In 1983 the world was enmeshed in a planetary pissing match. It was not a gentle time.
East German machine gun nests dropped the hammer on someone “yearning to be free” roughly once a year. Konstantin Chernenko, (Russia’s head honcho) was desperately trying to preserve an economically unsustainable paper tiger on the brink of implosion. The better part of a century of communism and socialism had bankrupt a colossus and Chernenko was probably aware of it even if our spy networks were not. (The man with his finger on the button in the land of Stalin was pondering his empire’s dissolution. Reassuring no?) Ronald Reagan (interesting note: many Republicans still genuflect when his name is uttered) had plenty to freak out about too. In 1983 we got hammered in Beruit, invaded Grenada, and I’d need a score card just to mention South America. Meanwhile Margaret Thatcher was having a nice cup of tea having having beaten the snot out of rebels in the Falkland Islands. Pretty much everyone was mad at everyone everywhere and mutually assured destruction was not a joke but an actual “plan”.
On the social front, Quiet Riot had just released Cum On Feel The Noize, the closest thing to a decent domestic rally car was the AMC Eagle, and the video game industry crashed and dropped revenues by 97%. (Hint: This is why everyone who called the “dot com” crash of 2000 “unprecedented” should be punched in the dick.)
It’s a miracle any of us survived.
Smack dab in the middle of this global circular firing squad sat a lieutenant colonel of the Soviet Air Defence Forces. His job was at the command center for their nuclear early warning system keeping an eye on the trigger happy Americans. One day radar indicated five missiles incoming from the US. Holy shit! Mother Russia was under attack! Should he ring his superior and recommend that they unleash Armageddon?
Nope! Mr. Pertov had wisdom and balls of steel. He decided it was a malfunctioning system (which it was) and sat on his hands…which is why neither Moscow nor Washington is radioactive.
For a possessing a cool head when everyone was trigger happy I honor Stanislav Petrov for saving all our asses on September 26, 1983. Whew!
There were a couple of indcident of that nature.
Aprocyrphally, I recall one story about early NORAD/DEW line radars going bonkers about a massive SWARM of missles and bombers coming over the horizon, where the incorrect reaction was averted because someone who had just been on a coffee break outside ( and the fact that cold war relations were in one the periodic cordial phases) said “that’s stupid, the freakin radars are picking up the moon rise”. (laternate version: the northern lights ionization was causing wierd effects) and basically picked up the phone and called a buddy WAAY up north, who stepped outside, looked up, came back in and reported back that there was bugger all up in the air above him.
Right. Someone reboot the damn radars.
Sorry about the length of time in responding to this post.. your backlog is substantial (but very worthwhile reading nonetheless). Being a Navy type.. I like to point to this gentleman, who (given the constraints of operating on a ship a sea during that era.. and a submarine no less).. in NO uncertain terms (IMHO).. actually Personally and Singly prevented a nuclear escalatory exchange during that much reported upon Cuban missile thingy (this act being slightly before my time but still very pertinant for someone who also ‘grew up’ under the threat of Nuclear Obliteration). The gentleman’s name was Vasili Arkhipov and for those in the know.. there should really be a bronze statue of him erected in a nondescript corner of our own National Mall for his contribution to maintaining (relative) world peace as an ongoing reality (Note: he is doubly famous from another Hollyweird production based on real world events).. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vasili_Arkhipov