Return to Armageddon: The United States and the Nuclear Arms Race, 1981-1999

By Ronald E. Powaski | Go to book overview

2
The Reagan About-Face

A number of developments in late 1983 helped break
the stalemate in the nuclear arms reduction talks. Per
haps the most important was Ronald Reagan's increas
ing concern that his nuclear policies might trigger a
nuclear war. Historian Beth Fischer believes that a
number of events came together in the fall of 1983 that
repeatedly forced Reagan to confront his fears about
nuclear annihilation. Reagan's reaction to these events,
she contends, was primarily responsible for the change
in his administration's policy toward the Soviet Union.
The first was the KAL 007 disaster in September 1983. It
brought home to Reagan the possibility that human
error could produce a nuclear holocaust. "If . . . the Soviet pilots simply mistook the airliner for a military plane," he asked, "what kind of imagination did it take to think of a Soviet military man with his finger close to a nuclear button making an even more tragic mistake?"1

The second incident that left a deep impression on Reagan, according to Fischer, was his previewing of the TV movie The Day After in early October 1983. That vivid dramatization of nuclear annihilation left him, he recorded, "greatly depressed." The Day After was effective, Fischer explains, because "it

-39-

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