Have you ever heard of Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov?
I hadn’t either until the other night when, thoughts of nuclear annihilation on my mind, I did a bit of research on the times the world walked a thin red line between survival and horrific destruction.
I had lived through one such time, the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 and remember vividly the hours before American warships blockading Castro’s island were expected to face off against the approaching Soviet fleet, and most people were wondering exactly how long they had left to live.
On Oct. 22, President John F. Kennedy had addressed the nation, revealing the presence of nuclear missiles in Cuba and announcing: “It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.”
Everyone knew what “full retaliatory response” meant, and it had nothing to do with “boots on the ground.”
On Oct. 24, Nikita Khrushchev sent a telegram to Kennedy, stating: “If you coolly weigh the situation which has developed, not giving way to passions, you will understand that the Soviet Union cannot fail to reject the arbitrary demands of the United States” and that the Soviet Union views the blockade as “an act of aggression” and their ships will be instructed to ignore it.
And so we waited. It was over by Oct. 27, thanks to a frenzy of negotiations and an agreement: Russia would remove its nukes from Cuba and the U.S. would remove its missiles in Turkey. There would be peace in our time. Or at least not nuclear war.
However, that sickening stab of fear I recalled from so many years ago struck again when I read a headline last week: “Russian Warships Cross Bosphorous En Route to Syria.”
I have listened to our President and our Secretary of State and I cannot for the literal life of me accept their arguments for a (shall we label it “humanitarian”?) strike against Syria — especially when the American people are so overwhelmingly opposed. I am also having difficulty accepting the “evidence” put forth.
There is more at stake here than Barack Obama’s losing face.
I am not saying there will be a repeat of the 1962 trauma. At least not initially. If we strike at Syria, the repercussions will be complex and ongoing.
There are far more than two players in this game. Things will progress in steps. But progress toward what?
Mock me as a doomsayer. However, deep inside there is that flicker of fear. Perhaps it comes from having been traumatized in my youth, but in recent days I have been hearing the echoes of the language of Armageddon that I remember from 1962.
And so, who was Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov? According to various sources on the internet, the Soviet officer was on duty the night of Sept. 26, 1983, in a bunker in Belarus. (Yes, ‘83, 21 years after the Cuban Missile Crisis.)
Petrov was alerted by computer that one of the USSR’s warning satellites had just detected the launch of five Minuteman missiles from silos in the U.S. Midwest.
According to website warandpeace.org: “In the midst of the chaos created by the attack warnings, Petrov, convinced that the alarm must be false, made an historic decision not to alert higher authorities. Had Petrov cracked and triggered a response, Soviet missiles would have rained down on U.S. cities. In turn, that would have brought a devastating response from the Pentagon.”
Petrov’s decision proved correct. There had been no U.S. launches. The warnings were the result of a computer malfunction.
The world had been minutes from destruction, and we never even knew it.
I prefer not knowing. There are moments when one’s head finds justifiable sanctuary in the sand.
Because I have no confidence whatsoever in our current chief executive, and because I, and you, have absolutely no control over an ill-advised march toward potential disaster — be it military or political — I shall not be watching his interviews on the major networks Monday night. Neither shall I watch his address to the nation on Tuesday night.
I have decided to ignore them. This will allow me to sleep those nights. And the ones after. However many that may be.
– Karen Zautyk