September 29, 2008

Acting Unafraid

In the current election, we have one candidate who sees other world leaders as essentially rational beings with whom we may find common ground if we negotiate cautiously. We have one candidate who views the rest of the world as potential enemies to be punished until they become allies. Completely aside from the question of whose approach is likely to gain us more allies, these worldviews have practical consequences in high-pressure decision-making.

Just past midnight, Petrov received a computer report he'd dreaded all his military career to see, the computer captured a nuclear military missile being launched from the US, destination Moscow.

In the event of such an attack, the Soviet Union’s strategy protocol was to launch an immediate all-out nuclear weapons counterattack against the United States with nuclear power, and immediately afterwards inform top political and military figures. From there, it would be taken a decision to further the military offensive on America.

Twenty-five years ago, one Russian officer named Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov faced a choice between giving in to the paranoia of the Cold War or believing that Americans were rational people who didn't want to destroy the world any more than he did. Because he chose to stand against irrational fear, we're still here.

It's a new unwinnable war these days, but the stakes are still high and the battle is the same: paranoia versus audacity. None of us faces Petrov's choice alone, but it's still the same choice. Can we do less than our "enemy" did?

Via Charlie Stross.

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