CBS Local — Stanislav Petrov is not a household name, especially in the United States. The former military officer of the old Soviet Union lived his entire life in Russia before passing away in May at the age of 77. What most people don’t know is Stanislav Petrov is credited with saving the world from nuclear destruction in 1983.
Petrov was the officer monitoring Moscow’s early warning missile defense system at the height of the Cold War in 1983. On Sept. 26, Soviet radar incorrectly detected a missile inbound from the United States. As the alarms began to sound, the USSR reportedly readied itself for a full-scale nuclear war, which would have decimated the planet.
“I had all the data [to suggest there was an ongoing missile attack]. If I had sent my report up the chain of command, nobody would have said a word against it,” Petrov said in a 2013 interview. The radar officer however, suspected the reading was a mistake. He reportedly believed that if the U.S. was going to launch a strike against Russia it would be much bigger than what the malfunctioning radar was showing.
“All my subordinates were confused, so I started shouting orders at them to avoid panic,” he said. Petrov made the decision to call Soviet headquarters and correctly convinced them his bunker’s alarm was sent by mistake.
“23 minutes later I realized that nothing had happened. If there had been a real strike, then I would already know about it. It was such a relief.”
Petrov’s courage was kept secret for years until his commanding officer revealed the incident to a German reporter. Since then, the radar officer’s actions have been detailed in the 2014 movie “The Man Who Saved the World,” starring Kevin Costner.
“At first when people started telling me that these TV reports had started calling me a hero, I was surprised,” Petrov said. “I never thought of myself as one — after all, I was literally just doing my job.”