2052: Stanislav Petrov Day
|Stanislav Petrov Day|
Title text: I was going to get you an alarm clock that occasionally goes off randomly in the middle of the night, but you can ignore it and go back to sleep and it's fine.
Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov was a lieutenant colonel of the Soviet Air Defence Forces who became known as "the man who single-handedly saved the world from nuclear war" for his role in the 1983 Soviet nuclear false alarm incident. The incident was unknown to the public until it was revealed shortly before the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
On 26 September 1983, during the Cold War, the satellite-based early-warning system of the Soviet Union reported the launch of multiple intercontinental ballistic missiles from the United States. At the time, tensions with the U.S. were on edge, and high officials of the Soviet Union, including General Secretary Yuri Andropov, were thought to be highly suspicious of a U.S. attack.
Petrov checked ground-based radars which had not detected a launch, noted that the warning system had detected only 1-5 missiles instead of the hundreds that would have been expected in the event of a first strike, and chose to mark the system alert as a false alarm. This decision is seen as having prevented a retaliatory nuclear attack, which would have probably resulted in immediate escalation of the Cold War stalemate to a full-scale nuclear war and the deaths of hundreds of millions of people. Investigation of the satellite warning system later confirmed that the system had indeed malfunctioned.
While it is highly probable that if Petrov had reported this incident to his superiors they would have come to the same conclusion, it was a point in time when many people feared that the Cold War might become hot. Andropov, the new Soviet leader, was considered weak by the US president Ronald Reagan, and the Western countries were deploying new missile installation in Europe to counter existing missiles in the Eastern Bloc. This fear of nuclear war meant that at this time the peace movement in most western countries reached one of its highest levels.
In this comic Cueball reacts to his alert on Stanislav Petrov Day as if it was a false alarm. This is of course a pun since what we celebrate is that Stanislav treated an alert as a false alarm. Also his first comment "Oh shoot" could have been the reaction of Stanislav if he had not assumed it was a false alarm.
In real life, many alerts reach everybody on their mobile devices, often causing them to be ignored without deeper knowledge about the issue behind. This was however not the point in this comic.
The title text presents a much less important false alarm where one of them, probably Cueball (or perhaps Randall), was thinking about giving a gift to the other one in the form of an alarm clock that alerts randomly in the middle of the night. That particular alarm is one where she or he can just breathe a sigh of relief and go back to sleep because it's not a real alarm and is perfectly safe to ignore. However if this keeps going off when it’s not supposed to, then when you are actually supposed to wake up you may very well end up assuming that it’s another false alarm, and thus will sleep late anyway, completely defeating the point of the alarm. Also when a real alarm is supposed to wake you up in the middle of the night, you will have been trained to ignore alarms. This is all part of the joke.
History of Petrov Day as a holiday
On the 2007 anniversary, Eliezer Yudkowsky wrote a blog post for LessWrong suggesting that "Wherever you are, whatever you're doing, take a minute to not destroy the world." Not destroying the world has since evolved into an annual tradition. There is a website for the holiday, with several variations of a ritual involving lighting and snuffing candles. The intended mood is that of a somber holiday, somewhere between Thanksgiving and a funeral.
However, there are also more lighthearted takes. A "hardcore mode" would be just like the normal holiday, but "During said ceremony, unveil a large red button. If anybody presses the button, the ceremony is over. Go home. Do not speak." Alternatively, "you use a website connected to *another* house where people are also celebrating Petrov Day. If anyone in one house presses the button, the other house receives a launch alarm. They have 60 seconds to respond. At the end of 60 seconds, their party is over, and they must go home silently. The website has some chance of giving you a false alarm." The website can be found here with instructions on how to use it here.
Stanislav Petrov himself died in 2017, but in 2018 the Future of Life Institute decided to award his surviving family a $50,000 prize for his contributions. However, in the words of MIT Professor Max Tegmark, who presented the award, the fact that Petrov's son couldn't "get a visa to visit the city his dad saved from nuclear annihilation is emblematic of how frosty US-Russian relations have gotten, which increases the risk of accidental nuclear war.”
- [Megan is looking at her phone while Cueball stands in front of her.]
- Megan: Hey, Wednesday was Stanislav Petrov Day. We missed it.
- Cueball: Oh, shoot!
- Cueball: I got a calendar alert for it, but I assumed it was a false alarm.
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