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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

November 20, 1983

Well, here we go with another edition of the Tuesday Timeline! This time around, we're going back to a year that we already visited not that long ago. I normally try to add a little bit of variety to the mix when it comes to featuring specific years, but in this case, the topic that I ended up selecting was just too good to pass up. I'm sure you'll understand as you read on.

This is the twentieth day of November, and as it so happens, a lot happened on this date. Take a look at the celebrity birthdays for today which include the following famous faces; Nadine Gordimer, Kaye Ballard, Estelle Parsons, Don DeLillo, Dick Smothers, Bob “Super Dave Osborne” Einstein, Joe Biden, Norman Greenbaum, Meredith Monk, Veronica Hamel, Louie Dampier, Rick Monday, Nanette Workman, Greg Cook, Joe Walsh, Richard Masur, Rodger Bumpass, Steve Dahl, Bo Derek, Mark Gastineau, Sean Young, Tim Harvey, Mike Diamond (Beastie Boys), Jimmy Vasser, Callie Thorne, Delia Gonzalez, Geoffrey Keezer, Sabrina Lloyd, Joe Zaso, Phife Dawg (A Tribe Called Quest), Joel McHale, Angelica Bridges, Dierks Bentley, Davey Havok (AFI), Joshua Gomez, Josh Turner, Kimberley Walsh (Girls Aloud), Margo Stilley, Carly Rae Jepsen, Rhys Wakefield, and Cody Linley.

I'm exhausted just typing all that out!

As it turns out, a lot of events took place on November 20 throughout history. Here's just a sampling.

1739 – The beginning of the Battle of Porto Bello between Britain and Spain during the War of Jenkins' Ear

1789 – The state of New Jersey becomes the first state to ratify the U.S. Bill of Rights

1820 – An 80-ton sperm whale attacks The Essex off the coast of South America...this event later serves as the inspiration behind the classic story “Moby Dick”

1861 – Secession ordinance is filed by Kentucky's Confederate Government during the American Civil War

1917 – Ukraine is declared a republic

1923 – Rentenmark replaces the Papiermark as the official currency of Germany

1936 – The founder of the Falange, Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, is killed by a republican execution squad

1940 – Hungary officially joins the Axis Powers during World War II, becoming a signatory of the Tripartite Pact

1945 – Trials against 24 Nazi war criminals begin at the Palace of Justice at Nuremberg

1947 – Princess Elizabeth marries Lieutenant Phillip Mountbatten at Westminster Abbey in London

1962 – President John F. Kennedy ends the quarantine of Cuba in response to the Soviet Union agreeing to remove all missiles from Cuba, effectively putting an end to the Cuban Missile Crisis

1969The Plain Dealer publishes photographs of slain villagers taken from the My Lai massacre in Vietnam

1974 – The U.S. Department of Justice files final anti-trust suit against AT&T, which leads to the breakup of AT&T and its Bell System

1977 – Egyptian President Anwar Sadat becomes the first Arab leader to visit Israel

1980 – Lake Peigneur drains into an underlying salt deposit due to a misplaced Texaco oil probe being drilled into the Crystal Salt Mine

1985 – Microsoft Windows 1.0 is released

1992 – A fire causes millions in damages at Windsor Castle in England

1998 – The first module of International Space Station, Zarya, is launched

2001 – George W. Bush dedicates the U.S. Department of Justice headquarters building as the Robert F. Kennedy Justice building, on what would have been his 76th birthday

2006 – American film director Robert Altman passes away at the age of 81 due to complications from leukemia

2008 – The Dow Jones Industrial Average dips to its lowest level since 1997, kicking off the 2008 recession

So, what date are we flashing back to this week?

November 20, 1983.

And, what was so special about this date? Well, it was the day that a television movie aired on ABC. The movie itself did quite well in the ratings, with over one hundred MILLION people tuning in to watch it, making it one of the most successful made for television movies ever made.

Even if the movie did cause some tension, panic, and controversy.

You know, I have such fond memories of the 1980s. It was the decade that I was born in, and it was the decade that I associate with some of my fondest childhood memories. This is clearly subjective, but I think the 1980s had some of the best cartoons, the best music videos, the best movies, and the best toys. Being a kid in the 1980s was something very special and magical, and although I was only eight years old when the 1980s ended, I still have a lot of fond memories of that time.

I was so caught up in having as much fun as I could during the 1980s as a young boy that I didn't quite comprehend just how dire the world was during that time. Yes, the 1980s were a fun decade to experience, but it was also a very scary decade if you were an adult. You witnessed the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan in 1981, you witnessed a huge stock market crash in 1987, and in 1986, the world watched in horror as a nuclear accident in Chernobyl devastated the city of Pripyat.

That last event was one that weighed heavily on the minds of a lot of people, particularly since the threat of nuclear disaster was a huge possibility. Ever since the bombing of Hiroshima, Japan in 1945, the threat of nuclear weapons became a huge possibility. And seeing the images of the devastation coming from the aftereffects of the bombing likely made millions all over the world wonder “what if it happened here”?

Now, the Cold War officially ended in the early 1990s, but I imagine that many people are still worried about the threat of nuclear war possibly occurring during our lifetimes. What would happen if conflict arose between two nations and one nation decided to counterattack with nuclear weapons? How would it affect life in the affected areas? Would there be any chance of survival? Would there be any hope?

On November 20, 1983, one movie attempted to paint a rather dire and frightening picture of what life would be like if a nuclear bomb went off in a heavily populated area. And being only two years old at the time of this movie, I'm actually kind of glad that I was too young to remember watching it. I watched the whole movie in preparation for writing this entry, and I admit that I was a little bit frightened myself.

