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25 years ago today, this man saved my life. And yours.

Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov

On 26th September, 1983, at the nadir of the Cold War, this man — Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov — made a judgement call that saved my life. (I was then living five miles from the Vickers Tank Factory in Leeds and about ten miles from the M1/M62 intersection — both major strategic targets.) If you're over 25 years old and live in the UK, he saved your life, too. If you're over 25 years old and lived in the USA, there's about a 70% probability that he saved you. And so on. Iterate for everyone in every NATO and Warsaw Pact country, all 750 million of us.

He lost his job for it, and suffered a nervous breakdown. He doesn't consider himself to be a hero. Nevertheless, he bent the regulations and risked punishment to prevent a disaster from overwhelming us all.

I'm going to raise a glass to him tonight. How about you?




Thank you Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov.


Guesses: Roundhay?

To Petrov, and all those who keep themselves and risk themselves to save others. And a pox on the Reagans who risk others for their own gain.


Thank you Charlie for remember this unsung hero of the cold war.
And thank you Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov for being above the others.
Tonight I will rise a glass to him.


Delurking to say: I like to say I learn something every day. Thank you for my lesson this day, Charlie. It's better for us all to know how close we came. And thank you Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov.


I was living on Maxwell AFB, one of the major training schools for pilots in the US. So yeah, he probably saved my life...


Jonathan McCalmont- Dig a Hole and Crawl Into It - An Essay.


Okay, whoever you are, you just earned yourself a Fuck Off And Die from Charlie Stross, for violating the comment policy with your first post. Hope you enjoy it.

-- Charlie


I would not hesitate to call the guy a hero for his courage to make that call. But color me skeptical about the saving the world thing.

I mean: a computer gives a false reading, and then some 44 year old lieutenant colonel in a bunker somewhere, is supposed to start WW3 on his own discretion? Where the hell does the military top brass, and USSR chairman Andropov come into the picture?


Well, he's a sung hero then. Amazing how close I came to vaporizing aged seven.

(All I got from the enormous spray from Mr. 'SF Consortium' is that he really, really doesn't like Jonathan McCalmont, and is willing to engage in lots of nice ad hominems the better to make his point. A shame he's a) off-topic and b) rationing linefeeds.)


Can I be Frank @7: this guy was the link in the chain of command that was supposed to phone the Soviet equivalent of the guy with the nuclear pumpkin and say "Comrade, the baloon just went up". So yes, he was in a position to give a go/no-go decision on WW3.

Nix @9: Mr SF Consortium's spray has been cleaned up.


#9: Mr. 'SF Consortium' spewed his stuff on John Scalzi's blog too. I didn't bother to read it either there or here. We are among the privileged few who will get to see his rant, however-- JS and CS will no doubt remove the offending message.

I knew of Mr. Petrov earlier. His act of world-saving happened on the same day as my dad's birthday. So in the course of occasionally looking at 'important things that happened on this day' pages, I learned this.


Yep, I didn't know about this great guy, but I do remember being terrified when the South keorean jet was shot down. Who comes up with a plan called 'mutually assured destruction' anyway?

Presently raising a glass, and looking for somewhere to d/load Saturn's Children as an e-book, being the new owner of a Sony Reader (Anathem was breaking my wrists)


I first heard of Colonel Petrov's heroic act a few years ago; I've raising a glass to him on this day every year since. I may not have been in the 70% in the US: the closest strategic target from here is Seattle, 150 miles away*, but I would not like to have lived in the world that would result. Here's the thing about his act; he may or may not have saved the better part of a billion people, but at that time and on that spot** his best guess was that he might have that power or the power to slow the slide down the slippery slope, if not stop it. He did, with consequences I'm sure he had some foreknowledge of. That's heroism.

* And I liked it that way back then; I lived way too close to big targets up until just a few years before that.
** Yeah, talk about being on the spot.


Many thanks, Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov


Bolshoye spasibo, Stanislav Yevgrafovich.

Brent 12: Who comes up with a plan called 'mutually assured destruction' anyway?

That's easy: MADmen.


