Things in Iraq are bad. Things in New Orleans and Texas are bad. There are hot spots, terrorists, and negotiations in progress to determine who’ll be holding fissionable material in ten years.
It’s easy to forget, though, that only a couple decades ago, the entire planet was poised on the brink of genuine large-scale superpowers-duking-it-out nuclear war. In fact, On September 26th, 1983, one man’s instincts and some lucky guesses were literally all that prevented WWIII from kicking off.
Staniaslav Petrov, a Russian Army Colonel at the time, was on watch when the alert sounded, indicating that American nuclear missile launches had been detected and warheads were inbound towards the USSR. The next day, it would be discovered that faulty software had mistaken sunrise reflections for launches and the alarm was a mistake, but at the moment it was all klaxxons and impending doom for Stan.
With the KGB breathing down his back and the fate of the world on the line, Stan went with his gut and decided that it was a false alarm. He was “extensively interviewed” by the KGB afterwards, but was never punished – now, he lives in a small village, secure in the knowledge that his instincts saved a good chunk of civilization.
We salute you, Stan. Thanks! (Also, thanks to squorch and MetaFilter for the links.)