Friday, December 30, 2016

Thankful for Stanislav Petrov

Our recent re-immersion into nuclear fear reminded me of a story I heard a while ago about a Soviet soldier who stopped a nuclear strike at some point. I didn't remember the details until Chris Hayes covered it a few nights ago.

Stanislav Petrov was a colonel in the Soviet Air Defence Forces. He was on duty September 26, 1983, at the command center for early warning when an alert came up saying a single warhead had been launched from the U.S. toward the USSR. Shortly after, several more alerts appeared.

Petrov reported it to his superiors as a false alarm, rather than an imminent nuclear strike. Quoting the Wikipedia:

Petrov later indicated that the influences on his decision included: that he was informed a U.S. strike would be all-out, so five missiles seemed an illogical start; that the launch detection system was new and, in his view, not yet wholly trustworthy; and that ground radar failed to pick up corroborative evidence, even after minutes of delay. However, in a 2013 interview, Petrov said at the time he was never sure that the alarm was erroneous. He felt that his civilian [education] helped him make the right decision. His colleagues were all professional soldiers with purely military training and, following instructions, would have reported a missile strike if they had been on his shift.
This event took place just two weeks after the Soviet military had shot down Korean Airlines flight 007, and tensions were high. Cruise missile installations were being deployed across Europe, and Reagan was talking about the Strategic Defense Initiative. If you didn't live through this period, it's hard to realize how tense things were.

I'm trying to remember what I was doing on that day. Ironically, right around that time I was working on a report for Critical Mass Energy Project on the costs of decommissioning nuclear power plants.

It was a Monday. I was living in Washington, D.C., recently turned 24 years old. I worked a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol, so if it had happened, at least I wouldn't have had a lingering death! But, like everyone else, I had no idea this had (almost) happened.

That's how close it can be. I hope our Dear Leader has a few people around who can fill him in about this.

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