One of the world's greatest unsung heroes?
September 5, 2004 8:39 AM   Subscribe

You may owe your life to this man If it weren't for Stanislav Petrov, many or even most of us reading this might be dead now - or never born, for the teens among us. At least according to this article, and the other links above.
posted by ramakrishna (34 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I've been on MeFi sporadically for a couple of years now, but this is the first time I've found something that really seemed worthy of an FPP. I went over to this guy's website because it seemed to have the software I needed to view an electronic Sanskrit dictionary. On top of his page were his words "Please find out more about Stanislav Petrov," with links. I decided to check his links out of gratitude for the dictionary software, and was blown away by what I found. I wanted to share it here, because if all this is true, I really hope Petrov's heroism is recognized as widely as possible before he's gone.
posted by ramakrishna at 8:46 AM on September 5, 2004

hooray for stanislav petrov! yay! thanks!
posted by kliuless at 8:52 AM on September 5, 2004

"Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!"

(and nice post!)
posted by Robot Johnny at 8:52 AM on September 5, 2004

Nice story. It reminds me that, perhaps, everyone was a lot edgier in the '80s than even now. I mean, come on, why would the US decide to randomly throw a barrage of nukes at the USSR (or vice versa)? A lot of people at the time thought this was highly possible, clearly Petrov did not. The Cold War was a freaky distortion of reality backed up by a lot of unused firepower.. funny what that does to the psyche.
posted by wackybrit at 8:52 AM on September 5, 2004

cool. The world is full of people like him, and we usually never hear about them--thanks!
posted by amberglow at 8:52 AM on September 5, 2004

Weird that the computer system thought it saw not just one missle coming, but several after that. That's one big bug. The other thing that comes to mind is: was he the only guy in the entire USSR with his finger on The Button? Weren't there a dozen other Petrov's in other Soviet states? Couldn't he just call one to ask if they too saw the incoming missles?
posted by mathowie at 8:58 AM on September 5, 2004

Glad y'all like the post - I was having a few first-FPP jitters. Browsing the links on the brightstarsound site, I found a nice interview with Petrov in the Moscow News. Guess he doesn't think of himself as a hero or want to be considered one - but then they say few real heroes do.

mathowie: From most of the links, it sounds like he was. Maybe the equipment for this early-warning system was so expensive at the time that they only had the one?

Good call, Robot Johnny: it got me thinking of Dr. Strangelove too, and of 99 Luftballons. Both were supposed to be black comedy, but it's astonishing just how real they were - just one gut decision away from horrible reality.

Finding these links puts a lot of things into perspective for me. As terrified as I am by the prospect of four more Bush years (with the resulting Supreme Court, etc), or of future terrorist attacks or the reactions to them, I realize now they are nothing compared to what Stanislav Petrov prevented. I'm sure some people who were around then already have this larger perspective, but I was seven when this happened - I remember Cold War paranoia along with Transformers and other flights of childhood fantasy. It's chilling how real it actually was.
posted by ramakrishna at 9:10 AM on September 5, 2004

So, did they ever find the glitch in the computer system? That certainly would have exonerated Mr. Stanislav. Thanks for the post, I didn't know about him until now.

As someone who has hit the "over the hill" point, I find people edgier now than during the 70's and 80's. Seriously.
posted by Eekacat at 9:10 AM on September 5, 2004

Scientist and humanitarian Albert Einstein, when asked what weapons would be used in the Third World War: “I don’t know. But I can tell you what they’ll use in the Fourth — rocks.”

This guy seems to have prevented the Einstein scenario from playing out. Nice one.
posted by dash_slot- at 9:13 AM on September 5, 2004

Speechless. Check the BBC RealVideo. Where the poster of Lenin was, they aught to have this guy.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 9:19 AM on September 5, 2004

Oh yeah, and Spread The Word.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 9:23 AM on September 5, 2004

Eekacat: from the WaPo article: "According to Petrov and other sources, the false alarm was eventually traced to the satellite, which picked up the sun's reflection off the tops of clouds and mistook it for a missile launch. The computer program that was supposed to filter out such information was rewritten." There doesn't seem to be any question among Soviet higher-ups that Petrov's judgement was right - after all, no missiles actually hit the USSR! From the sound of things, he got a dressing down and minor censure anyway, just because he revealed that the mistake was there and made the Soviets look bad. Stalinist justice at its finest.
posted by ramakrishna at 9:25 AM on September 5, 2004

that's good that he did that ... thank god he did ... and thank god we no longer live in a world where thousands of nuclear weapons can erase our civilization from the earth ... oh ... wait ...

i think we need a few more heroes
posted by pyramid termite at 9:29 AM on September 5, 2004

Thanks Ramakrishna, I was too lazy to go through all the articles, let alone register for the WaPo one. This was interesting just the same, Thanks!
posted by Eekacat at 9:51 AM on September 5, 2004

My bad, didn't have to register for THAT WaPo one.....

