Man Who Single-Handedly Prevented WWIII Dies

by | Oct 6, 2017 | Across the U.S.

There’s doing your job. And then there’s pausing for a few critical moments before you decide to annihilate the world…all while doing your job.

Thankfully (hopefully???), most of us will never face this dilemma. But for Soviet Lieutenant Stanislav Petrov, the decision he faced on September 26th, 1983 was very real and very critical.

1952 comic book cover, with stories speculating on 1960 events:

Petrov was operating a radar system built as an early detection for incoming missiles. Located in a deep bunker outside of Moscow, Petrov noticed something on his radar just past midnight. A single missile was headed towards in the Soviet Union.

His screen lit up with the “launch” signal to fire in retaliation.

In this moment, it’s reasonable to assume that a good percentage of humans would hit the red button without thinking twice. But something was off here, and Petrov could sense it. He thought to himself, “why are they sending only one missile?”

To date, countless algorithms had been run by both the U.S. and the Soviets, calculating the outcomes of a strike-for-strike war. In each case, the result seemed to be the same: mutually assured destruction. But most of these scenarios saw a bevy of missiles being fired at strategic points on both sides. Here, was one singular missile headed one-way.

Realizing this was not a “normal” predictor of a nuclear exchange, Petrov made the important decision to hold tight — despite the red, blinking light in front of him telling him to fire away. It’s a good thing he did, as the “missile” ended up being the sun’s reflection on clouds.

Crisis averted (for now…).

Nuke button from:

Sadly, Petrov passed last month at the age of 77. But the next time you ponder your existence, think about “what ifs” in your life or just stop to appreciate your loved ones, give a thought or a nod to a person you’ll never know, for they may have been the one that saved life itself.  

And that is what we call doing your job!



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Suzanne Skees, author of the three-volume MY JOB series on real people in remarkable jobs, believes in the power of our jobs over our identity and wellbeing and, conversely, our ability to change our world with the work of our minds and hands. She lives by the Pacific Ocean and spends as much time as possible listening to the surf, and to silence.



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