link claims he was forcably retired; Wiki indicates he always claimed otherwise. His story apparently broke in 1998 and a documentary is expected later this year.

From Wiki: "Petrov has said he does not regard himself as a hero for what he did that day. In an interview for the documentary film The Red Button and the Man Who Saved the World,[5] Petrov says, "All that happened didn't matter to me — it was my job. I was simply doing my job, and I was the right person at the right time, that's all. My late wife for 10 years knew nothing about it. 'So what did you do?' she asked me. I did nothing.""

Wow. Another beautiful example of God putting the right person in the right place at the right time.

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