(I lived where I live now—across the Hudson from Manhattan. I'd've been crispy critters.)


I wasn't anywhere near a prime target -- in fact, I was living in one of the out-of-the-way spots recommended as being most likely to survive MAD. But I'm exceedingly glad I never got to find out whether it would have survived a nuclear winter scenario.

Here's to you, Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov. Thank you for your work that day.


jp @2: yes, I lived in Roundhay. Not a good place to be if the baloon went up that month.


It might be interesting to speculate what would have happened if Petrov's decision's had gone the other way in the form of a science fiction story. The subject would seem to be timely given the amount of reckless behaviour exhibited by the powerful these days.

One thing is for certain, it would have put a real damper on the Reagan revolution.


I feel ridiculous for not knowing this before. I'm in company, apparently many don't. Should be a globally recognized date/event, damn near Holiday. Seems a greek tragedy he's living on such simple means. I'll raise a dram tonight in recognition.


Arriba, abajo, al centro, a dentro, Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov.


'83? Well within Circular Error Probability from the US CINCPAC above Pearl Harbor, the Pacific Fleet nuclear weapons depot at West Loch, and Hickam Air Force Base. Slightly farther but also within CEP from Barbers' Point Airfield, the Kaneohe Marine Corps Air Station, Schofield Barracks (Army) and probably a couple others. A military friend told me the USSR was known to have a total of at least 100 MT targeted at points around this rather small island.

Thank you, Stanislav Petrov.


A good reason for a toast tonight. Thanks, comrade(and hoping it's recognized like Yuri's Night eventually).

Funnily enough, I found out about Petrov a year ago, after browsing Wikipedia pages on Threads and The Day After. When this headline popped up in my reader, my subconscious managed to generate the spontaneous thought "he can't be talking about the Russian watch officer, can he?"


And if you're under 25 he saved your life too. If a nuclear war had killed our parents, we'd never have been born, right?

This should SO be better known. He deserves a hell of a lot of gratitude.


Bolshoye spasibo indeed. I will lift a beer for you at the hockey game tonight.

I figure I would have been glowing in the dark if not for Petrov; at the time I worked about a mile away from the Blue Cube (Onizuka AFB) in Sunnyvale, California. Come to think of it, I still do, although at a different company.


Hmm... 1983 I would have been living about 10 miles from RAF Scampton. I'm pretty sure it was no longer a Vulcan base, but even if the Soviet target list was up to date, it would still have been on it (just a little further down).



Reminds me of the beginning of "War Games".
Weird. That movie was released three months prior to this event. Coincidence? Yes.

Well, here's to you, Stanislav. *glug*
And here's to you, Charlie. *glug*
And here's to you Stanislaw (Lem) for having the same first name. *glug*
And one because it's Friday. *glug*
And one for my dead homies. *pours on the carpet*.
And one for my new EeePC 1000. *glug*



As someone who was still living within vaporisation-distance of Finningley and Sheffield in '83, I'll tip a glass to Stanislav Yevgrafovich. You know, I'd forgotten all about this. Isn't that awful?


In the Dales, but within sight of Menwith Hill. Can you spell dodo? I think you can.

Good work, Colonel Petrov from Voyska PVO. It was everything we expect from our own society.


I was an Air Force brat and more specifically a SAC (Strategic Air Command) brat for all of my childhood. In 1983 I was living about 10 miles from the base my father commanded. We SAC brats at that time had a really good idea of where on the targeting list our bases were. At that time, Griffiss had the Northeast Air Defense Command, the first B-52 wing with cruise missiles and one of the most important military research labs in the country. Griffiss was number 4 or 5 on the list. So that guy certainly saved my life! I just gave him a scotch toast!


Random SFnal thought: ... and there's one easy way to win 'The Game of Blood and Dust' (Zelazny)


Oh, man. Now you've got me *curious* about what the spammer at #6 said.

Yeah, I know. Train-wreck syndrome all over, for me. It's what I'm good at. But at least tell us *what* he was blabbering about.

(First-time commenter *here*, but longtime reader. And I buy your books! Tell me to fuck off if you will, but banning me would make me very sad.)


