Petrov Pushes The Button by Jeff Provine
says: we're very pleased to present a new story from Jeff Provine's
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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,
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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
In 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.
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
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