I'm still lazy though.
posted by Eekacat at 9:55 AM on September 5, 2004

This would make a good Nobel Peace Prize.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 9:59 AM on September 5, 2004

It reminds me that, perhaps, everyone was a lot edgier in the '80s than even now. I mean, come on, why would the US decide to randomly throw a barrage of nukes at the USSR (or vice versa)?

I dunno, why would anyone with his finger on the button jest "...we start bombing in five minutes"? Edgy is mild. Patholical might be more like it.
posted by Verdant at 10:25 AM on September 5, 2004

posted by euphorb at 10:38 AM on September 5, 2004

Great post! Thanks!
posted by vacapinta at 10:54 AM on September 5, 2004

One reason for Soviet jitters at the time was that the West had unleashed a series of psychological warfare exercises aimed at Moscow, including naval maneuvers into forward areas near Soviet strategic bastions, such as the submarine bases in the Barents Sea.
We start bombing in five minutes, indeed. The real hero here, as always, is Ronald Reagan. Haha! Barely averted globothermonuclear war was merely another one of his brilliant ploys to stop the spread of Evil terrorism communism!
posted by Skwirl at 1:07 PM on September 5, 2004

God I hate to do this - we've seen Petrov before. Still a great post though...
posted by longbaugh at 2:16 PM on September 5, 2004

No Petrov fpp, I think, though. This is a wonderful tie in to the 000000 post, though. Great post.

Anyone know if the solictation to donate for a fund for Petrov is legit?
posted by weston at 2:56 PM on September 5, 2004

longbaugh: auggh! I checked and double-checked before posting... How do you check for that sort of thing? The main MeFi search seemed to allow searching only in threads and users, not in comments. I tried doing the Google-search-MeFi-only thing on the search page, but it didn't turn up anything.

Anyway, at least the FPP hadn't been done before.
posted by ramakrishna at 3:53 PM on September 5, 2004

longbaugh: that comment was completely unnecessary. (If you hated to do it, why did you?)

FPPs and comments are different things. Posting about something that was previously mentioned in a comment is not a doublepost by any stretch. This was new to me and to just about everyone else.
posted by vacapinta at 4:39 PM on September 5, 2004

Well, at least ramakrishna could have credited MonkeyFilter, where it came from earlier in the week.... I did.
posted by briank at 6:19 PM on September 5, 2004

briank: he gave an account of how he came across it in the first comment... are you saying he lied? Rama, do you frequent Monkeyfilter?

I don't have a dog in this hunt, as I don't "know" either of you. Let's just be careful calling someone an outright fraud before all the information is in.

For instance, you could have asked if he had seen it on Monkeyfilter before accusing him of stealing it.

I'm just saying.
posted by Ynoxas at 7:10 PM on September 5, 2004

I think we should argue more about the post's provenance and relevance. Arguing is fun.
posted by ook at 8:45 PM on September 5, 2004 [1 favorite]

If briank hadn't posted the link just now, I'd be asking, "What's MonkeyFilter?"
posted by ramakrishna at 9:20 PM on September 5, 2004

ramakrishna, don't let the comments snarking your posts put you off. This is an excellent post.

As an off topic aside: I've visited the Ramakrishna missions in Mumbai and Calcutta, and I think his disciple Swami Vivekanand was an incredible ambassador for the religion.
posted by riffola at 11:01 PM on September 5, 2004

yeah, ramakrishna, ignore briank. He's behaving like a dingleberry. Nice post.
posted by dobbs at 11:37 PM on September 5, 2004

Feel proud of this post!
posted by Pretty_Generic at 1:13 AM on September 6, 2004

Now THERE is someone I'd donate to via PayPal.
posted by jmccorm at 9:52 AM on September 7, 2004

Thank you for saving humanity. Here's a trophy and $1,000.
posted by thisisdrew at 1:53 PM on September 7, 2004

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