Sunday, October 28, 2007

3 Seconds from World War 3

September 1, 1983. Soviet airspace over the Sakhalin Island. A Korean Boeing 747, flying from the US to South Korea, doesn't respond after violating Soviet airspace a second time. After escorting the 747 for more than an hour, two Soviet SU-15 interceptor aircraft receive the order to shoot down the airplane. 269 passengers and crew are killed. The Cold War is on its hottest ever. The US military superiority feeds the conviction of the Kremlin that a First Strike scenario by the United States is only a question of 'when'. What happens 4 weeks later should be viewed in that context.

On the night of September 26, lieutenant colonel Stanislav Petrov resumed his shift in a bunker of the Strategic Rocket Forces. The unimaginable happens when the computers capture a nuclear missile launch from the US. According to Soviet strategy protocol, an immediate full-blown nuclear weapons counterattack against the US should be launched. Colonel Petrov cannot believe that World War 3 has begun. Why only one missile? He's convinced it's a computer error and decides not to start a nuclear counterstrike. However, only minutes later, a second, a third and a fourth missile are detected. The USSR is under missile attack! Millions of people will be killed in Moscow. Now is the time to push the button. Petrov refuses to believe it has come this far and stays convinced that it's a computer error.

Petrov was right and prevented a worldwide nuclear war that would have destroyed all large cities in both the US and the Soviet Union. This makes him one of the most important persons in the 20th century. Unfortunately, the Kermlin wasn't that happy. By breaking a critical military protocol, Petrov risked millions of Soviet lives. He was sent into early retirement with a small pension and suffered a nervous breakdown. It was only in 1998 that a book, written by another officer in that bunker, revealed the story of this heroic man. In 2008, a movie is set to be released about the incident. And now, all together: "Thank you Petrov!".

It's not the first, nor worst nuclear incident, as you can read in my January Blog, but it sure could have ended as the worst ever incident in history of human civilisation. More about Petrov in this BBC news article, including a video, or on


[WinAmp] said...

Heh, quite a chilling thought, really .. to think that we were this >< close to nuclear fire ..

Reilly said...

Hi, this is my first time to your blog.

Very interesting story. I have looked into the shooting down of flight 007, but never heard this other very important detail/follow-up to the story. This event has always interested me. I'll look forward to the movie.

Dirk said...

Don't forget that, on top of that, in November 83 NATO did the exercise "Able Archer 83" which was a hugh training to launch a massive nuclear attact. The Russians went mad when they saw all nukes getting prepared in Western Europe.