NPR (via Instapundit) has a long and well-written article about the demise (not previously reported) of a Soviet missile control officer who probably prevented a nuclear world war in 1983.
My brief summary: Podpolkovnik [Lt. Col.] Stanislav Petrov was on duty that night at a missile defense monitoring station, watching out for launches of American nuclear ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missiles).
That night, suddenly the computer howled an alarm that five missiles had been launched. Estimated time to impact: 20 minutes.
He was to pass the warning up the chain of command, which would have led to a mass launch of Soviet nuclear ICBMs, and World War Three.
Petrov sensed something wasn’t adding up.
He had been trained to expect an all-out nuclear assault from the U.S., so it seemed strange that the satellite system was detecting only a few missiles being launched. And the system itself was fairly new. He didn’t completely trust it.
So instead of doing what he had been ordered, he ordered a check for computer malfunction. If his hunch was wrong, he’d have lost precious minutes for a preemptive retaliatory strike — “get the missiles off before the rockets impact on the launchers”.
But sure enough, there had been a malfunction.
He was given a reprimand for falsifying his logbook, but not otherwise punished. Presumably even his superiors realized how close the world had been to nuclear conflagration had it not been for Petrov’s cool-headed judgment.
Petrov’s actions were the subject of a 2015 docudrama, presented by Kevin Costner: “The Man Who Saved The World” :
But Petrov never considered himself a hero:
“That was my job,” he said. “But they were lucky it was me on shift that night.”
By coincidence (the incident wasn’t reported in the media at the time), Iron Maiden’s 1984 album “Powerslave” contained a song about a near-miss nuclear standoff: “Two Minutes To Midnight”. Let me end with that, and salute Podpolkovnik Petrov.