On 26 September 1983, just three weeks after the Soviet military had shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007, Lieutenant Colonel Petrov was the duty officer at the command center for the Oko nuclear early-warning system when the system reported that five missiles had been launched from the United States. Petrov judged the reports to be a false alarm,and his decision is credited with having prevented an erroneous retaliatory nuclear attack on the United States and its NATO allies that could have resulted in large-scale nuclear war.
The result of Petrov’s decision for humanity was that life as we know it went on unabated. The result of Petrov’s decision on his military career was quite different. His decision had brought to light problems in the Soviet early warning system and embarrassed his superiors. He was denied promotions, reassigned and took early retirement. The story was not even known outside the secretive world of the Soviet military until the late 1990s.
In May of 2007, while in the United States for the filming of a documentary, Mr. Petrov spent two days at Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, remarking that “he would never have imagined being able to visit one of the enemy’s securest sites.”