This blog is all about the movie “The Day After”.

This movie featured the acting talents of John Lithgow, JoBeth Williams, Jason Robards, Steve Guttenberg, John Cullum, and Amy Madigan, and was directed by Nicholas Meyer.

The idea for the movie came right around the time that the film “The China Syndrome” was released. ABC Motion Picture Division president Brandon Stoddard was so impressed by the film that he decided to come up with the idea to do a movie that explored the effects of a nuclear attack on American soil. He came up with the title “The Day After” because he never meant for the attack to be the main focus...his main goal was to show the aftermath of the attack, as well as the quest for survival.

The original setting for the film was the city of Kansas City, Missouri, but was changed to Lawrence, Kansas instead (though the film did make references to Kansas City). The reason for the change was due to the fact that Lawrence had some decent shooting locations, such as a hospital, university campus, sporting event stadiums, as well as farms and beautiful countryside. In fact, many of the extras in the film were college students from the university campus. The support for the film was definitely evident in Lawrence, Kansas.

In Hollywood, on the other hand, the project was extremely controversial, and many people were opposed to the idea of making the movie in the first place. Initially, Robert Butler was hired on to direct the film, but had to leave due to contractual obligations for another project. And when Nicholas Meyer was offered the project, he was quite apprehensive about the project, believing that there was no way that network censors would allow a project to be greenlit without massive cuts. Once he read the script, he immediately jumped on board with the idea to make the film less about a Hollywood disaster, and more about illustrating the facts about the effects on nuclear war. He also wanted to cast the movie with relative unknows, but knew that he needed at least one Hollywood star to get people to tune in to the movie, and to attract the European audience. As luck would have it, Meyer was seated next to Jason Robards on a flight to New York, and Robards was talked into joining the cast.

The film opens up with a series of news reports depicting a fictional war between the United States and the Soviet Union. The conflict kicks off with the Soviet Union commencing a military buildup in East Germany in hopes of getting the United States to withdraw from West Berlin. When the United States refuses to back down, the conflict escalates. Tensions soon mount on both sides, and the United States issues an ultimatum to the Soviet Union. Stand down from the blockade they have set up by six o'clock the following morning, or it will be interpreted as an act of war.

Soon after, the city of Moscow issues a mandatory evacuation, and various American cities followed suit, as unconfirmed reports of nuclear weapons being detonated are broadcast over radio and television.

In the community of Lawrence, Kansas, pandemonium and hysteria seems to be the general mood. People crowd supermarkets and food stores trying to prepare for the worst, and thousands of people try desperately to get out of town before something terrible happens.

Unfortunately, for those people who are still in Lawrence, Kansas, it's a futile effort, as word gets out that the Soviet Union launched a massive attack against thirty-two different targets with ten projected impact points, while reporting that they had suffered catastrophic loss themselves. In fact, the film purposely makes it unknown as to which side launched the nuclear missiles first.

Whatever the case, here's the end result.

Now, I realize that the special effects are somewhat dated for 2012 standards. The film was made almost thirty years ago, after all. Back in 1983, I can only imagine just how frightening the scenes were. To add to the general mood, after the attack scene, the rest of the movie was broadcast without commercial breaks on its original airing.

And, not to spoil the plot too much, but here's some of the stories that people witnessed after the attack on Lawrence, Kansas.

  • Dr. Russell Oakes (Robards) is on his way to do a lecture at the University of Kansas as the attacks take place, and he ends up treating several patients at the university hospital with Dr. Sam Hachiya (Calvin Jung) and Nurse Bauer (Williams)
  • Science professor Joe Huxley (Lithgow) and his students construct a Geiger counter to monitor the levels of nuclear fallout outside while trying to use a radio to locate survivors outside of the impact area
  • Billy McCoy (William Allen Young), an Airman First Class in the U.S. Air Force, is the first to witness the initial missile launches, and tries to head back home in order to be with his family. When he ends up stranded, he has to fight to stay alive
  • The Dahlberg family, headed by Jim (Cullum) are located in Harrisonville, Missouri (just outside of Kansas City) where they are preparing for the wedding of eldest daughter, Denise. When the blast occurs, the Dahlberg's young son, Danny is blinded, and much of the family begins suffering from radiation poisoning
  • University student Stephen Klein (Guttenberg) is hitchhiking to Joplin, Missouri, but when the attacks occur, he is taken in by the Dahlberg family.

The whole movie definitely did what it set out to do...painted a realistic portrait of the despair and devastation that could come from a nuclear attack...but let's make one thing clear. There were no happy endings. Almost all the characters in the film ended up suffering from the aftermath of the movie.

The night the movie aired, several 1-800 hotlines were opened up with counselors standing by to help people deal with what they had just seen. Ted Koppel hosted a live debate immediately after the conclusion of the movie, which had several experts (both pro and con) arguing about the arms race and the use of nuclear weapons in conflict.

Peace vigils were held all over the United States in the days after the movie aired, and Lawrence, Kansas reported a record number of tourists visiting the city the year after the film aired, with many people wanting to visit the locations of those that were destroyed in the movie.

Even Fred Rogers devoted four episodes of the popular series “Mister Rogers Neighbourhood” to comfort and talk to young children who may have watched the movie on television. The film was even shown in the Soviet Union in 1987.

The Day After” was a realistic, yet fictionalized account of what might happen if the United States became the target of a nuclear war.

And it aired for the first time on November 20, 1983.

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