Stanislav Petrov was a Russian military officer whose career parallelled with the peak of the Cold War.
There was major beef unfolding between the USSR and the United States – both sides were involved in a perpetual dick-measuring contest to see who was the true dominant force in the world.
By 1983, things were getting heated.
The Soviet Union shot down Korean Airlines Flight 007 over Moneron Island which caused the deaths of all 269 passengers and crew.
Three weeks later, Petrov was at the helm of the state-of-the-art missile detection system, Oko.
Oko can detect incoming foreign missiles milliseconds after they are launched. Even by today’s standards, the speed and effiency of Oko is impressive.
So impressive it was thought to be foolproof.
On September 26, Oko’s alarm was raised – a missile had been launched by the United States.
Then, two missiles were launched.
The Cold War had finally graduated in to all-out battle and by the looks of things, most of The Soviet Union was seconds away from being blasted in to smithereens.
Millions of people were going to be killed by the incoming missiles, and the Soviet Union had no choice but to retaliate. They had weapons capable not only of destroying the United States, but most of Europe as well.
Except Petrov was suspicious.
Why, after 20 years of muscle-flexing and chest pounding, would America only launch 5 missiles in their ”all-out” attack?
Something wasn’t right.
Petrov did the unthinkable – he ignored his training and did not report the incident.
He questioned the ‘foolproof’ technology of Oko.
Oko may be sophisticated but it lacks a human touch.
Petrov’s civilian training equipped him with strong reasoning skills.
Something Oko, and its military subjects, didn’t have.
Now, the sweat-ridden Petrov was in quite a predicament.
He had the lives of millions of people in his hands – the Soviet missile strikes could wipe out the lives of 90 million people. The U.S. counterstrikes could wipe out another 100 million. If he got this wrong, almost 200 million people would die.
So it was a good thing he was completely right.
A freak reflection of the North Dakota sun on the clouds was mistaken by Oko as a missile launch.
There was to be no nuclear war, no widespread destruction, and no incomprehensible death toll.
Petrov’s actions weren’t recognised by the Soviet Union at the time, but he was subsequently awarded with a host of honours such as the World Citizen Award courtesy of the United Nations.
All because he ignored blind loyalty and followed his gut instinct.
And you thought your day was stressful.