Kudos to Clifton. Am re-reading Lord of Light this week as an anodyne for a depressingly mystifying text on yoga philosophy. Zelazny's clarity and humor can make even the most horrific situations a fun romp. And now I want to reread A Night in Lonesome October. So many old books, so many new books, so little time. But thank you again, Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov, for the extra 25 years and counting.


Brent @12, MAD came from Kissinger's underlings. At the time this happened, I was working on the Tomahawk Cruise Missiles, which were MAD, and we were pretty worried about the Korean plane being shot down, personally and professionally. Particularly because back then the missiles didn't work anywhere near as well as they do now.

The background: Kissinger had to go to a SALT talk and he asked his underlings for a believable weapon that would kill the USSR after their ICBMs killed us. He wanted a phantom something he could trade away during the talk for fewer Soviet weapons. The underlings came up with the MAD term and the Tomahawk cruise missiles. However, Kissinger was not able to barter them, and we had to actually make them. The idea was that they could get us with ICBMs, but there would be time to launch the Tomahawks that would kill them before we were all dead. Therefore, Mutual Assured Destruction.


Linked over from Making Light...and am now feeling incredibly stupid.

I had NEVER heard of this incident. I don't even remember hearing about the UN visit in 2006.

Petrov may see himself as just a man who did his job that night, but the fact he was willing to risk being devastatingly wrong because what he was seeing didn't make sense is what makes him a hero--after all, with the state of US/USSR relations at the time, someone higher up could easily have given an order he couldn't take back...and living in LA, I'm pretty sure I'd have been toast in that case.

Raise a glass, hell! Where's the blini and caviar?


A hero worth remembering indeed.

Of course there was another very similar close call on Raygun Ronnie's watch - a sounding rocket launched from an island off the coast of Norway or Sweden (I forget which) that looked to the Soviets like a submarine missile launch. It's said they came within seconds of ordering a retaliatory strike before realising their mistake. They'd been notified of the upcoming launch in advance, as usual, but the paperwork got lost in the system!

In the 1960s of course there was the Soviet submarine K-19 made famous by the Harrison Ford movie a few years ago. And then there was the Soviet sub forced to the surface by the American fleet blockading Cuba during the missile crisis that turned out to be carrying nuclear tipped torpedoes. Her captain deserves an award for restraint under fire, and saving the world.

The Americans have mostly managed to keep their acts of heroic individual Armageddon-prevention secret (aside from JFK and the Cuban missile thing of course) but I'm sure that's just because they hate to blow their own trumpets...


I was in silicon valley at the time. I'd have been
another of the crispy critters (dry roasted with absolutely
no fats or oils).

Thank you Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov!


I wasn't yet born then, but I'll gladly raise one for him.


@David S. #36, Wikipedia lists a couple in its "World War III" and "NORAD" articles - for instance, a 9 Nov 1979 event where test data was inadvertently presented as real.

Which just makes War Games that much scarier.


Dave @36, I think the other incident was even more disturbing because I believe it was after the Cold War in 1994 or thereabouts. It is usually cited as the closest to Midnight the world has ever come. I was 13 in 1983 and around that time, I was told that we were the 3rd highest civilian target zone--and the most northerly of those three! (P&W, Sikorski, UT, Colt--all that good stuff from a place that has not seen a shot fired in anger since the 1780's.)

There's a Russian hero that even this Polak can salute! Na zdrovie! Sto lat!


I wasn't born yet, but the young couple that would be responsible for my existence lived about five miles from Manhattan at the time, so I'll count myself as saved by this guy. Amazing I didn't know about him until now.


How could I have dissed Electric Boat on my previous post--MAD indeed!


In 1983, I was a freshman in college. I lived at home and my drive took me past Miramar Naval Air Station (home of the "Top Gun" school) twice a day.

So here's to you, Stanislaw Petrov! [raises a bottle]


Sometimes we're just lucky that cooler heads prevail.
McCain would have pushed the button.


First post , be kind.

Charles , think yourself lucky , I lived in Crossgates and my father worked at Vickers. I would have been in the crater!

