Today in History: Birthday of the "Man Who Saved the World"

Today in History: Birthday of the "Man Who Saved the World"

M.C. Millman

Stanislav Petrov is well known for his role in preventing World War III, earning him the title of the "Man Who Saved the World."

Petrov was born on September 7, 1939, to a Russian family. During World War II, Petrov's father flew fighter aircraft. Following his father's footsteps, Petrov enrolled at a Soviet military academy. After graduating, he joined the Soviet Air Forces in 1972. 

As a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Air Defense Forces, Petrov became the officer at the command center for the Oko nuclear early-warning system. He oversaw the warning system built to detect ballistic missile attacks from NATO countries. 

On September 26, 1983, the system reported that five missiles were launched from the United States. Petrov believed the reports were a false alarm and did not alert his superiors.

Petrov later explained his reasoning for assuming the warning system had triggered a false alarm. According to the Arms Control Association, he reasoned that if the United States were to start a nuclear war, they would have sent more than five missiles. Petrov was correct in his assumption, as the satellites mistook the sun's reflection off the clouds for missiles. 

Unbeknownst to the rest of the world, Petrov single-handedly prevented what could have been a large-scale nuclear war. Unfortunately, Petrov paid the price for his 'faulty documentation' during this incident. This incident highlighted the faulty warning system, leaving his superiors embarrassed. The National Park Services reports Petrov was denied promotions, reassigned, and took early retirement. 

In his later years, Petrov did receive the praise he deserved, but only long after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Petrov was awarded the 2013 Dresden Peace Prize and a 2006 award from the Association of World Citizens. 

While filming a documentary in the United States in 2007, Petrov visited the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. He is quoted as saying that he "would never have imagined being able to visit one of the enemy's securest sites." 

A documentary was released in 2014 based on his story called "The Man Who Saved the World". Three years later, in 2017, Petrov died at the age of 77.

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