21 May 2009

September 26, 1983

Aside from the fact that this was three days before my 23rd birthday, more importantly, it was the day that an all-out nuclear war was narrowly avoided.

We are all familiar with the images--from comic books and films--of the superhero calmly diffusing a situation that threatens to destroy life on planet Earth. This is the stuff science fiction thrillers are made of, with "fiction" being the operative word here.

Well meet Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov.

Faced with satellite warnings that the Soviet Union was under nuclear attack from the United States, Petrov--with precious little time to react--decided that the warnings were some sort of malfunction and did not escalate the situation, which would have resulted in the Soviets counterattacking. The story of this frighteningly unbelievable day can be heard here until May 27.

Obviously, this story isn't new, but I had never heard Petrov discuss it in his own words. Warning: this 30-minute piece is not for the faint-hearted. While listening, I realized that there were a lot of things being discussed that I really didn't want to know. This includes the speculation, for instance, that one of the reasons that Ronald Reagan moved to towards more open discussions about existing nuclear arsenals, was due to another close call (perhaps initiated by the US), which remains classified. He was also concerned that the more technologically sophisticated the weapons delivery systems become, the more room there is for error.

In short, the fewer opportunities there are for men like Petrov to say, "No. Do not launch."


  1. When you think about it now, with the advances that have been made, we're probably closer to having no man at that switch than we realize. Remember the movie war games... there was no human override... you had to beat the game... scary. Great Post!

  2. Thanks Janice! Oh yes, I remember War Games. That scenario was really frightening, and you're right about the situation that we will probably find ourselves in shortly. And it's isturbing, to say the least.