End of Days
GLYNN WASHINGTON, HOST:
OK, so, top-secret bunker, 1983. Just past midnight and Soviet Lieutenant Colonel Petrov, he settles into his chair, he's tired, worked a double shift, it's his duty to monitor satellite and computer data. To warn the Soviet Union in the event of a nuclear attack by the United States. In the event of such an attack, the Soviet strategy is simple launch an immediate all-out nuclear counterstrike. And that night, as Petrov views one of a dozen monitors in front of him, a computer alarm sounds, warning that a nuclear missile is headed toward the Soviet Union. Petrov reasons that a computer error has occurred. Surely the United States wouldn't launch a single missile. All of his planning, all of his training, all his test scenarios said that if the U.S. attacks, they'll launch a barrage of missiles.
He clears his counsel and he declares the warning to be a simple false alarm. But then another alarm flashes, satellite monitors indicate the launch of a second missile, then a third and a fourth and a fifth. Five Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles headed directly for the Soviet Union. Deafening alarms - sirens. A red button pulsates at Petrov's finger tips, waiting. Officers assigned to the bunker begin shouting at Petrov for a decision. Do your job. Do it. Petrov knows that he sits at a critical juncture. Once he declares the Soviet Union under attack, he knows what will happen.
They're screaming for a decision right now. Seconds to decide, still, he breaths, he takes his time, he analyzes and then against protocol, Petrov overrides his computer, once again declaring all the warnings to be a false alarm. Then the entire command bunker waits the long minutes it would take American missiles to destroy his homeland. In order to find out if he was correct, he waits, they wait. In the end it does not come. Still Petrov has broken military protocol by defying computer warnings.
His superiors subject him to intense questioning. Why did you ignore your training? Why did you defy procedure? Why? And perhaps because he didn't instantly follow protocol, Petrov was no longer considered a reliable military officer. In the face of official scrutiny, Petrov retires from command. He lives a quiet life now but here's the thing, that night, the night that computers told him that missiles were coming, Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov, he wasn't even supposed to be there. Last minute schedule change and a different commanding officer, someone better at following orders, maybe that person would've done their job differently. All the way to the end, maybe not. Then again maybe. Today, on SNAP JUDGMENT from PRX and NPR we proudly present "Saved," amazing stories from real people, where help comes in the most unexpected places. My name is Glynn Washington, breathe a very deep sigh of relief because you're listening to SNAP JUDGMENT.
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