During the Cold War, tensions were always tight between the two superpowers. On September 26, 1983, just three weeks after the Soviet military had shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007 (It caused 267 deaths and one American politician. So yes, shit got real then as anti-Soviet sentiment peaked), Petrov was the duty officer at the command center for the Oko nuclear early-warning system when the system reported that a missile had been launched from the United States. He chooses to mark it as a system malfunction and avoids reporting to his superiors as previously ordered to do so if the like happened. What happened next was plain crazy as the system alerted him to another 5 more missiles. Without skipping a beat, Petrov also judges this as a false alarm.
We live because of his rational decision and it is credited with having prevented anerroneous retaliatory nuclear attack on the United States and its NATO allies that could have resulted in large-scale nuclear war.
Investigation later confirmed that the Soviet satellite warning system had indeed malfunctioned.
What’s more amazing is that had a different man had been at the controls, he would definitely have reported the incident without question. Coming from Stanislav himself, he felt that his civilian training helped him make the right decision. His colleagues were all professional soldiers with purely military training and, following instructions, would have reported a missile strike if they had been on his shift.
Ever so humble, he later comments that he does not know if he should regard himself as a hero for what he did that day. In an interview for the film The Man Who Saved the World, Petrov says, “All that happened didn’t matter to me — it was my job. I was simply doing my job, and I was the right person at the right time, that’s all. My late wife for 10 years knew nothing about it. ‘So what did you do?’ she asked me. ‘Nothing. I did nothing’