Tag Archives: nuclear weapons

Is it time for a 21st-century version of ‘The Day After’?

Marsha Gordon, North Carolina State University


Screenshot from ‘The Day After’.

It’s beginning to feel like the 1980s all over again.

Already this year, we’ve seen Donald Trump tweeting provocative nuclear threats about North Korea. A terrifying (but false) incoming missile alert set Hawaiians on edge, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention planned (and then postponed) a nuclear attack preparedness session. The Pentagon has also proposed a policy of possible nuclear retaliation for cyberattacks.

As a teenager, I remember being horrified about the possibility of nuclear war. I watched daily news reports about the nuclear arms race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union and listened to music about “what might save us, me and you,” as Sting’s 1985 song “Russians” put it (the answer: “If the Russians love their children too”).

But I especially remember the television event of 1983: “The Day After,” a fictional, made-for-TV movie that imagined a nuclear attack on American soil. The debates and discussions the film spurred make me wonder if a similar sort of high-profile cultural event would serve the country well today.

The water cooler event of the decade

At my junior high school in Southern California, “The Day After” was what everyone was talking about leading up to (and following) the night it aired on ABC on Nov. 20, 1983.

By all measures, it was a major media event. An estimated 100 million viewers tuned in. The White House phone lines were jammed and ABC headquarters in New York received more than 1,000 calls about the movie during its East Coast broadcast.

“The Day After” imagines a scenario in which America’s policy of deterrence fails. It depicts a nuclear attack through the experiences of Midwesterners – doctors, students, children, the pregnant and the engaged – followed by an extended (and, though grim, fairly unrealistic) consideration of post-blast repercussions.

Leading up to the attack, there is quotidian normality, followed by localized shock at the terrifying sight of missiles being launched out of the ground from Kansas missile silos. Panicked anticipation of an incoming nuclear attack follows, replete with period novelties such as huge lines at pay phones.

Although dated and artless in many ways, the representation of the blast remains horrific, if only by virtue of what it forces us to consider: the fire, wind and chaos; the widespread damage and suffering; the desperate need for medical care; and the futile desire for order and assistance.

Society as the characters in the movie knew it – just a day before – was a thing of the past.

Political television

“The Day After” was controversial even before it aired, with critics like Tom Shales of The Washington Post deeming it “the most politicized entertainment program ever seen on television.” Reverend Jerry Falwell organized a boycott against the show’s advertisers, and Paul Newman and Meryl Streep both tried (unsuccessfully) to run anti-nuclear proliferation advocacy ads during the program.

In the text that scrolls at the end of the film, “The Day After” declares its intention to “inspire the nations of this earth, their people and leaders, to find the means to avert the fateful day” – to, in essence, scare some sense into anyone tuning in.

Pro- and anti-nuclear groups used the film as a rallying cry for their positions. An Oct. 4, 1983 LA Times article (“‘The Day After’ Creating a Stir”) detailed a “conservative counteroffensive” that attempted to “discredit the film and write it off as a media conspiracy against Ronald Reagan’s strong defense posture.” Reagan supporters also hoped to defuse potential public backlash against American nuclear missile proliferation in Europe.

After the film aired, two simultaneous events at the epicenter of the film’s setting, the University of Kansas, are telling. A Los Angeles Times article titled “‘The Day After’ Viewed Amid Debate, Fear” described how a candlelight vigil in support of nuclear disarmament was joined by counterdemonstrators who “urged peace through military strength.”

As The New York Times’s John Corry wrote, “Champions of the film say it forces us to think intelligently about the arms race; detractors say it preaches appeasement.”

A trigger for serious reflection

Outside of partisan lobbying, “The Day After” opened the door for public debate about nuclear weapons.

Immediately after the movie’s broadcast, Ted Koppel moderated a riveting discussion that featured a formidable group of pundits, including Henry Kissinger, Elie Wiesel, William F. Buckley, Carl Sagan and Robert McNamara. During this special edition of “Viewpoint,” Secretary of State George Shultz also appeared to tell audiences that “nuclear war is simply not acceptable.”

After the movie aired, Ted Koppel moderated a discussion that featured an all-star cast of public intellectuals and politicians.


The most prescient and horrifying questions from the audience and responses from the panelists on “Viewpoint” anticipate a future that’s eerily indicative of where we are today – a time of multi-state nuclear capability, where one unstable leader might trigger nuclear catastrophe.

In the weeks after the broadcast, schools and community centers around the country held forums during which people could discuss and debate the issues the film raised. Psychologists and communication scholars were also eager to study the movie’s impact on viewers, from how it influenced their attitudes about nuclear weapons, to its emotional consequences, to whether they felt empowered to try to influence America’s nuclear policies.

That was then, this is now

In the early 1980s, of course, it was the Soviet Union that posed the nuclear threat to America.

Today’s adversaries are more diffuse. The world’s nuclear situation is also much more volatile, with greater destructive potential than “The Day After” imagined.

A modern-day remake of “The Day After” would have to reckon with this bleaker scenario: a world in which there may be no day after.

