Sunday, June 14, 2015

Remembering the Man Who Single-handedly Stopped WW3

mushroom cloudEarlier this week, a uniquely shaped cloud incited a minor panic in Southern Russia. The cloud formation, which looked suspiciously similar to a nuclear explosion, had locals scrambling to take pictures, which quickly went viral across Russia. Twitter and Instagram users responded to the images with phrases like "World War III has begun" and "Oh, God save us. What have they done?!!!"

Since you're reading this on your computer right now instead of hunkering down in a bunker, you already know that this incident was much ado about nothing. But it's safe to say that just a few years ago, such a response would be unlikely. Russia and the United States are currently resting on pins and needles, and tensions haven't been this high since the Cold War. When people start losing their minds over strange clouds, you know the public is living in a state of chronic fear.

But in regards to the threat of a possible nuclear holocaust, I think it's time we all take a step back from this situation like cool little Fonzies, and chill. I don't mean to say that everything is hunky-dory, because it's not. But I think we need to put these fears into perspective, and realize that the current tensions pale in comparison to some of the close calls we had in the Cold War.

Specifically, I'd like to share the story of Stanislav Petrov, and explain why most of us are alive today because of him. Until recently, most people had never heard of him, and his exploits weren't revealed until the Soviet Union was crumbling in 1990.

Stanislav Petrov was an officer with the Soviet Air Defense Forces. On September 26th, 1983, he manned his post in a secret military bunker just outside of Moscow. The command center was responsible for detecting any incoming nuclear strikes, and his job was to monitor the early warning system. Unbeknownst to Petrov, he was about to have a rough day at the office.

Just after midnight, the alarm bells started ringing on the Soviet's new detection system, known as "Oko". Apparently, the Americans had just launched a single ICBM towards the Soviet Union. According the system, and everything that Petrov had been taught to interpret from it, World War Three had just begun.

However, the launching of a single missile didn't sound like a reasonable way to attack the Soviets, since a swarm ICBM's would be more likely to overcome their defenses. Something in his gut told him that this was not an attack. He decided to report the incident to his superiors as a false alarm. It wasn't long after that the early warning system detected four more missiles heading towards his country.

Put yourself in his place. What would you have done? You know this new defense system creates false alarms from time to time, but to have five alerts in rapid succession?

And while the nature of the attack was unlike anything Petrov was trained to expect, the paranoid Soviet military was in fact, poised to respond to a NATO incursion at that time. Just three weeks prior, a South Korean airliner had accidentally wandered into Soviet airspace and was promptly shot down, killing numerous passengers, including US Congressman Larry McDonald. As a whole, the Soviet system was bracing for a retaliation, and people like Petrov were told to expect the worst.

But when faced with nuclear annihilation, and only minutes to spare before these suspected missiles reached their targets, Petrov decided to trust his gut and common sense, instead of following protocol. He saddled up his brass pair, and declared another false alarm. Of course, his instincts were correct. The "missiles" detected by Oko were later determined to be caused by sunlight shining through high altitude clouds before making contact with Soviet satellites.

So just how close did we come to Armageddon?

According to recent interviews conducted with Petrov, it was an unbelievably close call. Even after the incident, he was never completely sure that the alert was a false alarm. He believes that in retrospect, there was about a 50/50 chance that he would have given the right call, and his information would have been given priority over other systems that weren't detecting any attacks at that time.

In fact, he thinks that if anyone else had been in charge that day, it would have ended horribly, because he was the only military officer in that position with a civilian education. "My colleagues were all professional soldiers, they were taught to give and obey orders." Anyone else would have passed the buck up the chain of command, possibly with disastrous results.

So the next time you or anyone else fears that a nuclear holocaust is in our future, remind yourself that even when all the odds stacked against the human race, the people manning the battle stations may be reluctant to pull the trigger.

Delivered By The Daily Sheeple

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