Today it's terrorism but when I was a little nipper growing up in Australia in the 80's, the threat de jour was nuclear armageddon. The US and the USSR had batteries of nuclear weapons pointed at each other and we were all worried that we were going to be wiped out, not because of a war but more likely because somebody made a mistake somewhere.
22 years ago yesterday, that almost happened.
Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov was the duty officer at the Serpukhov-15 bunker near Moscow when the computers indicated an American missile launch. A few minutes later, the computers indicated that a second missile had been launched, then a third, a fourth and a fifth.
Petrov was faced with a serious dilemma. If he decided the reports were false, the Soviet Union would be destroyed yet if he incorrectly reported an attack, his superiors were sure to launch an equally catastrophic counter-attack. Either way, millions would die.
In the end, less than five minutes after the alert began, Petrov decided the launch reports must be false. "I had a funny feeling in my gut," Petrov said. "I didn't want to make a mistake. I made a decision, and that was it."
Certainly puts things into perspective and a good argument against the automated systems we are so busy trying to replace ourselves with. Quite possibly the most significant tummy rumble of last century 🙂