"We gather in faith..."
Teaching and commentary from our pastor, Bishop Francis J. Christian
ReflectionsOn 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