The only winning move is not to play.
September 26, 2005 1:44 PM   Subscribe

On this day 22 years ago, Stanislav Petrov saved the world.
posted by basicchannel (51 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
How many people throughout history can make that claim, I wonder? I am in awe of how close I (and most everyone else) came to dying at the age of six.
posted by JeremyT at 1:51 PM on September 26, 2005


Anyone think the address in that last link is still accurate? I'd love to send the guy something...
posted by phrontist at 1:55 PM on September 26, 2005


Wow.
posted by delmoi at 2:02 PM on September 26, 2005


Oops.. meant to include good ol' Robert Strange McNamara:

"Any military commander who is honest with himself, or with those he is speaking to, will admit that he has made mistakes in the application of military power. He's killed people unnecessarily—his own troops or other troops, through mistakes, through errors of judgment. A hundred, or a thousand, or ten thousand, maybe even a hundred thousand. But he hasn't destroyed nations.

And the conventional wisdom is: don't make the same mistake twice. Learn from your mistakes. And we all do. Maybe we make the mistake three times, but hopefully not four or five.

They'll be no learning period with nuclear weapons. Make one mistake and you're going to destroy nations."

[Link]
posted by basicchannel at 2:03 PM on September 26, 2005


previously
posted by longbaugh at 2:04 PM on September 26, 2005


Seriously, I google for Stanislav Petrov :(.

Oh well... happy birthday to me and us all, anyhow.
posted by basicchannel at 2:06 PM on September 26, 2005


Thanks, basicchannel.
posted by Rothko at 2:18 PM on September 26, 2005


So, he saved the world because he didn't launch missiles to destroy it...cool. I guess we all save the world everyday, don't we?
posted by Trampas at 2:22 PM on September 26, 2005


Not me. I launch 'em.
posted by maxsparber at 2:30 PM on September 26, 2005


He saved the world by disobeying direct orders and being cast out of the Soviet military, fool. I doubt you would have done the same.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 2:34 PM on September 26, 2005


Good work, Stan.
posted by StarForce5 at 2:44 PM on September 26, 2005


basicchannel; Thank you, these are the kind of posts I read mefi for.
posted by login at 2:46 PM on September 26, 2005


This post reminds me of why I started to read MeFi in the first place. Thanks, basicchannel.
posted by Jairus at 2:47 PM on September 26, 2005


Wow. Very impressive. Thanks for the post!
posted by gai at 2:48 PM on September 26, 2005


The only way to win is not to play at all.
posted by sacrilicious at 2:57 PM on September 26, 2005


today, it wouldn't matter so much. i hear we are ahead in mineshafts.
posted by muppetboy at 3:02 PM on September 26, 2005


P_G: What's the point in launching the missiles if there is any doubt whatsoever? If you're the one sitting in the launch complex, and there is a nuclear exchange, you have a 100% chance of dying. That thing would be hit with multiple warheads just to make sure. If you report that missiles are incoming, and your country responds in error, the U.S. is going to retaliate and you're going to die. So really, he had the choice between dying and losing his job, and he chose to lose his job.
posted by cameldrv at 3:04 PM on September 26, 2005


My hero. Thought about getting a tatoo of him. Or a t-shirt. Better than Che.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:23 PM on September 26, 2005


Clearly heroic. One can only hope that military leaders around the world will be as level-headed today, if such circumstances were to arise.
posted by NucleophilicAttack at 3:30 PM on September 26, 2005


Wow, thank you for the link. I am disapppointed that I have never before heard of this event or this man.
posted by missmerrymack at 3:31 PM on September 26, 2005


Cool post. But:

not ordering the world's destruction != saving the world
posted by scarabic at 3:53 PM on September 26, 2005


I wonder if any of the milblogs are going to have posts in his honor.
posted by alumshubby at 4:06 PM on September 26, 2005


See the thing to understand kids is that back in the 80's we were all completely insane. Yes, even more so.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 4:09 PM on September 26, 2005


So, he saved the world because he didn't launch missiles to destroy it...cool. I guess we all save the world everyday, don't we?

