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The Movie That Scared Ronald Reagan Into Nuclear Détente

Forty years ago, a made for TV movie aired on ABC that changed the world. It was called The Day After, and it depicted life in Kansas and Missouri after a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union. More than 100 million people watched it when it aired. One of them was president Ronald Reagan.


“I ran the tape of the movie ABC is running on the air Nov. 20. It’s called “The Day After.” It has Lawrence Kansas wiped out in a nuclear war with Russia. It is powerfully done—all $7 mil. worth. It’s very effective & left me greatly depressed,” he wrote in his diary after watching an early screening in 1983. “So far they haven’t sold any of the 25 spot ads scheduled & I can see why. Whether it will be of help to the ‘anti nukes’ or not, I cant say. My own reaction was one of our having to do all we can to have a deterrent & to see there is never a nuclear war.”


This week on Angry Planet, we talk with David Craig about his new book Apocalypse Television: How the Day After Helped End the Cold War. More than just a “making-of” story, Craig’s book is a reminder of the transcendent power of art to change the world.


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