The first time President Ronald Reagan announced that “A nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought” was before the Japanese Diet on November 11, 1983. Reagan was sensitive to public concerns over the rocky state of U.S.-Soviet relations. His speech came nine days before the airing of an ABC movie, “The Day After,” depicting the impact on Lawrence, Kansas, of a nuclear strike against nearby Kansas City. The “Day After” was watched by 100 million viewers. Reagan had an advance screening. It’s hard to identify a television program that has had a more dramatic impact on public and presidential consciousness of nuclear danger.
Late in 1983, Reagan also began to appreciate how disturbed key Politburo members were by his rhetoric, aggressive U.S. air and naval exercises around the Soviet Union’s periphery, his nuclear build-up, arms reduction proposals that seemed designed to be rejected, and by his beloved Strategic Defense Initiative.
Even as he was speaking in Tokyo, U.S. and NATO authorities were engaged in a command post exercise practicing nuclear release procedures. This exercise, Able Archer 83, worried key members of the Politburo even more, including General Secretary Yuri Andropov. Soviet intelligence operatives were ordered to step up their surveillance of indicators that Washington might be preparing for a nuclear war. They looked for the number of lights on at the Pentagon late into the night and they checked activity at blood banks.
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