This assumes we all have the authority to launch or advise the launch of said missiles, which is kinda dumbass.
posted by Cyrano at 4:09 PM on September 26, 2005


Double post, but its been awhile.
posted by uni verse at 4:15 PM on September 26, 2005


MetaFilter: we all save the world everyday, don't we?
posted by cleardawn at 5:17 PM on September 26, 2005


cameldrv launch complexes are usually very, very well-defended from attack. Like, hidden under mountains. He probably would have been "fine" either way.
posted by lbergstr at 5:44 PM on September 26, 2005


It's a good story and certainly has a happy ending but I personally don't think there are any great heroes of peace at Strategic Command on either side.
posted by scarabic at 5:46 PM on September 26, 2005


Well, I guess if this story won't convince you nothing will.
posted by lbergstr at 5:47 PM on September 26, 2005


It must have been an immense pressure.
To think; Standing there, in a immensely critical situation, and having no one to consult, no higher ups he could go to.
posted by Catfry at 5:55 PM on September 26, 2005


"not ordering the world's destruction != saving the world"

Well, it's also the effect he's had. We were crazy in the 80s. SAC/NORAD was batshit insane in the 50s - 60s and Regan upped the level back up in the 80s.

so:
Smedleyman circa 1988: "My God they've launched the missles! Die Commie Bastards!" *pushes as many buttons as can aim a finger at*

Smedleyman circa 2005: "Hmmm.....well, Petrov didn't..."

Never had my finger on the button, but the concept extends to triggers as well.
And that kind of warfare isn't how it looks in the movies. In addition to ICBMS there are sub launched nukes, those carried by other naval vessels, those carried by bombers, etc. etc. etc.
From our POV, if he went for it, it would have looked like an all out first strike by the Soviets (almost redundant - nuke first strikes pretty much have to be all out).

So the question comes down to participation as well as mindset. It's a matter of chosing life. Sounds trite, but it's for real.

"He slept for 28 hours straight trying to regain the strength he spent during the incident. After that he was taken to the hospital for stress treatment." - says it all.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:10 PM on September 26, 2005


Tonight a Vodka toast! I would like to think that in a similar situation i would have had the balls to do the same; but no one knows how they will respond to a situation like that... i guess not exactly 'no one' Mr. Petrov knows.

Cheers
posted by canucklehead at 6:16 PM on September 26, 2005


Yes, but the... whole point of the doomsday machine... is lost... if you keep it a secret! Why didn't you tell the world, eh?

Great post. The sort of thing that should be taught in history class. He definitely deserves a statue.
posted by furtive at 6:17 PM on September 26, 2005


Any thoughts on whether the address in the second link is for real? Phrontist, I am wondering too.
posted by selfmedicating at 6:20 PM on September 26, 2005


Last link, I meant last link.
posted by selfmedicating at 6:21 PM on September 26, 2005


I was one who was blissfully (?) unaware that we were that close to annihilation. Thanks for the post, basicchannel.
posted by deborah at 6:23 PM on September 26, 2005


Fantastic post. Thank you.
posted by vaportrail at 7:34 PM on September 26, 2005


"Nuclear weapons can wipe out life on earth, if used properly." -- David Byrne
posted by neuron at 10:05 PM on September 26, 2005


Last week I saw the (1963?) movie "Fail Safe", based on the novel of that name. It's really good. Its stars include Walter Matthau, Henry Fonda, and a young Larry Hagman.

The other movie based on the novel "Fail Safe" was called "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb".
posted by neuron at 10:08 PM on September 26, 2005


I didn't come close to dying at the age of 6, silly. I was three!

Making light of your grammar aside, this is a very excellent post. I think the statue of him should be him standing in front of a bright red button with his arms folded and his face bearing a look of total refusal to push that button, no matter how jolly and candylike it looks...
posted by Eideteker at 10:20 PM on September 26, 2005


Oh wha... haha. Outing myself. I misread the first comment as part of the post. Shows how engrossed I was in the articles! Ha... yes.

I'm going over here now.
posted by Eideteker at 10:21 PM on September 26, 2005


A couple related items: a newsgroup post describing some of the risks that Reagan took during the Cold War. My favorite quote:

... there's another incident not in this CIA official history, but in the folklore among Navy sub community that at a given moment all the US hunter subs pinged the Soviet missile subs around the globe simultaneously thereby letting them know that we can sink all their submarine deterrent.

Operation Ryan.

Soviet intelligence services went on alert in 1981 to watch for US preparations for launching a surprise nuclear attack against the USSR and its allies. This alert was accompanied by a new Soviet intelligence collection program, known by the acronym RYAN, to monitor indications and provide early warning of US intentions. Two years later a major war scare erupted in the USSR. This study traces the origins and scope of Operation RYAN and its relationship to the war scare.

Some observers dismissed the alert and the war scare as Soviet disinformation and scare tactics, while others viewed them as reflecting genuine fears. The latter view seems to have been closer to the truth. The KGB in the early 1980s saw the international situation--in Soviet terminology, the "correlation of world forces"--as turning against the USSR and increasing its vulnerability. These developments, along with the new US administration's tough stance toward the USSR, prompted Soviet officials and much of the populace to voice concern over the prospect of a US nuclear attack.

