“The man who saved the world” from nuclear war dies at 77

“The man who saved the world” from nuclear war dies at 77

During the Cold War, both the US and the Soviet Union were worried about the other using a surprise nuclear attack against them. Mutually assured destruction would have been the inevitable outcome if either country had launched their nuclear missiles. Luckily, neither country did, and the world came out the other side. Except, as the world learned later, the world almost did become a nuclear wasteland, and all because of faulty technology.

What was the Cold War again?

To briefly summarize, the Cold War was a war between the Soviet Union and the West. The Cold War wasn’t an actual war, but a highly tense geopolitical time that lasted between 1947 and 1991. The entire world was worried about nuclear war as both of the lead countries on either side of the war had enough nukes to destroy the world a couple of times over. There was a particularly tense time in 1983 when the Soviet Union shot down a passenger jet they thought was spying on them and killed all 269 passengers. The US retaliated with provocative military measures.

How did he save the world?

It was during this all-time high period of tension that the world was saved. On September 26, 1983, Stanislav Petrov was on night duty at a Soviet Union early detection center. All of a sudden a warning went off alerting them that the US had just fired a nuclear missile. Over the next few minutes, the alarm would sound a total of five times, alerting the station that five missiles were heading their way. Petrov acted quickly and learned that the Soviet ground radar couldn’t confirm the launch. He then reported that it was a false alarm, which it was. The satellite that sent the warning mistook the sun’s rays off some clouds as missiles. If Petrov hadn’t have kept his cool, the world would have been destroyed.

What happened to him?

Petrov wasn’t hailed as a hero at the time. He retired from the military a year later and would have faded into history except that his commanding officer revealed what had happened after the Soviet Union fell. Petrov died back in May of this year, but it was only this month that Russia acknowledged that he had died.

Mistakes happen in war, and we’re just eternally grateful that Petrov was on duty that night. His cool, calm thinking saved us all.

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