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Is it the truth? - Guest Column

January 1, 2020

Dana Rozycki
Do you remember where you were on Friday, September 26, 1983? Perhaps you were at work in a downtown business, picking out a tie at Adams Clothing Shop or learning your first words. I was 15 years old. I was a sophomore at MAUHS, and probably concerned with figuring out cell division for biology class and how I was going to get to the football game that night. I imagine it was a warm, clear day, with a crisp cool descending as the lights of Spinelli field snapped on and I climbed the steps of the bleachers with my friends, hot dog and Coke in hand.

None of us knew that a man named Stanislav Petrov held our fates in his hands as he sat in a bunker in Kuilovo, USSR. Petrov may never have heard of Rotary International, but by applying the first element of our 4-way test, he literally saved the world. This element requires us to simply ask, "Is it the truth?"

Shortly after midnight Moscow time, LTC Petrov of the Soviet Air Defense Force saw a message flash on his computer screen. It simply said, "LAUNCH". His radar system detected a single American ICBM flying over the polar ice cap toward Russia.

As site duty officer, his obligation was to report U.S. missile launches directly to the Soviet general staff. Yet Petrov did not pick up the phone to report it. "Is it the truth?" he asked. "Is it the truth?"

The computer again flashed a warning message. This time it showed 4 more U.S. nuclear missiles soaring toward the USSR. Still, Petrov did not send the alert up the chain of command.

Just 25 minutes would elapse between the launch of American missiles and the destruction of the Russian targets, and the general staff and Premier Andropov would not have time to negotiate or delay. Soviet doctrine called for an overwhelming response, with a huge proportion of their 35,000 warheads sent to detonate on American soil.

Why didn't Petrov relay the information that would have triggered an all-out nuclear retaliation? He later told the Washington Post, "I had a funny feeling in my gut... I didn't want to make a mistake. I made a decision, and that was it." That skepticism of what he saw on a malfunctioning computer system was enough to make him conclude, "This is not the truth!"

And in making that conclusion, he prevented that warm autumn afternoon in Bennington from turning into a day of unthinkable horror.

None of us will ever face the immense consequences that Petrov faced when he asked, "Is it the truth?" Yet every day, whether we are looking at a computer, reading a book or talking face-to-face, we should all take seriously our obligation to remember the first element of the 4-way test. Collectively, like LTC Stanislav Petrov of the Soviet Air Defense Force, we may end up saving the world.

Author: Dana Rozycki
Sally Sugarman (Club Member & Windmill Editor)

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