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Petrov Pushes The Button by Jeff Provine

Author says: we're very pleased to present a new story from Jeff Provine's excellent blog This Day in Alternate History. Please note that the opinions expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of the author(s).

By September 26th 1983,

Please click the icon to follow us on Twitter.the Cold War stood as the United States and Soviet Union armed each with far more missiles than needed to wipe out all life on the surface of the Earth. There would be no winner in World War 3.

Both sides knew that the best they could hope was to destroy the other as brutally as they themselves were destroyed. Key to this idea of "mutual assured destruction" was finding out as quickly as possible that the other side had launched, thus enabling missiles to fire back before being destroyed in their silos.

While the US had its own systems, the Soviet Union developed the Oko satellite system to give early warning about missile launches. In 1982, the project was unveiled and declared ready. Detection happened within thirty seconds, leaving ample time for counterstrike, provided crews and leaders were ready at any time for launch.

"Why would India suffer? More likely China would be the one to suffer whilst India misses out. And I can't see Brazil suffering anything either so Argentina would be kept in check" - reader's commentIn the fall of 1983, political intelligence was on edge. The Soviets had shot down a South Korean airliner that had violated their airspace, killing 269 civilians, many of them American, including U.S. Congressman Larry McDonald.

Although the diplomatic fires had been nearly put out, both sides were anxious, especially the Soviet Union with the seemingly gun-happy American President Reagan. Soon after, NATO began exercises in Able Archer 83, which simulated escalating conflict and a first-strike nuclear release. The matter was not strictly related, but the KGB did not want to risk the exercise being a cover for preparation to attack the Soviet Union.

"India and Brazil would doubtless suffer not only from the environmental effewcts of a major nuclear exchange but from the evisceration of the global economy. Even if the fallout and climatic effects were less severe than some anticipated they might have been, they would surely have been devastating, and the secondary effect of thre disappearance of nations critical to the global economy, particularly the USA, would have meant even greater disaster." - reader's commentsJust after midnight on September 26, Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov (pictured) was on duty when the Oko system's computers reported a launch from the United States headed toward the Soviet Union. It was a single missile, and a nuclear attack would certainly be all-out, so Petrov noted the alarm but decided to declare it false. When more launches began to be detected, Petrov became nervous. Five missiles were now headed at the Soviet Union, and it was his duty to report. In a hurried decision, he called his superiors with the news.

Moscow immediately surged into activity. Panicked, sleepless people began to question the fallibility of the new system as well as their own lives, which very well could be at their ends. Land-based radar would not pick up incoming missiles until minutes before they arrived, leaving scant time to launch the counterstrike. With only slight information, the order to attack was given.

"Geographically (as well as meteorologically with the trade winds - http://maps.howstuffworks.com/world-prevailing-winds-map.htm ), India would do about the best of northward major countries with the Himalayas blocking north-coming radiation, though it\'d still leak through, as it would anywhere. China would be straight agony as the radiation marched across the Asian steppes. Brazil would take a lesser hit, mostly to the north, but I\'d imagine them trying to minimize loss would hold back their anti-Argentine efforts. As for the British and French and the others, I\'d imagine they\'d set the nukes aside and worry about how to save their populations. All this is, of course, from a more limited US-SU only trade. We humans could\'ve scalded the crust of the Earth off if we wanted" - author's responseIn reality, the missiles were glitches within the Oko system. This would not be determined until the next morning, long after the strike on the United States. In what had been the evening hours, the Americans were hit in major cities and military bases. Millions were vaporized as they sat down to dinner. The American systems had detected the launches, and so their own counter-assault began, slaughtering millions more in Russia. Electromagnetic interference destroyed most communications, leaving the rest of the world in frozen wonder at what had happened. As news came to light over the day, it was obvious that the worst had come.

Trade winds picked up the fallout, spreading it through the northern hemisphere. Europeans tried to flee en masse, which turned the entire continent into a war zone. For months, survivors would suffer radiation poisoning and widespread destruction simply trying to escape. Nothing remained of the vast continents of North America, Europe, and north Asia except deadly wastelands filled with wreckage that could not be harvested for years or centuries.

The southern hemisphere fared better, but fear, material shortages, and famines during the long Nuclear Winters would cause the deaths of billions more. Australia and South Africa led the nations of the British Commonwealth in restoring something of world order around the Indian Ocean. Much of their resources would be spent harboring refugees and helping to end the trauma of the millions poisoned in India. Meanwhile, Argentina stepped up as leader of South America, uniting the countries around it in fascist extremism. Enemies of the state were banished to northern Brazil, where the edge of livability was a horrid fringe of disease, famine, and death.

Author says in reality Petrov second-guessed the system. It was apparent within minutes that Oko, which he had not fully trusted in his opinion, was flawed. He later said, "I had a funny feeling in my gut," and reflected that launching only five missile was ludicrous. Later, the glitched launches would be determined as fluke angles of sunlight in the atmosphere, and Soviet commanders were embarrassed of breaks in the system. While initially praised but brushed aside in a cover-up, Petrov would be honored at the United Nations in 2006. Even though layers of agreement among Soviet leadership were required for nuclear launch, he was, arguably, the man who single-handedly saved the Earth. No First Use and defensive-only policies have since come into effect for most of the nuclear-wielding nations.
To view guest historian's comments on this post please visit the Today in Alternate History web site.

Jeff Provine, Guest Historian of Today in Alternate History, a Daily Updating Blog of Important Events In History That Never Occurred Today. Follow us on Facebook, Myspace and Twitter.

Imagine what would be, if history had occurred a bit differently. Who says it didn't, somewhere? These fictional news items explore that possibility. Possibilities such as America becoming a Marxist superpower, aliens influencing human history in the 18th century and Teddy Roosevelt winning his 3rd term as president abound in this interesting fictional blog.


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