Throughout history, there have been countless high-profile debates that exemplify the innovation and mastery of discourse rhetoric. These iconic volleys encapsulate some of the most significant issues and conflicts in history, portraying a variety of views and interpretations that are thought-provoking and, at times, harrowing in their delivery.
Here is a summary of one such meeting, a panel focusing on the 1983 televised film, “The Day After.”
In 1983, ABC aired a made-for-tv film titled “The Day After.” The film, which was watched by more than one million people in nearly 39 million households, depicts the events and aftereffects of a fictional nuclear conflict between NATO forces and the Warsaw Pact. The film’s segments focus on various perspectives of the conflict, including those of of plot focuses on Americans living Kansas and Missouri. Generally, the film made a large impact on its viewers, including then president Ronald Reagan, who claimed to be “greatly depressed” by it.
Shortly after the film’s broadcast, a discussion panel was held to explore its subject matter and relevance to the current political climate, including building tensions between east and west. The panel was made up of experts including Henry Kissinger, William F. Buckley Jr. Carl Sagan, Brent Scowcroft, Elie Wiesel, and Robert McNamara.
“There is good news,” said discussion moderator, Ted Koppel, “take a look outside — it’s all still there.” Koppel went on to compare the film to Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol,” pointing to its cautionary portrayal of a potential future created through poor choices.
Conversation was strictly intended to serve as discussion rather than discourse, but it featured variety of opinions on the possibility of nuclear warfare in the Cold War. Some panel members, for instance, dismissed the film as a contrived piece of political bias that used fear mongering to drive a certain point of view. Other commentators, such as Sagan, emphasized the “terrifying potential” of nuclear weapons and the ways in which they could “wipe out all life on Earth” if mishandled, arguing that the film depicted this notion effectively (and in some cases, even mildly compared to the full extent of potential damage and death).
Then Secretary of State George Shultz, on the other hand, took a somewhat middle ground stance on the film, saying that it was not a portrayal of the future, but a “vivid and dramatic portrayal of the fact that nuclear war is simply not acceptable.”
The panel was deemed a highly effective showcase of different viewpoints on nuclear weaponry — it served as a cathartic volley of anxieties, predictions, and interpretations that covered much of the country’s collective feelings towards the possibility of a nuclear apocalypse.
Today, it remains an influential moment in a much broader conversation on nuclear weapons and international relations.