"We gather in faith..."

Teaching and commentary from our pastor, Bishop Francis J. Christian

Reflections

On the night of September 26, 1983, Soviet Lt.

Col. Stanislav Petrov was filling in for another

soldier when a satellite warning system indicated

with a “maximum” certainty level that the United

States had fired five nuclear missiles at the Soviet

Union. Though his team could not get visual

confirmation because of the weather, all technical

instruments were functioning properly and

signaling an attack. Protocol dictated that Petrov

should alert the armed forces of an incoming first

strike, which would necessitate a nuclear

response. Instead, Petrov declared the signal a

false alarm. And then they waited. No bombs fell.

Against all reason and policy, Petrov probably

averted World War III, the deaths of hundreds of

millions and possibly the destruction of the earth

as we know it. None of us knew how close we

came to nuclear holocaust.

This isn’t the only instance of a close brush with

disaster. In 1979 the United States almost

launched an attack on the USSR when a

technician at NORAD accidentally loaded a

training exercise into an operational computer,

simulating a full scale attack. Bomber crews

boarded their planes and the Airborne Command

Post took flight to manage the war from the air.

Several minutes later, satellite data did not

confirm the attack. But what if the satellite

system had failed, as it did in the Soviet Union?

It’s tempting for me to conclude that it was only

the grace of God working in these situations that

saved us. How was it that Petrov was “filling in”

and would the soldier he replaced have reacted in

a different way? In any case, it is truly

frightening to contemplate the destructive power

that we have created that lies in fallible human

hands.