New information suggests that Moscow also was reacting to US-led naval and air operations, including psychological warfare missions conducted close to the Soviet Union. These operations employed sophisticated concealment and deception measures to thwart Soviet early warning systems and to offset the Soviets' ability--greatly bolstered by US spy John Walker--to read US naval communications.

posted by russilwvong at 10:58 PM on September 26, 2005


This happened three months before I was born...I'm glad I'm here!

(Great post.)
posted by speranza at 1:00 AM on September 27, 2005


Well, that was a sobering post. Being optimistic, I guess we can all celebrate the fact that we're 22 years older than we should be. Thanks, Petrov. We owe you one.
posted by quadog at 1:03 AM on September 27, 2005


1984 was the closest that we came to nuclear annihilation according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists - the Doomsday Clock stood at 3 minutes to midnight. Funnily enough, after the end of the cold war the clock went down to 17 minutes to midnight (around 1991). In 2002 the Clock stood at 7 minutes to midnight, thanks to unrestrained nuclear spending, the USA backing out of the ABM treaty and the threat of "rogue states" acquiring nuclear weapons.

Right now it is still at 7 minutes to midnight, but that setting has not changed for three years. When the next bulletin is issued I strongly suspect that it will be close to it's setting in 1984. What the kids have to understand is that we still are crazy, and it's not likely to change as long as we use the threat of nuclear weapons as tool of foreign policy.
posted by longbaugh at 1:26 AM on September 27, 2005


Blissfully ignorant? Are they implying people are now lucid about nuclear war? Gotta be fucking kidding me... Talk about it to your entourage and note the puzzled stares, especially from the 15y-30y bracket. It's seven minutes to midnight, yet ignorance and apathy triumph, now more than ever. The common is too busy being vain and worrying about gas price, they completely forgot the silos. They think it's gone, or it's there for fun, naw won't happen, forgot it already did and will again and the shop will close permanently. Give a thousand guns with their safety on to a thousand monkeys and see how long it takes to confirm that theory of probability thingy.

on review, what longbaugh said
posted by kush at 1:48 AM on September 27, 2005


Now I remember why I spent months in the '80s restocking our family's '50s-era bomb shelter.

Although, in retrospect, had the bombs actually been launched, the shelter would simply have turned into a tiny oven for me and my family.
posted by maxsparber at 9:20 AM on September 27, 2005


Would you have even had warning about the attack:

But yeah, IMO there is a diffrence between saving the world, and chosing not to destroy it, given some evidence that it's destruction would be a good idea.

I personaly would not have pushed the button, even if the US HAD launched its nukes. What's the point? You can't deter something that's already happened.
posted by delmoi at 9:42 AM on September 27, 2005


I think it's fortunate that Petrov made the right decision, but he didn't precisely "disobey orders" nor did he have any command authority over missile launches. His job was to provide command with an assessment, which he did under pressure. Obviously his assessment was trusted or the launch would have occurred anyway.

Certainly this was one of the riskiest moments of the Cold War, but it wasn't by any means the only one, and I'm baffled how Petrov has come to personify our desires and hopes that sane men rule (although psychologically, given present tenures, that may be understandable).

William J. Perry:

My own nightmare stems from a real incident. In the summer of 1979, when I was undersecretary of defense, I was awakened by a call from a duty officer at the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD). I was informed that NORAD computers indicated that 200 missiles were on their way from the Soviet Union to the United States. Although 4 years have passed, I remember that moment vividly. I don't want to overdramatize this incident...In fact, the NORAD duty officer recognized immediately that this was a false warning and was calling to advise me we had a technical problem in the computers...

In 1980 (same link), SAC scrambled aircraft 140 times every day to disconfirm alerts. In 1957, a routine VIP tour of the bunker had civilian witnesses as the alert level rose to a point of furious activity, after which the civilians were sequestered. Some 20 minutes later the alert had passed.

The point is that this happened all the time. Not just once in 1983. And to us, as well.

If we want to praise Petrov, we'd have to praise hundreds of Petrovs, and hundreds of Petersons as well.
posted by dhartung at 11:09 AM on September 27, 2005


Seriously, if anyone can confirm that he's a) still alive and b) what his current address is, I'd really like to send the guy something - even if only my thanks.
posted by tdismukes at 11:12 AM on September 27, 2005


What tdismukes said.
posted by interrobang at 12:38 PM on September 27, 2005


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