Do you remember the Leeds City Council pamphlet about the effect of a nuclear bomb on Leeds, Not good reading for a young teenager in the 80's.


For people who don't know, every single harbour in Europe was targetted for a nuclear strike. the losses from fallout along would have pushed Europe back into the dark ages. Raise a glass for him? That is surely not enough, I'll bet the poor bastard is living on only a state pension now and the world should hold a benefit concert or football match for him. Failing that I would like to nominate him for the Nobel peace prize. Every military airbase in the Western world should exchange their fighter jet gate guardians for a statue of Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov.


jonty: yeah, I remembered that pamphlet. It was a little on the optimistic side, in my opinion. IIRC there were plans for Quarry Hill as a post-war emergency administrative centre -- both before and after they demolished the old flats and put the DSS HQ there -- and there was Vickers, and there was the strategic M1/M62 junction, and we weren't all that far away from Menwith Hill, or Catterick Barracks, and there was Yeadon Airport, and, and, and ... Leeds was within 25 miles of somthing like 50 targets, targets for all those theatre IRBMs that didn't have the legs to reach the USA but were just fine and dandy for denying the use of Airstrip One to the NATO resupply forces.

I think by 1984 the estimates 6 month survival figure for the UK population was somewhere around 8%, dropping to 4% at 12 months post-war.


There were a few other similar incidents during the cold war. On that occasion Petrov was in a position to decide that the alert was a possible false alarm and not pass it on until he got more information. He wasn't the only person able to stop an attack he was, it happens, the one who actually did so. An apparent attack of such a small scale (five missiles apparently launched from a single site) looks like a false alarm, it doesn't look like the expected pattern of attack and does look like either a sensor glitch or a rogue launch. Given the consequences of ordering a general launch include your death a little caution seems likely. To be honest if Petrov had passed the information on I suspect that his superiors would have chosen to wait and see.


Also at Lawnswood there was a regional center (for use in event of the big one , well at least it was till 68) , quite close to LGS's playing fields there.



Everything I've seen makes me think Europe would have been the biggest loser in a WWIII scenario. The US and USSR were large enough that some sort of civilization would had survived there. Hard to say what 2008 would look like if the button had been pushed...


We love you, Stan


Is anyone taking a collection for Stan?

1983 would have seen me dead in a couple of weeks when the food ran out. OTOH it wasn't as bad as 1981, a time when my dad had a place in the 'bunker' but the rest of his family didn't. Ow.


Here's to Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov: I'm not raising a single drink to him, but a whole barrel of top notch Belgium beer.

In Holland, our life expectancy in case of WWIII, would have been a few days at the best. As a teenager, I had nightmares of WWIII breaking out, sirens, incoming missiles, and kiss your ass goodbye. I remember thinking that a direct hit would be more merciful than a slow death from radiation poisining.

Both my father and I have been in the cold war era Soviet Union (and former Eastern Block countries like Czechoslovakia, Poland, Bulgaria and Rumania). None of the common people we met wanted this cold war madness, and neither did we.

My father died, in Moscow, four years before the Iron Curtain came down (an advanced case of coronary heart disease: Russian surgeons had worked through the night trying to save him). I know that the end of the Cold War would have been one of the happiest days in his life.

So, another barrel of Belgium's best for Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov, on behalf of my father.


Andrew G @50; you're absolutely right. If WW3 had gone ahead in the 1980s, between 50% and 75% of all the nukes used would have landed in Europe (with something like a tenth or an eighth of the combined land area of the USSR and USA). A lot of them were mounted on short-range delivery systems -- Soviet SS-20s, American GLCMs and Pershing-IIs.

The European anti-nuclear movements weren't just Soviet shills (although the Soviets considered them useful) -- we were (when we thought about things) genuinely terrified, because powerful folks beyond our control, like Yuri Andropov and Ronald Reagan, were making threatening noises at each other and they weren't going to be the ones who paid the ultimate price if someone made a mistake.

The Russians still had plans to evacuate dependents to the countryside and collective farms, and rural Red-state America (as we call it today) knew that while the cities and military bases would get hit, the small towns would be far enough away to be safe.

