In 1983, we were well within the danger zone of a nuclear exchange with the USSR. Reagan’s presidency was in its second year, and the man was still fighting the demons of nuclear holocaust. So was I. Standing in a line at the administration building of my local university, I heard a conversation behind me between two smartly dressing young men. Their subject was the choice of an eventual major. The first student had no clue, but the second – he knew exactly what he wanted to get into. “Anything that will help me study and master thermonuclear war.” Those words chilled me, quite literally. Earlier, I had visited one of the larger buildings on campus, and saw the Civil Defense Fallout Shelter sign above a very wide concrete stairway leading to the basement. There were others on campus. They were not for show. I was well aware of what the Soviets were capable of doing, since I had studied some of their warfare philosophy, spoken with Air Force personnel, questioned a neighbor that worked for the DoD, and listened in on some of her conversations with colleagues whenever I thought I could get away with it.
1983 was a big year. The Soviets were clearly getting their posteriors handed to them in their fourth year in Afghanistan. The “Soviet Vietnam”. Their own little quagmire. Soviet statism was being dealt a severe blow to the ego. Nationalistic pride, though greatly manipulated via Pravda and Izvestia, was regardless a very real force. To the leadership in the Kremlin, keeping up appearances and working to pigeon-hole President Reagan were much the same game. Reagan was enjoying a few successes, and proving to be what the KGB’s own dossier on the man claimed, someone that meant what he said, no matter how well or ill informed. He would do as he said. Pressure was building. In March of that year, the president proposed SDI. This was a major ramping-up of nuclear tensions within the hearts of Soviet Politburo members. Pressures grew, and both sides of the “nuclear debate” flexed their muscle.
November of 1983 saw the release for TV of “The Day After”. It was widely proclaimed to show how hopeless surviving a nuclear war would be. For the prepper, though, it amazingly enough illustrated some of the efforts that could be made to prepare ahead of time and to deal with the after effects. Also shown were the effects of EMP, flash-blindness, blast damage and radiation poisoning. The film scared millions. It also encourage others who, taking a good long look, and watching the replay the next week, began their own journey into studying the facts regarding this kind of war. I saw it as both ugly and hopeful. The film covered a huge variety of aspects, even going into the military’s efforts at responding to the threat and reality of attack. It showed them being professional, which I liked to see. Something it did not show, though, was the prepared and expectant survivalist of the 1970s and 80s – those men and their families that were not scrambling to get things together, but were prepared – TRULY prepared. The release of this movie in November encouraged a lot of “prepper” type sales for Christmas. I believe this was the beginning of an open-eyes style of living for many Americans.
“The Day After” was propaganda against nuclear defenses, and what the left believed SDI would take us through. I don’t see it that way. When I recently viewed it online, scanning through some sections, I remembered how I felt that first night, and during the replay. It’s not the same for me, now. I’m a member of a very small camp that believes such a war is survivable, with the right preps. I go against the grain on many things, and this is just one more of them. A friend of mine said it’s because I don’t give in to sheep-think. That much is true, mostly. When I see this film now, I see mistakes made by the characters, places where I could improve on improvised preps, and where people sadly stood and watched, rather than acting to protect their lives. I’m posting links to the show in two parts. These are posted by “LOLTOROCK” on Youtube.
Not to be outdone, the Brits aired their own version of post apocalyptic hell with “Threads”, late in 1984. The pressure was on Margaret Thatcher to break up her association with President Reagan. This film was part of that effort. With the Right strongly in hold of power, (the Falklands war and Granada were recent feathers in their caps), “Threads” was supposed to out-do “The Day After” by presenting the outcome of nuclear war in its most bleak representation. But it quickly fell into the shadows cast by major events in both countries. Mikhail Gorbachev had come to power in the Soviet Union, and the power plays between the three leaders were much more acceptable fair to the populations of their nations. The re-release of “Threads” a year later was a fizzle.
I was left with a very dark feeling after viewing it. It offered no real hope. Sure, people were alive, and society was taking on some kind of a stability that could be recognized, but there was no hope that people of great spirit and drive would emerge to rally those around them. “The Day After” at least showed a few with the ability to laugh, and I suppose that without some form of humor, there can be no triumph. So, yes…. I much preferred the American version of Doomsday, because even in the title, there was a Day After. Not just an eternal night filled with UV radiation.
I offer the link to “Threads” not because it is instructional, but because it is historical. This movie is both a counterpart and a sister to “The Day After”. I don’t really think the one can be considered without the other, from a historical perspective. As for usefulness to preppers, I think its one saving feature is the way in which stats and time lines were shown. This is a 2 hour documentary of one specific war-game. War games are important to a prepper because they enable thought processes to come to the fore that work through problems. They force one to consider and plan. And since this site is called “A Survival Plan”, it makes sense, on one level, to present this…. thing. Watch it if you must, but from the perspective of a planner studying methodology. Be prepared to be let down, if you are looking for any kind of “light” within it.
By the time “Threads” had come around, my own studies into nuclear war had shown me that preparation for it was possible, that surviving was possible and that remaining human was possible. The attempt by the Brits responsible for this show to sour me on the idea of supporting both national and personal preparation failed miserably. I had committed to the course, even though it was clear to me that I had done so only about 4 years later. I found that living for the sake of it, being nationalist during the Cold War and being a survivalist were all three entirely compatible and proper.
And I still believe that….
Threads (eurocon, from youtube)