Apocalyptic Childhood

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Did you watch The Day After, the made for TV movie about nuclear war where bombs were dropped on Kansas City and the surrounding area?  It aired on November 20, 1983 and almost 100 million people watched.  I remember there being so much hype and at age 15, I was one of those millions watching. 

So when I ran across The Day After the Day After: My Atomic Angst, a memoir by Steven Church, I was transported back to the early eighties.  I also thought about my wife's family who were living in Topeka, Kansas at the time, especially her brother who is fascinated by apocalyptic visionaries like John Brown and creates apocalyptic landscapes in many of his works of art. 

Steven Church covers John Brown and many end of the world 70's and 80's movies as he reports on the atmosphere he grew up in while in Lawrence, Kansas and what it was like for "the end" to be filmed in his town when he was a kid. 

I sent a copy of the book to my brother-in-law and then took the library's copy on an almost 5000 mile road trip with my family.  It was the perfect book for my trip, because we would be making a stop in Lawrence, Kansas to visit some of my wife's old high school friends and because a 5000 mile trip with four kids can feel apocalyptic at times. 

I talked with one of my wife's friends about the book and the movie and he said that the movie terrified him and he is glad that his kids aren't growing up with the threat of nuclear war hanging over them as much as it was for us.  I remember being disappointed by the movie, finding it slightly boring and melodramatic.  The nuclear war threat just never seemed real to me and I didn't loose much sleep over it as a child. 

How was it for you?  Read Steven Church's memoir and see what memories it brings back for you.


The Day After the Day After

Posted by Steve Siebers at 08/31/2010 12:50:49 PM | 

Great post! I was 14 in 1983 and remember parents and teachers having a very serious "this is important and you kids need to watch and then talk about your feelings toward this movie" attitude. But Return of the Jedi also came out in 1983, and so The Day After had to compete with that for my feelings and attention...no contest. My best freind Tod was interviewed by the local paper on the day after the day after and I remember he was quoted as saying something like "it was cool, radioactivity is messed up"
Posted by: michael ( Email ) at 9/1/2010 1:17 PM

That same year, the movie Testament came out. Same subject matter, but much more compelling. I saw it as a midnight movie at the Bijou Theater (formally in the basement of the Radisson.) There was no sleeping that night.
Posted by: Wendy ( Email ) at 9/1/2010 1:43 PM

I thought about the nuclear threat a lot as a child. There was an animated movie that used to run frequently on HBO called "When the Wind Blows" that I found fascinating and disturbing. It described how a simple, elderly British couple reacted to real nuclear attack and it's fall out, trying to reconcile the disparity of nuclear holocaust with their memories of living through WWII. The point was clear, this war would be like no others before it and would be the last war. I'd be interested to see this film again now, but by no means do I recommend that children are allowed to watch the adorably daft couple succumb slowly to death by radiation. I probably would have slept better as a child if I hadn't seen it myself.
Posted by: jeffrey ( Email ) at 9/14/2010 10:35 AM

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