The bellicose posturing that prevails in the White House today resonates, in some ways, with the public bickering between Soviet Head of State Yuri Andropov and Ronald Reagan in the months leading up to the broadcast of “The Day After.” After the film’s release, New York Times columnist James Reston hoped “the two nuclear giants” would “shut up for a few weeks” – that “some civility or decent manners” might prevail in the wake of public concern about the consequences imagined in ABC’s somber nuclear fable.

But as then-Secretary of State George Shultz pointed out in the Koppel interview, the aim of the Reagan administration was to never have to use nuclear weapons. It was to deter our nuclear adversary and to reduce our nuclear storehouse. Shultz’s words of assurance are a contrast to today’s rhetoric of nuclear one-upmanship that is totally removed from the devastating reality of nuclear war.

Trivializations of nuclear warfare on the order of “my button’s bigger than yours” undermine the grave reality of nuclear cataclysm. Such rhetoric is no longer the domain of farce, as in Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove,” in which erratic, incompetent leaders bumble their way into the apocalypse.

Perhaps some modernized version of “The Day After” could function as a wake-up call for those who have no real context for nuclear fear. If nothing else, “The Day After” got people talking seriously about the environmental, political and societal consequences of nuclear war.

The ConversationIt might also remind our current leaders – Trump, foremost among them – of what modern nuclear war might look like on American soil, perhaps inspiring a more measured stance than has prevailed thus far in 2018.

Marsha Gordon, Professor of Film Studies, North Carolina State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Trump National Security Strategy Could ‘Create More Pathways to Nuclear War,’ Critics Warn

White House’s newly unveiled National Security Strategy lays bare the president’s “obsession with nuclear weapons,” an anti-nuke group warned

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 12-19-2017

Given Trump’s expressed affinity for America’s nuclear arsenal, it is not entirely surprising that his administration’s security strategy would place it at the center of attention. (Photo: Devin/Flickr/cc)

Viewed by critics as further evidence that President Donald Trump is “obsessed with nuclear weapons and creating the conditions for nuclear war,” the White House’s newly unveiled National Security Strategy (NSS) lionizes America’s nukes as the “foundation” of its security policy and suggests they could be deployed even in the case of non-nuclear threats.

“Nuclear weapons have served a vital purpose in America’s National Security Strategy for the past 70 years,” states Trump’s NSS document (pdf), made public on Monday. “While nuclear deterrence strategies cannot prevent all conflict, they are essential to prevent nuclear attack, non-nuclear strategic attacks, and large-scale conventional aggression.” Continue reading


As Trump ‘Hysterics’ Continue, US Moves to Put Nuclear B-52s on 24-Hour Alert

The Air Force’s steps to prepare nuke-armed bombers to “take off at a moment’s notice” are unnecessary and reckless, critics said

Written by Jake Johnson, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 10-23-2017.

Putting B-52s back on 24-hour alert “would precipitously raise the risk of accidents, strain an aging force, and ensure a destabilizing Russian response,” concluded Adam Mount of the Federation of American Scientists. (Photo: Wilson Hui/Flickr/cc)

As President Donald Trump continues to ratchet up tensions between the United States and North Korea through saber-rattling on Twitter and in television interviews, the U.S. has quietly begun preparing to put nuclear-armed B-52 bombers on “24-hour ready alert,” a status not seen since the end of the Cold War.

Commentators and national security analysts quickly denounced the reported steps as a severe and extremely dangerous consequence of White House “hysterics.”

“You would be shocked to see how totally prepared we are if we need to be,” Trump said in an interview on the Fox Business Network on Sunday, adding to fears of imminent nuclear conflict.

Adam Mount, a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, highlighted the fact that the U.S. already keeps hundreds of nuclear warheads on alert at all times. Putting B-52s back on 24-hour alert, Mount concluded, “would precipitously raise the risk of accidents, strain an aging force, and ensure a destabilizing Russian response.”

Marcus Weisgerber of Defense One, who first reported on the Air Force’s preparations on Sunday, noted that with the steps the Trump administration has set into motion, “the long-dormant concrete pads” at Barksdale Air Force base in Louisiana “could once again find several B-52s parked on them, laden with nuclear weapons and set to take off at a moment’s notice.”

Weisgerber continued:

Putting the B-52s back on alert is just one of many decisions facing the Air Force as the U.S. military responds to a changing geopolitical environment that includes North Korea’s rapidly advancing nuclear arsenal, President Trump’s confrontational approach to Pyongyang, and Russia’s increasingly potent and active armed forces.

Already, various improvements have been made to prepare Barksdale—home to the 2d Bomb Wing and Air Force Global Strike Command, which oversees the service’s nuclear forces—to return B-52s to an alert posture. Near the alert pads, an old concrete building—where B-52 crews during the Cold War would sleep, ready to run to their aircraft and take off at a moment’s notice—is being renovated.

In addition to the renovations currently underway at existing facilities, Defense One reports that “Barksdale and other bases with nuclear bombers are preparing to build storage facilities for a new nuclear cruise missile that is under development.”

The Air Force’s preparations for a possible nuclear conflict come shortly after the U.S. and South Korea completed joint war games off the Korean Peninsula. North Korea responded to the exercises by claiming that “nuclear war can break out at any moment.”


