In 1983, Nearly 100 Million American’s Witnessed What a Nuclear War Would Look Like

    Matthew Gault


    Time to watch it again–considering the crisis with North Korea. 

    Stephen Klein promised their father he’d see them across the wasteland. It’s slow going. His carriage is bumpy, the horse is scared and the landscape is full of death and danger.

    Klein doesn’t know what’s wrong with Denise—she bled uncontrollably during church a few days ago. Gauze covers Danny’s head. He’s Denise’s little brother.

    The boy was staring at the bomb when it went off. It was the last thing he ever saw. Klein told their father he’d get them to a hospital or die trying.

    “What do you see?” Danny asks Steve.

    “Oh,” Klein says. “Cows, telephone poles. The usual stuff.”

    The camera pulls back to reveal that there are no cows or telephone poles, just men in masks throwing dead bodies onto the back of a truck. A fine white powder covers everything.

    This is Kansas in the ’80s, and America is an irradiated, nuclear hellscape. Welcome to The Day After, a TV movie ABC aired during prime-time in 1983. The film was so effective that it depressed Pres. Ronald Reagan.

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    He wrote about it in his diary, and some biographers speculated it had a direct effect on Reagan’s desire to end nuclear proliferation during the back half of his presidency.

    The Day After is about a world in which the unthinkable happens—the U.S. and Russia finally launch all their nukes and ruin the world.

    The film is set in and around Kansas City, and follows several families and individuals as they struggle to survive in America’s heartland.

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