On September 26th, 1983, we almost died. Stanislav Petrov was an obscure commander at a Soviet missile site who had the authority to launch 5,000 nuclear missiles and kill us all. On that morning, alarms went off saying that the US had launched 5 missiles at the Soviet Union. Standard Soviet military doctrine required him to push the launch button and notify his superiors in Moscow immedately. However, his heroic decision not to launch saved our lives and the lives of the rest of the world.

The reason he did not launch 5,000 missiles in retaliation was because something did not seem right to him — why would the US only launch 5 missiles at the Soviet Union instead of  thousands? He could not be sure — he had to trust his judgement. He judged correctly that the US would not be so stupid as to launch only five missiles at the Soviet Union, as they would survive to hit back. This judgement saved the world. For now.
We may have been saved by pure luck; he was not originally scheduled to be on duty that night:

Understanding that if he were wrong, nuclear missiles would soon be raining down on the Soviet Union, Petrov decided to trust his intuition and declare the system’s indications a false alarm. After a short while, it was apparent that his instincts were right. There were no approaching missiles. The crisis put him under immense pressure and nervousness, yet Petrov’s judgement had been sound. A full-scale nuclear war had been averted.

Stanislav Petrov was not originally scheduled to be on duty that night. Had he not been there, it is possible a different commanding officer could have made the opposite decision.

This was a time when I, as well as many others, lived in great fear. We did not know if the next day we would even be here, as we were pawns in a game far beyond our control. Even when I did not follow the news that closely, I could sense that a single mistake by either side could leave us all dead.

Petrov was a man of principle. He did not care above honors or advancement; he only cared about doing the right thing, even if it meant getting his career derailed:

Despite having prevented potential nuclear disaster, by refusing to acknowledge the computer system’s warnings Lt. Col. Petrov had disobeyed his orders and defied military protocol. He later underwent intense questioning by his superiors about his actions during the nerve-racking ordeal, the result of which was that they no longer considered him a reliable military officer.

The Soviet military did not punish Petrov for his actions, but did not reward or honor him either. His actions had revealed imperfections in the Soviet military system which showed his superiors in a bad light. He was given a reprimand, officially for the improper filing of paperwork, and his once-promising military career came to an end. He was reassigned to a less sensitive post and ultimately retired from the military.

But now that the relevant documents have been declassified and his action in saving the world has come to light, people of all parties and all walks of life should pay tribute to him and what he did.

Fastforward to today. When we elect a President, we elect a person who must make decisions like this on a regular basis, even when everybody else thinks he is wrong. He must then get people of both parties to buy into what he is saying. The one person who has consistently shown this kind of ability to make the kind of decisions that Petrov did over 20 years ago is Senator Russ Feingold.

In the weeks after the 9/11 attacks, Bush was able to launch a massive assault on your right to read books, send e-mail, or hold opinions different than him. He capitalized on this fear by ramming through the Patriot Act. 99 Senators lined up to vote yes. Among them were people like Wellstone, Kennedy, Durbin, and Boxer — all good people and all good Senators. Senator Feingold was the one person who saw that the President was really trying to exploit the 9/11 attacks by assuming broad Presidential powers.

Feingold recieved heavy pressure to make the Patriot Act unanimous. He was told that his political career was over, and that nobody would ever see him as credible again. Yet he has been proven to be right. Like Petrov, he did not have all the facts in front of him. Yet he did what he believed to be right even though it was not popular at the time.

Karl Rove was furious and made Feingold one of his top targets in 2004. He sunk millions behind a hand-picked self-made millionaire in Tim Michels. Yet Feingold won handily after barely winning in 1992 and 1998.

This was hardly the only time that Feingold has taken a lone stance on an issue and proven to be right:

–He opposed NAFTA, the China Agreement, and CAFTA, being one of only 15 Senators to vote against the China Agreement. This free-trade agreements have turned out to be disasters for our country, leading to the erosion of our unions and the outsourcing of many skilled jobs to other countries.

–He was one of only 10 senators to vote against No Child Left Behind; the only real point of this act was to open all of our local schools to military recruiters and give them the run of the school at will. It sets standards that are impossible for schools to meet, while not providing adequate funds for schools to administer them. When the schools fail to administer NCLB due to lack of funding, that “proves” that public education is a failure and that we need vouchers for private schools.

–He was one of only 22 to vote against the Iraq War Resolution;

–He was one of only 25 to vote against the Bankruptcy Bill;

–He was one of only two Democratic Senators to vote against Kosovo; while Kosovo itself was a military success, it has led to an excessive reliance by both parties on our military as a crutch and a substitute for real diplomacy.

When we consider who to elect in both 2006 and 2008, we need to elect men and women who will show the kind of judgement under fire that Feingold and Petrov display. Our very existence as a human race is dependent on electing people who can make good decisions under fire without fear of consequences.

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