Atomic Scientists: North Korea’s Nuclear Missile Claims Are a Hoax

By James Holbrooks Published 8-14-2017 by The Anti-Media

Photo: YouTube


President Donald Trump continued his blustery North Korea rhetoric on Friday, tweeting that the U.S. military was “locked and loaded” and later telling reporters that Kim Jong-un had better not make any “overt threats” against the United States.

“This man will not get away with what he is doing,” Trump told reporters from his golf club in New Jersey, adding that if Kim makes a move against the U.S. or its allies “he will truly regret it and he will regret it fast.” Continue reading


Warnings of ‘Nuclear Nightmare’ as Trump Escalates Tensions With World Powers

“We need to step up sustained diplomacy. Firing off a bunch of missiles does nothing to address the crisis. We need negotiation, not posturing.”

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 7-31-2017

“In response to North Korea’s second intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test late last week, the U.S. on Sunday carried out what the Washington Post called a “show of force” by flying two B-1 bombers over the Korean Peninsula.” Photo: YouTube

As President Donald Trump foments tensions with world powers by behaving recklessly and pursuing aggressive action over diplomacy, developments in several major nations over the weekend sparked urgent concerns among peace groups, activists, and analysts that the world’s largest militaries are inching dangerously close to war.

In response to North Korea’s second intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test late last week, the U.S. on Sunday carried out what the Washington Post called a “show of force” by flying two B-1 bombers over the Korean Peninsula. The Post noted that the move is “a sign that tensions are spiraling upward rapidly.”  Continue reading


US Admiral Says He’s Ready to Launch Nuclear Strike Against China: What You Need to Know

By James Holbrooks. Published 7-28-2017 by The Anti-Media

China’s V-Day Military Parade 2015 in Beijing. Photo: YouTube

A day after the director of the CIA called China the greatest threat to the United States — and right as China began live-fire naval drills off the Korean Peninsula — an admiral of the U.S. military said Thursday that he would be willing to launch a nuclear strike against China.

“The answer would be: yes,” Admiral Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, answered at a security conference in Australia when asked whether he would nuke China if ordered to do by President Donald Trump. Continue reading


US a No-Show as Historic Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty Adopted

History was just made, but nuclear-armed states stand on the wrong side of it.

By Andrea Germanos, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 7-7-2017

“The ban treaty is the start of a new worldwide movement that gives the United States an opportunity to break from its self-destructive nuclear weapons policy,” said Jeff Carter, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility. (Photo: Lamerie/flickr/cc)

The United States has joined a small group of global outliers on Friday after a historic United Nations treaty to ban nuclear weapons was adopted by a majority of the world’s nations.

“The adoption of the nuclear weapons ban treaty marks an historic turning point in the centuries-old battle to eliminate all weapons of mass destruction,” said Jeff Carter, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility. Continue reading


Amid Rising Tensions, General Warns US Still Technically at War with North Korea

By James Holbrooks. Punlished 7-5=2017 by The Anti-Media

Korean Peninsula — As Americans grilled burgers and watched fireworks in celebration of the Fourth of July on Tuesday, North Korea defiantly test-launched its first successful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Analysts say the missile flew higher and farther than any had before and could more than likely have reached Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.

Reporting on the launch on Wednesday, North Korea’s state-run media wrote that Kim Jong-un was “feasting his eyes” on the ICBM during the test and that “with a broad smile on his smile,” the leader encouraged his scientists to “frequently send big and small ‘gift packages’ to the Yankees.”

The same report suggested North Korea is already capable of attaching a large nuclear warhead to its ICBM, a claim analysts almost universally consider unfounded. In a separate article published Wednesday, Kim Jong-un also vowed he would never put his country’s nuclear weapons program on the negotiating table. Continue reading


8 Things Congress Has Done While Everyone was Distracted by Trump

By . Published 2-14-2017 by The Anti-Media

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

While we were distracted by the onslaught of executive orders President Trump pushed through during his first two weeks in office, legislators in Congress were busy quietly introducing legislation to bolster his top-down moves.

Here’s what you missed:

1. A House Panel Voted to Terminate the Election Assistance Commission

The House Administration Committee voted 6-3 in favor Republican Congressman Gregg Harper’s bill to terminate the Election Assistance Commission. The EAC, which was created in response to the contentious 2000 Florida election results as part of the Help America Vote Act, is a bipartisan commission that certifies voting machines and is responsible for making sure they cannot be hacked. Continue reading


China Just Issued a Nuclear Warning to Donald Trump and the United States

By James Holbrooks. Published 1-24-2017 by The Anti-Media

Dongfeng-41 ICBM. Photo: Global Security

Beijing — Following comments made by White House spokesman Sean Spicer on Monday in which he said the United States would absolutely protect its interests in the South China Sea, the Asian superpower has fired back through its state-run media — going so far as to suggest China should beef up its nuclear arsenal in the face of Donald Trump’s presidency.

As reported by the newswire service Agence-France Presse (AFP) on Tuesday, “In recent days, Chinese social media has carried pictures purporting to show an advanced intercontinental ballistic missile system deployed in the Northeast.” Continue reading