You might not have known his actions until only yesterday when the media picked up the story, but he has been a legend all my life. He has been dead since May but unfortunately we only learned about it yesterday.
Stanislav Petrov was the officer in place back in 1983, during the Cold War. He had an early-warning system in front of him, cutting edge at the time, and a button.
Alarms blared in his face, the system showed that an attack was coming at his beloved motherland. He had no reason to disbelieve the system.
He had orders, specific ones: If the alarm blares, press the button.
Start a nuclear war.
For some reason, it didn’t make sense. The data was clearly there, there were nuclear missiles incoming and he had seconds to decide.
It just didn’t sit well with his gut.
So he didn’t press the button.
Disregarding his orders, disobeying his superiors, he risked becoming a traitor to his country because he felt that THIS WAS STUPID.
So he let the minutes pass.
And the missiles did not hit.
The man’s story is as simple as it is important. I have always been inspired by his actions that day. Imagine what would have happened if another man had been assigned that day. Imagine if the incredibly stupid status of Mutually Assured Destruction had taken place.
Imagine the world we would be living in right now, if saner heads hadn’t prevailed.
Yes, we would be alive. Contrary to what movies portray, it’s not easy to wipe out humanity. We’re like cockroaches in that regard. But what kind of life would it be? With half the world contaminated by radiation, with mutated stillborns and deadly fruit and meat?
Imagine that for a moment. Thank Petrov for the pretty little world you live in right now.
I’ve always had his story in the back of my mind. That monumental decision, that button. Sure, the button probably had a cap on and a keycard and some convoluted security protocols with calling the superiors, but the truth was that the assigned officer had the authorization to press it and fire the nuclear missiles. And being the science fiction writer that I am, I of course always wondered what the worst case scenario might be.
So I wrote it down. The series of ‘Press Any Key’ are zany scenarios of people who foolishly did press the button and faced the consequences.