When he was a senior at Vassar in 1969, Jonathan Granoff ’70 stood with folk singer Pete Seeger and hundreds of other protestors at a rally in Poughkeepsie opposing the Vietnam War. Over the next five decades, Granoff has continued to strive for peace by warning the world of the threat of nuclear weapons. He serves as President of the Global Security Institute and Permanent Observer for the International Anti-Corruption Academy to the United Nations.
On March 23, the Alumnae/i Association of Vassar College honored Granoff for his life’s work by presenting him with the 2022 AAVC Distinguished Achievement Award. Amy Pullman ’71, chair of the AAVC selection committee, noted that “Jonathan stood out because of his ceaseless work for international peace. His role in the United Nations and on the Taskforce on Nuclear Nonproliferation is all the more important given the heightened tensions among the nuclear superpowers as evidenced by the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine,” she said.
Prior to the presentation of the award, Granoff and Chip Reid ’77, former National Correspondent for NBC and CBS News, engaged in a conversation about Granoff’s work toward a world without nuclear weapons. As Reid noted, “Most people don’t think about this issue very often, and it’s up to people like you to get us thinking about it again. Do we still need to worry?”
Granoff answered by listing a series of near-misses involving nuclear weapons, any of which might have virtually destroyed civilization. As narrator of the 2013 documentary film The Man Who Saved the World, Granoff chronicled the story of the Soviet Union’s Lt. Colonel Stanislav Petrov, a duty officer in the command center of the country’s early warning satellite system. The Soviet computers warned of an imminent U.S. nuclear attack, but Petrov chose not to issue the order to retaliate, and he soon confirmed that no American missiles were heading toward Moscow.
Granoff said that when he asked Petrov why he hadn’t issued the order to launch the Soviet missiles, the officer replied, “I am computer scientist and I know computers make mistakes.”
That incident was just one of many nuclear “oopses” that could have been catastrophic, Granoff told the members of the Vassar community who attended the AAVC ceremony and those who watched via Zoom. During the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, two of the three Soviet officers authorized to order a nuclear strike wanted to do so, but the third officer overrode them, Granoff said. A year earlier, a B52 bomber carrying a nuclear weapon crashed in North Carolina “and six of the seven safety measures failed.” In 1995, a Norwegian weather satellite that drifted into Soviet air space was temporarily mistaken for a nuclear strike, and in 2009, two nuclear submarines—one British and one French—collided in the North Sea.
“As you can see, accidents happen,” Granoff said, but he added that diplomatic progress has been made in mitigating the threat of nuclear disaster.—Larry Hertz