When I was a boy, the world toyed with nuclear destruction just 90 miles off the coast of Florida. I knew that if anyone pushed the wrong button, I wouldn’t be around long enough to pick up the glowing pieces; I would be many of those pieces.
As the evening news gave the grim details, I could hear jets flying overhead and knew they were headed toward Cuba. Those were scary days to be a kid, and I didn’t figure I would live long enough to have children of my own.
Somehow, cooler heads prevailed, and now not just my children but also their children are being menaced by nuclear holocaust. Instead of learning from history, politicians are seeing who can scream the loudest, call the worst names, swing the biggest stick. If today’s political climate were a school fire drill, the red box on the wall would read: “In lieu of brains, pull down.”
I’ve never understand how anyone who has children can walk so precipitously close to thermonuclear war. We spend much of our lives bringing the next generation into the world and then protecting it, feeding it, nurturing and educating it. We sacrifice so those who come after will have better lives. Then a subset of us risks everyone’s health and happiness over imaginary lines in the sand called borders.
These grim fears were pushed from my head a few days ago by, of all things, an obituary. It was sad that 77-year-old Stanislav Petrov had died, but his life’s accomplishment should give us hope.
Petrov died May 19 but Russian state television delayed the news until this month, according to The Associated Press. His passing was not widely circulated in his homeland, and I saw little mention of it in this country. There should have been more acclaim for “the man who saved the world.”
The latter days of the Cold War were extremely tense the night of Sept. 26, 1983, when an alarm in an early-warning facility near Moscow signaled that the United States had launched several intercontinental ballistic missiles at the Soviet Union. A satellite had misinterpreted sunlight bouncing off clouds, but Russia didn’t know that. Everything indicated an attack.
It would have been easy to respond with missiles of his own, but Petrov sensed it was a glitch and refused to act. We didn’t learn of the incident for years, and even then, Petrov told reporters he had only been doing his job.
A Jewish proverb says that “he who saves one life saves the world,” and the book Schindler’s List points out that Oskar Schindler failed at everything he attempted in life except for rescuing lives from the Nazis. Stanislav Petrov really did save the world before returning to the obscurity he had known before 1983.
Let’s keep praying for cool heads.
Reach Glynn Moore at (706) 823-3419