The man who prevented World War III

We are not waiting for a third world war. There is already enough misery in the world, all countries are on edge and uttering threatening language back and forth. My bomb is bigger than your bomb, muscle language that won’t benefit us. But what if World War III broke out because of a simple mistake? Millions killed by a mistake? It almost happened to a Russian officer.

Stanislav Petrov

Petrov (1939-2017) was an officer in the Russian army. His job was to monitor and defend Russian airspace. In 1983, Russia was still called the Soviet Union. That year, Petrov managed to prevent a nuclear war by going against all protocols and relying purely on his gut feeling. Thanks to this man, the cold war did not turn into a third world war.

The OKO warning system

On 26 September 1983, Petrov received a notification from the OKO warning system that a US nuclear missile was on its way to Moscow. All alarm bells rang, sirens blared and he looked at a large screen with the word ‘launch’ on it. He should immediately relay this notification to his superiors, but he did not. He did not trust the notification because it was one missile; he had been taught that the Americans would immediately send a destructive wave of missiles in the event of an attack.

World War III

Had Petrov pressed the launch button and immediately informed his superiors of the notification, the Americans would have responded with a counterattack that would undoubtedly have triggered a third world war. But he waited to make the call until 23 minutes after the notification. Then he informed his superiors of a system error, which to his relief turned out to be true. His gut feeling had proved correct.

False alarm due to sunlight

So the report about the US missile was false. The false alarm was caused by a rare conjunction of a satellite and the reflection of sunlight on high clouds. But instead of being complimented by his superiors, he received a lot of criticism for ignoring protocol. Later, he received a lot of media attention as a journalist picked up the story. However, he was still ashamed of that night and after the death of his wife in 1997, he fell into alcohol and eventually died alone in his flat on 19 May 2017. A film was made about his life and the night in question, Petrov has always denounced it. Below is the trailer.

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