I was in my second and third years of college in 1983. One of the most significant things that stands out from 1983, which is often forgotten or misunderstood, particularly by younger people, is the prevalence of the notion that nuclear war between the east and the west was not only a threat, but likely, or even inevitable. I don’t know how valid this notion was, since I have been a cynic all my life by nature (born in Missouri, the “Show Me” state), so I acknowledge that the idea that two great, ideologically opposed super-governments might use their military power to kill us all could very well have been a manufactured method of controlling and poisoning us to keep us docile.
Still, it was infused into the fabric of our thinking, and in our daily lives we thought about things like nuclear winter, how far we were from a primary target, how we might survive fallout, and whether it would start in Germany, Saudi Arabia, or Central America. In some ways many of us felt absolutely certain that nuclear war was coming.
In November of 1983, ABC aired what was at the time a groundbreaking movie, The Day After. This made-for-tv film depicted how we all speculated it might go down: Soviet troops blockade parts of Germany. NATO troops respond. Low-yield nuclear weapons are detonated over advancing troops. Medium-yield weapons are used against European cities, and finally the ICBMs come into play. American missiles are launched, followed by soviet ICBM detonations at the American ICBM bases. The rest of the movie depicts the horrific consequences.
I confess that I saw The Day After with some friends who liked to get high, and they passed around the weed that night. I also confess that The Day After was a lot more intense after a couple of hits of red hair sensimilla. One of the guys watching with me, the one who got high the most, observed as American missiles were shown being launched from their silos, and said, “Check it out! They’re going from left to right. These are good missiles!”
The threat of terrorism has taken the place of the threat of nuclear annihilation in the milieu of the current generation, and while I believe that there is a real, credible threat from terrorism, I am of the opinion that the bigger, more potentially damaging threat comes from the way governments and news agencies use that threat to control us and keep us docile and obedient. I don’t think, however, that masterminds in darkened offices are smoking cigars and laughing at us peasants in ways that harken back to kings and emperors, as much as I believe that enormous governments are capable of corrupting their own morals through homogeny and mediocrity.
Like you, I remember those days well; however, I remember thinking about this during middle school (rather than college).
I also remember our “tornado drills” when I was in elementary school in Choctaw, Oklahoma — the kind of drills where everyone goes into the hall and crouches at the base of the solid cinder-block walls.
Several of our teachers called these drills “nuclear war drills”. At the time, I didn’t know about sarcasm, so I don’t know whether they were serious with this moniker.
did you ever watch george romero’s day of the dead?
it’s my opinion that all of his zombie movies (up until land of the dead) capture the mood of the decade they’re set in very accurately. my favorite is day of the dead (1985). a lot of people don’t like that one but i think you need to watch it a few times in order to really appreciate it. it’s a bit bleaker than the others and takes place in an underground military base. i think it’s representative of a mental state strung out to its breaking point. it says to me, “SOMETHING HAD BETTER HAPPEN SOON OR I’M GOING TO MAKE IT HAPPEN.”
in most zombie movies the antagonists who cause the zombies to finally overrun the human strongholds are people. the zombies are more like part of the setting than they are active characters.
i think people are getting sick of living in fear again. although the war on terror hasn’t lasted nearly as long as the cold war did (so far), i think our collective national subconscious has a shorter attention span. the civilians in the underground base in day of the dead finally got tired of living under strict military control. as government eyes watch us more and more closely and its grip gets tighter, maybe one day americans will decide that letting the zombies in doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.
Now i find out that my boyfriend in 1983 was a pot head!!! I should probably go get tested or something.