The Day After

From Academic Kids

The Day After is a controversial 1983 made-for-television movie about the effects that a fictional full-scale nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union has on the residents of Lawrence, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri. It was written by Edward Hume and directed by Nicholas Meyer.

The following is a chronology of the events, portrayed in The Day After, which lead to the fictional start of World War III. To this day, many military theorists have stated that the events portrayed were a very real possibility during the Cold War.

  • The film begins with a Soviet buildup in East Germany, as a method of intimidating the United States into releasing its claim on West Berlin. The United States does not comply, which leads to a Soviet blockade of West Berlin which is interpreted as an act of war by the United States.
  • As tension builds, the United States orders the Soviets to stand down the blockade of Berlin, which the Soviets refuse to do. The United States, from its bases in West Germany, invade East Germany to free Berlin.
  • The Soviet Union counters the United States invasion of Berlin by launching a major attack into West Germany, crossing the Fulda Gap. This invasion may have resulted in a nuclear explosion where Wiesbaden was destroyed. All countries of NATO counter the attack with military assistance to the West Germans.
  • The Soviet Army reaches the Rhine, at which time the United States halts the assault by detonating several low yield nuclear bombs over advancing Soviet troops. The Soviet Union counters by launching a nuclear attack at Europe's Regional NATO headquarters.
  • After the initial exchange of nuclear weapons in Germany, the United States enacts its "strike on warning" policy, meaning that it will launch a full scale nuclear attack on the Soviet Union if indications are received that the Soviet Union is preparing to do the same against the United States.
  • In the Persian Gulf, full scale Naval warfare erupts as U.S. and Soviet ships attack and sink each other.

It is never made clear in the film whether it was the Soviet Union or the United States who launched nuclear weapons first, and it is implied at one point that, after such an attack on both sides, questions of who started it would hardly matter. The end result is that most of America's major cities are destroyed, the military is decimated, and the United States becomes a fallout wasteland. It is implied that a similar effect has been enacted on the USSR. After the death and destruction has been allowed to occur, the President of the United States declares that a ceasefire exists between the USA and USSR.

All of this though is meant as background for an exposition on the plausibility of nuclear war, and its effects. Part of the goal of the film was to emphasize that "the day after" a nuclear attack did exist, countering the popular idea since the early 1950s that a nuclear war would result in a simple and instant end of the world. The Day After continues a tradition begun in the anti-nuclear movement of the 1980s of emphasizing the grisly details of radiation poisoning, the vast overwhelming of hospitals by victims, and the lack of cohesiveness in trying to organize post-attack governance and food supplies.

When the film was first aired, there was a great deal of stress put on educational materials to prepare audiences for the shocking imagery and the bleak story. However, critics complained that the film was not realistic enough, because it seemed to softpedal the true extent of the devastation of a nuclear war. An estimated 100 million people watched the movie when it first aired on November 20, 1983. In an unusual move for network TV at the time, the film continued without commercial interruption once the attack occurred. A later home video release of the film included more graphic footage of the aftermath of the attack which was not allowed in the broadcast version.

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