But the UK pretty much gave up civil defense planning after 1979. Because there was no point -- nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.


Hero beyond the call, thank you.


I will raise a glass or two, i was working in aicraft assembly at the time, i would have been up in smoke,
Thankyou Stanislav


A day late, but a glass of the best malt on hand is raised to him. And to those others who mean I'm still here and have the luxury to remember them.

I doubt we will see any real memorial to him, and others, who questioned when questioning was what was needed. Perhaps the Edinburgh of "419" will have a statue to them.


I'm not old enough to have been directly saved by him, but both of my parents lived near Offutt Air Force Base, certainly a main target. Thanks, Petrov.


I was a counterintelligence agent(insert favorite joke here) at the time, studying to be a soviet tactics and weapons specialist. When you consider the singular mindset of the soviet military, what this man did was truly extraordinary. For an individual in a communist state, to do something other than what was written out for him in black and white truly boggles the mind. I have known about Colonel Petrov's actions for a while, and yes, I will raise a glass tonight, as I have many times in the past.

Spasibo,Stanislav Yevgrafovich


Thank you, Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov! I don't care what you think; you are indeed quite a hero...


A drink for a true hero that not only saved the generation that experienced the cold war but also people like me, who have never had to imagine that kind of fear. Thank You.


It could be much funnier if the alarm wasn`t false, but a real attack. Then the guy would be the real hero of the WW3... 8-)


maybe we should make it an unofficial holiday - Petrov Day - where we all have a good time and drink his health. Goverments around the world would hate it so all the more reason to do it.


Like Charlie, I lived a few miles from the Vickers Tank Factory in Leeds (in fact, I was at school with Charlie, though he doesn't really remember me, being a young squib to his sixth-former).
It's kind of hard to tell young people these days (god, I love saying that!) just how much the threat of nuclear destruction hung over teenagers in the early 80s. Threads, The Day After, Ultravox's video for Dancing With Tears in my Eyes... and Leeds City Council's pamphlet Leeds and the Bomb, which showed 15,000 rads blowing over my house if they dropped a 1Mt bomb on Leeds Town Hall. If they'd hit Vickers, I'd have been dust within a second or two.
Thank you, Stanislaw Petrov, on behalf of myself and my children, for every day of the last 25 years.


Anatoly @62, I find absolutely nothing humorous about that idea. I suggest you take a hard look at your personal values if you think tens or hundreds of millions of deaths are appropriate grounds for a joke ...


I think the other incident was even more disturbing because I believe it was after the Cold War in 1994 or thereabouts.

Yes; and the rocket wasn't even a weapon. It was a civilian (Swedish?) scientific research project, studying the upper atmosphere with a British sounding rocket launched from (I think) the Kiruna ESA research centre up north. The Russians had been notified, as per the international agreement, but lost the documents somewhere.

Because of the northerly launch site, the radar profile was similar to a depressed-trajectory SLBM from somewhere in the Barents Sea; that is to say, launched flatter so as to arrive quicker at a sacrifice of range. The USSR had had scenarios under which their SLBMs might do this in a surprise first strike on the US, so it was no surprise they freaked.

As has been discussed upthread, you'd be surprised by the strategic density of Yorkshire...but the real hell prize in the north would have been Preston, the seat of among other things an RAF Group HQ, a Royal Observer Corps Region HQ, an RSG, and the UK Warning Monitoring Organisation National HQ, which was also slated as the alternate to the Central Government HQ in Corsham, Wiltshire.

When I was a kid I used to know an ROC member; I thought it was all about identifying Russian planes, just like in 1940, but of course they didn't like to say too much about their real role


Charlie @65

You are too serious.

I`m from Israel, and people (jews) tell Holocaust jokes here. There is nothing wrong in laughing at things...


How nice to see this man's very courageous decision being recognized more & more. I read about his bravery as a side note in a book a few years ago. It was the first I'd heard about it although growing up in the fear of the 80s it completely didn't surprise me that the "War Games" like scenario had happened in real life.


