How a NATO Military Exercise Freaked Out Russia (And Nearly Started a Nuclear War)

    Warfare History Network

    History, Europe

    The story of Able Archer. 

    On the night of November 20, 1983, Armageddon went prime time. Over 100 million Americans tuned in to the ABC television network to watch the two-hour drama The Day After. This depiction of a hypothetical nuclear attack on the United States attracted a great deal of publicity and controversy. Schools made watching the film a homework assignment, discussion groups were organized in communities across the country, and even the secretary of state at the time, George Schulz, took part in a question-and-answer session hosted by ABC after the film’s broadcast. That a mere made-for-TV movie could garner such attention from a leading figure in the Reagan administration indicates how real the fear of a nuclear apocalypse was at the time. But almost no one watching that Sunday night realized just how close fiction came to reality in the fall of 1983.

    The possibility of the world’s two greatest military powers destroying each other and the earth n a full-scale thermonuclear war was a fear shared by many throughout the world. At the time, both the United States and the USSR maintained huge nuclear arsenals of over 20,000 nuclear warheads each. In North America and Western Europe, nuclear freeze movements were gaining new members daily, with mass demonstrations that routinely numbered in the tens of thousands.

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