This Man May Have Saved World From Nuclear War

Former Soviet officer Stanislav Petrov credited with averting global catastrophe
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 18, 2017 10:37 AM CDT
Updated Sep 23, 2017 1:18 PM CDT
His Poise Under Pressure May Have Stopped Nuclear War
A 2015 photo of former Soviet officer Stanislav Petrov.   (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

A former Soviet officer by the name of Stanislav Petrov has died, and the key point surfacing in obituaries about him is a pretty remarkable one: His poise under pressure may have saved the world from a nuclear war. As USA Today and the New York Times report, Petrov was the officer in charge at a command center near Moscow on Sept. 26, 1983, when the unthinkable happened: Alarms went off as the facility's computers warned that the US had launched five ICBMs toward the Soviet Union. All eyes turned to Lt. Col. Petrov as he assessed the situation. If he called his superiors to report an imminent attack, a counter-strike would be likely in those tense days of the Cold War. "All I had to do was to reach for the phone, to raise the direct line to our top commanders—but I couldn't move," he told the BBC in 2013. "I felt like I was sitting on a hot frying pan."

Petrov then went with his instinct: He called it a false alarm, though he would say later that he figured it was a 50-50 chance. "I had a funny feeling in my gut," he once told the Washington Post. In those crucial minutes, things hadn't added up: For instance, why would the US launch an attack with only five missiles? Petrov turned out to be correct, of course. A satellite misinterpreted the reflection of the sun on clouds for oncoming missiles, per the Times. Incredibly, Petrov got into hot water with bosses who found his paperwork about the incident lacking, but he has since received accolades. He was awarded the Dresden Peace Prize in 2013, and the following year, a documentary-drama called The Man Who Saved the World, with Kevin Costner, told his story. Petrov died in May at age 77 near Moscow, though news of this death is just surfacing now. (More nuclear war stories.)

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