Sympathetic Stupid

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Cold War Fairytales

From my profound understanding of human nature, it seems ridiculous that the race could have survived the Cold War. So many big red buttons, each with a nervous finger poised over it. The Cuban Missile Crisis is the highest profile of the 'mutual assured destruction' possibilities, but there must have been many more times that nervous men in the field had the authority to launch.

One was on this day in 1983. A guy called Stanislav Petrov (thanks, WorldChanging, yes, I know I'm lazy) was sitting in a bunker near Moscow, with a shedload of computers telling him that there were missiles on the way over the Pacific. All he had to do was ring the Kremlin (presumably on a red phone) and I wouldn't have lived to see my fourth Christmas. So we can all thank Stanislav for having a more sceptical view of computers than many. The Russian satellites had been confused by high-altitude clouds reflecting the sun; obviously this was something so rare they didn't need to test for it. And just like that, we didn't all die.

So thank the heavens for that. Despite everything, I'd much rather be red than dead.