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Last night was the 25th Anniversary showing of The Day After, celebrated here in Lawrence at Liberty Hall (it was filmed here). One of the best things about the experience is that the film's producer, director, casting director, and an actor all took part in a Q&A afterward. One of the most profound things we heard is that the film changed President Ronald Reagan's mind about the "feasibility of a winnable nuclear war."

Wow.

Same with Chernenko; apparently Reagan sent him a copy, and along with activists' encouragement, this film got them talking. More importantly, the movie so influenced the Cold War leaders that it prompted the 1986 Reykjavik Summit that nearly cleared the world of nukes.

Imagine how things might have gone if that had happened. Would North Korea, India, Pakistan, China, and everyone else have felt the same drive to build their own nukes if the US and USSR had dumped theirs? We'll never know, because Reagan was too much of an idiot to not realize we didn't already have a Star Wars-like missile defense in place.

The point I want to make is that science fiction can save the world, and here's the evidence. People like Reagan simply couldn't imagine the fallout of catastrophic decisions. But seeing the result of the decision to launch a nuclear war - watching the characters in the movie suffer - provided the imagery he needed to understand that it was a bad idea. That a nuclear war was not winnable.

Science fiction: Saving the world one person at a time.

Chris

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
ericreynolds
Nov. 21st, 2008 08:15 pm (UTC)
Would like to have made it over to Lawrence. I think the film was underrated in its day, and judging from its influence it was, although I do remember it got a lot of attention. I remember seeing an interview about it with Carl Sagan shortly after it aired.
kansas_dave
Nov. 21st, 2008 11:18 pm (UTC)
Why are you upset at Reagan? FDR built the bomb, Truman used it, and no president, Democrat or Republican, has eliminated it.

I mean, there's no shortage of legitimate things to criticize him for; I just don't think this is among them.
mckitterick
Nov. 21st, 2008 11:38 pm (UTC)
Not upset; just find it interesting that he discarded his entire notion of a "winnable" nuclear war!
drpaisley
Nov. 22nd, 2008 12:36 am (UTC)
I remember watching the film at Jeff Gonner and Sally Osgood's house here in midtown KC (now part of the Costco parking lot). Dragonet was working at the pretty much deserted KU Med library. When the bomb went off over the KCMO antenna a block from us, we all looked at each other and said "well, we're dead." Very creepy.
normalcyispasse
Nov. 22nd, 2008 01:52 am (UTC)
I don't think South Korea has any nuclear weapons. The North has tested some, however.
steve98052
Nov. 22nd, 2008 12:10 pm (UTC)
And on the other end of the scale, 24 made Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo possible, by mis-teaching Bush that torture works.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )