Picture a smartly uniformed military officer, bristling with medals and ribbons for participation and valor in war. Then try to picture that same individual receiving a medal for preventing a war. But not just any war... the ultimate world ending kind - Full Scale Thermonuclear War between the Soviet Union and the U.S.
On Sept. 26, 1983, Stanislov Petrov, then an officer at a Soviet nuclear early-warning system command center, went well beyond his direct responsibilities (which were to simply report incoming missiles to his superiors). Petrov carefully (yet quickly) analyzed the situation he was seeing on his radar screen and chose to ignore the report rather than blindly accepting the raw data.
Had Petrov instead passed on the "obvious" information, his superiors would have most likely ordered a retaliatory strike, and World War III would have begun. What if another officer had been sitting in Petrov's chair that day???
The implications are obvious. Whether the Cuban Missile Crisis or any of the countless incidents over the past nearly seven decades, nearly every one could have resulted in the end of life as we know it. In each case people intervened and made decisions that were either counter intuitive or against established rules. But it was people, and not technology, that brought humanity back from the brink.
And so, an individual who most likely saved the world (or at least gave it a reprieve) will finally be recognized - not for bravery under fire, but for preventing the ultimate fire. Although he's not being recognized by his own country's military, it is nevertheless a well-earned recognition.
To learn Petrov's full story, read the article below.
Soviet Officer Wins Award for Preventing Nuclear War
In RIA NOVOSTI, 11/16/2012
MOSCOW, November 16 (RIA Novosti) – A retired Soviet lieutenant colonel whose self-control prevented a nuclear war from being triggered by a long-classified accident in 1983 was named on Friday a recipient of a German anti-war prize.
Stanislav Petrov, 73, won the fourth Dresden-Preis (Dresden Prize), which comes complete with a check for 25,000 euro ($32,000), prize organizers said on their website, Friendsofdresden-deutschland.com.
The prize is to be bestowed at a ceremony in Dresden on Feb. 17, the anniversary of the Dresden bombing in 1945, the organizers said.
Ironically for a military officer, Petrov shot to fame for ignoring his direct responsibilities. The officer served at a command center of the Soviet nuclear early-warning system outside Moscow, which reported the launch of five nuclear missiles from US territory on Sept. 26, 1983.
Cold War tensions were riding high at the time, boosted by the Soviet Union’s fears about the US Strategic Defense Initiative – “the Star Wars program” – and the international incident caused by the Soviet air defense shooting down a Korean passenger plane earlier in September that year.
Petrov’s duty was to report the incoming missiles to his superiors, who were likely to order a snap retaliatory strike. However, he chose to ignore the report, ruling it an equipment malfunction and reckoning five missiles insufficient for a proper war.
His guess was right: an investigation proved the warning to be a false report by a monitoring satellite confused by sunlight reflecting off high-altitude clouds.
Petrov was neither promoted nor disciplined and continued his service, while the story remained classified until 1998. He later said he was denied an award because the incident was investigated by the officers responsible for the malfunction.
After the story was made public, Petrov received several international prizes. He has stubbornly denied all attempts to label him a hero, saying in an interview to The Moscow News in 2004 that “he was just doing his job, at the right place at the right time.”
The annual Dresden-Preis was incepted in 2010 and is awarded for anti-war effort. Recipients include the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, pianist Daniel Barenboim, active in promoting Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, and US war photographer James Nachtwey.
The United States had 13,100 strategic nuclear warheads as of 1983, and the Soviet Union 9,700.