"The Man Who Saved The World"

September 26, 1983. Stanislav Petrov, a lt. colonel in the Soviet Strategic Air Defence Forces, stations himself as the duty officer at the command centre of Oko, a brand new early warning system built to detect any nuclear attack from the US.

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It's half past midnight. All of a sudden, the warning light comes on. A siren starts screaming. This means a missile has been launched from US. A second warning light appears and the siren screams of another missile. Then a third, a fourth, a fifth. The writing is on the wall.

Everyone in the room freezes for a while. Petrov finds himself in a dilemma. He has clear orders, i.e., pick up the phone and order an appropriate response. The window of reaction is so small that if a split second passes, there might not be any missile bases left in USSR.

With a phone in one hand and an intercom in the other, he sits down for a minute. It occurs to his mind if this is an all-out attack, how come only 5 missiles are launched? His military uniform is drenched in sweat. His colleagues look stunned as he refuses to dial the number.

In a few minutes, the truth is confirmed. Ground radar and geostationary satellites report there are no missile launches from America. By then, Cold War was a thirty year long psychological horror film. Both the sides knew one of them would hurl a nuclear missile eventually.

The only reason we are alive to type this from a PC is thanks to Mr. Petrov who in an extreme high pressure situation decided to question the computer system, that too in the face of a probable nuclear attack which was on the cards anyway.

A couple of decades later, when the world got to know about the story in its entirety and hailed him a hero, Petrov was quite calm, maintaining that he was simply doing his job. Standing in 2020, we can hardly fathom what he was going through in those eerie hours.

Not many have heard of Stanislav Petrov. High profile secrecy during the Cold War years meant he was snubbed a Nobel Peace Prize. All we know, if the lieutenant colonel hadn't worked on his instincts that night, we might not have seen today's sunrise.



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