In 1981, Ronald Reagan became 40th president of the United States, an achievement he celebrated by launching a massive dick wagging campaign pointed directly at the Soviet Union. Reagan's goal was to convince the Soviets that he was an insane man, who much like the cowboys he had once played in shitty movies, was more than willing to shoot first and ask questions later. Soon after taking office he launched a major expansion of the U.S. military, the goal being to force the Soviets, who were rather strapped for cash at the time, to do the same. To further antagonize the bear Reagan also began launching what he not very cleverly called Psychological Operations, wherein U.S. navy vessels performed clandestine missions near Soviet waters and U.S. bombers flew directly towards Soviet airspace on a weekly basis, only peeling off at the last minute. The Soviet leadership, being a bunch of paranoid old men, many of whom were nuttier than a pile of squirrel shit, of course freaked the fuck out. The past three U.S. presidents had largely worked to avoid nuclear war at all cost. The Soviets had no idea what to do with a man who seemed ready to hit the big red nuclear button.
By the time 1983 rolled around things had escalated pretty badly and the whole world was beginning to believe that it was just a matter of time before mushroom clouds started sprouting. In March of that year Reagan declared that the Soviet Union was an evil empire that needed to be thrown in the ash heap of history. In April, he assembled the most powerful naval armada in the North Pacific and had U.S. jets fly over a Soviet island. The Soviet's retaliated by doing a similar flyover of the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. In early September, the Soviets shot down a civilian passenger plane that flew into their airspace. Convinced it was a spy plane, the disaster killed all 269 people aboard, including 61 Americans and a U.S. Congressman. The rhetoric from Reagan only worsened following the incident and the Soviet leadership prepared itself for what it thought was an inevitable nuclear assault.
On the night of September 26, 1983, Soviet early warning satellites picked up a nuclear launch from a U.S. missile silo in North Dakota. The long feared war had at last begun. Deep in an underground bunker near Moscow, the monitoring of the early warning satellites that night was being done by Lt. Colonel Stanislav Petrov, a 44 year old father of two who had served in said bunker since it had been built eleven years prior. Stanislav's orders regarding such an event were simple and clear. If a missile launch was detected he was to inform his superiors immediately so that retaliatory strikes could be launched, assuring that neither side would escape unscathed. Time was of the essence. From the time of detection there was only 23 minutes before the missiles would hit. All Stanislav had to do was pick up a phone, but he didn't. Something didn't feel right.
Throughout the Cold War both the Soviet Union and United States operated under a doctrine of Assured Destruction, or better stated as, you fuck me then I'll fuck you too. For Stanislav, the launching of only one missile didn't make any sense. Why would the Americans only launch one? Logic dictated that if they were going to attack, then hundreds if not thousands of missiles would be coming their way, angling to destroy as much as possible before any retaliatory strikes could be launched. While Stanislav was sitting around with his thumb up his ass, the satellites picked up four more launches from North Dakota. He had to make a decision. The launches couldn't be verified until they were within radar range, and by then they would only be minutes away. Stanislav was a soldier. He knew his duty. He didn't do it. He decided it had to be a computer error. He sat and waited, 23 minutes, for the world to end.
The world of course didn't end on that day. It was later discovered that the satellites had detected the reflection of sunlight off of some clouds. After no nuclear bombs hit, Stanislav drank a bottle a vodka, slept 28 hours, and went back to work. While he was at first praised by his superiors for his quick thinking, he was later reprimanded for failing to fill out the proper paperwork during the incident. Stanislav was ordered never to speak of it. He told nobody about it, not even his wife. He was reassigned to a less sensitive post and took early retirement a year later. He soon after suffered a nervous breakdown because holy hell how could he not. Stanislav's actions remained unknown to the world until his superior officer put it in his memoirs which were published in 1998. In 2004, some bullshit organization gave him a bullshit award and $1,000 in thanks for not destroying the world. He died quietly in 2017, an event not reported until six months after the fact.