PPRI’s Morning Buzz is one of my daily Must Read rituals, because it is a fascinating blend of current research and statistics about the two things we are NEVER supposed to discuss in polite company: Religion and Politics.
However, today’s edition, after the now requisite stories about Donald Trump, immigration, and the continued dissection of the recently released 2015 American Values Study, was this little tidbit at the end:
Today we flashback to 1983, when on this day an estimated 100 million people tuned in to watch “The Day After,” a controversial ABC TV movie depicting a nuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The movie was thought to be so compelling that affiliates opened free 1-800 counseling lines for the premiere. In a survey taken earlier that year, a majority of Americans said a third World War using nuclear weapons was very (29 percent) or somewhat (34 percent) likely, while 34 percent said not very likely at all (Source: Harris Survey, Mar., 1983).
Flashback, indeed … I was immediately thrown back to a small town on the banks of the Mississippi, not far from where I grew up. I worked for the local college and our family at the time included four children (ages 12, 10, 3, and four days away from a 2nd birthday).
This was before the Internet, cell phones, and 24-hour news channels. This was also before technology began to give us non-stop graphic depictions of anything you could imagine and much that we could not even imagine. It was a slightly slower and gentler world back then.
We were not yet immune to scenes of massive destruction. I was raised on movies that were either historical or based on World War II sensibilities and perceptions. The Good Guys were always us and we always won the day, often with minimal real pain or blood, at least on our side. Humor usually lightened the mood, even in the darkest of situations.
I also grew up with a very real sense that a war between our country and Russia was a distinct possibility or even a fore-gone reality.
Then along comes The Day After … widely heralded and far beyond the usual fairly predictable television fare. This was no grainy and abbreviated 30 minutes of Twilight Zone-type scary, but a determined attempt to actually show the aftermath of a nuclear war.
Several families from our church in that small town gathered at our home to watch this event. The younger children happily played upstairs in our large attic, unaware of what was happening downstairs.
The older children were only allowed to witness this event (remember, this was a simpler time to raise children) in our presence and with discussion afterward. I remember feeling distinctly unprepared to really talk about what we saw and felt during that film.
The film was almost unrelenting in simply showing the details that would befall normal citizens in the Midwest, so we could all relate fairly easily to what was happening, as people just like us faced an unthinkable and immediate situation that required more than most of us had ever been required to give.
This film was different …
We were not kept up to date on the events as they unfolded, but caught snatches from televisions and radios, until the bombs fell and much of our technology at the time ended (including automobiles, which was a big surprise – I had never heard of an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) before).
No heroic soldiers or airmen here, other than a few bedraggled National Guard troops trying to maintain order in the rubble of the afterward. None of the heroic elements or victorious moments that I had grown used to expecting from television and film.
This was stark instruction in real life and it shocked us to our core …
Of course, today we have all seen visions much worse than what we experienced on that November evening so long ago.
We now have a clearer picture of the horrors that go with violence. If we start to forget, we need only check the daily news for a listing of the evil perpetrated on our fellow human beings by each other. We have seen graphic depictions of what violence does to our bodies and our psyches in nauseating detail.
We do not much have shared television events like this any more.
Too bad … if nothing else, films like The Day After, Rich Man, Poor Man, and Roots, to name just a few, provided us with opportunities to see complex stories and engage in thoughtful discussion around life.
For much more about this film, go to Wikipedia or ask someone who was around in 1983 to share their impressions.
Remembering a long time ago, in a world far, far away in the Heartland ….