Was living between Reading railway station, USAF Greenham Common and RAF Benson, and downwind of Aldermaston, far enough away to survive the blast/fire. So dead in weeks from fallout then.

Fuck drinking to him, is there any way we can give him money?


Anatoly, one side of my family (the side who didn't get out in time) were murdered in Auschwitz. I don't think that's funny, either; however, I'd like to note that it's a lot easier to get away with tasteless jokes of which you (or your own) are the butt, than it is to get away with jokes at other folks' expense.


Thank you for saving all of us - the whole world!


I remember when the airliner was shot down, and, having grown up in perpetual fear of nuclear war, I was terrified. I kept thinking, and saying, this is it, this is the war we've been afraid of. And then it never happened, I thought it had been fear propaganda released by our government to manipulate us. I now know what happened, and I shall be forever grateful to this man who risked and lost everything to save the world.


I was in rural Saskatchewan.

I would probably have survived, but at the time I recall we expected to envy the vaporized pretty quickly.

Charlie, I think that some tradgedies are so colossal that laughter is the only response. Dr Strangelove and all that.


Many thanks for reminding us of this.

All best,


There's some discussion of trying to get him money or a card on this Making Light thread. There's also some notes that the Russians think he did a bad thing and we don't want to do anything that would make Putin damage him.


He is (and has been for a few years) listed as a "hero" on my myspace page. I love it when someone notices it and asks me who the heck he is. I'm glad I'm not the only one to call him a hero.



Thank you, Mr. Petrov and Charlie.

Maybe, one day, when the human race actually grows up, we might start thinking about others before ourselves.


I have read about Mr Petrov, a great human being and thanks for the reminder.


It's a shame that this hero is almost forgotten and a bunch of idiots are in the top of the world.



The Soviet system always made me nervous. These were the people who disappeared the Aral Sea and produced the wonderful exploding, burning nuclear submarine, after all.

I mean, my Dad was in NORAD and I knew how often -we- screwed up, so the thought of what the Soviets were like was absolutely crazy-making.

On the up side, a substantial percentage of their nuclear missiles would probably have either not launched, or not exploded when they hit.


Yep, its a bottle of Mac's Dark for Mr Petrov tonight. Was in Christchurch then - near the American Antarctic AF base at Harewood.
And we were informed somewhere - that there were onlt two targets in NZ - Christchurch (and Auckland - possibly- but it may have been propaganda just to cheer us South Islanders up)
Thanks for allowing me to survive to the age of the internet


I'm hard put to give a citation, but there's a story that I saw on a Nova episode, related by a Russian missile corps general and dating back to Brezhnev. It goes that Brezhnev was deep in his cups one night, sloshed out of his brain, and he ordered the Russian equivalent of DefCon 5.

The most senior generals got on a conference line and decided to pretend they never got the order, and sure enough (so the story goes) Brezhnev didn't remember giving it the next day.

If the translation was properly conveying the story, the General was also saying this wasn't that unusual -- i.e., they weren't going to just let Brezhnev make that decision by himself, whatever the actual chain of command was. There was too much at stake.

I like this story because it gives us a flip side view of the usual cold war narrative that the Soviets were mindless robots and we in the west were all freedom-loving independent actors. I have always wondered whether the Soviet generals instinctively had that response precisely because Russia was so non-democratic at the time: Leadership was defined by the consensus of an oligarchy, and it could be re-defined the same way.

Plus, it illustrates very clearly for me that the seeds of destruction for the Soviet system had been sprouting for decades before Reagan came into office. Why did these guys insulate a drunken premier from the missiles? Because they had something to lose: They'd scratched and clawed their way to the top of a brutal bureaucratic-military hierarchy, and they'd be damned if they were going to risk the daschas and mistresses and other sweet but perhaps simpler rewards.

So Stanislav's gesture is symbolic, for me. Maybe the decision would have been similar farther up the food chain. Maybe it wouldn't. However you slice it, we were damn close that night.

Has there been any action around celebrating the anniversary of this action?


Cheers Stanislav !


5 days after I was born. A big thanks is in order I suppose. THANKS