You have never heard of him, yet he is very likely responsible for the fact that you and I are even alive today, or at least enjoying the lifestyle we know.
In 1983 there was a period of international tension. Both the Soviet Union and the United States were on high alert. In the horrifying logic that governed the Cold War – known as M.A.D. (Mutually Assured Destruction) – Soviet and American doctrine called for a nuclear counter attack if early warning systems caught wind of an attack. This counter attack was to be immediate and massive, launched before enemy missiles could land.
On September 6, 1983, the Soviet early warning system indicated the Americans had launched missiles toward the Soviet Union. In an act of courage and defiance, Colonel Stanislav Petrov of the Soviet Air Defense Forces decided it was a false alarm, though all evidence suggested the attack was real.
If he had responded according to orders he would have launched Soviet Missiles toward the United States. We would have immediately responded in kind. Had he been wrong and the Soviet Union was under attack, he would have been guilty of treason of the highest order. Because he was right, hundreds of millions of lives were saved. He single handedly prevented World War III.
Colonel Petrov was neither punished nor rewarded for his action that night.
Why did Colonel Petrov react as he did? First, he had been taught that if the Americans launched an attack, it would be an all out attack. His equipment indicated only five missiles were inbound. Second, the early-warning system was new and he did not fully trust it. Third, he had come to realize that the reality of nuclear war was simply unthinkable.
Whatever his reasoning, you and I are probably alive today because of the decision he made just after midnight night in the fall of 1983.
Why am I telling you about Colonel Petrov? Because he died in May at the age of 77, but his death wasn’t widely reported until now. It is a sad testimony to the cold indifference of our world. Rather than made a hero for saving more people that perhaps any other person in history, he was consigned to such obscurity that it took months for his death to be noted.
We should thank God for Stanislav Petrov and other people like him.