John Van Nostrand: When fiction meets reality

Nov. 2—Forty years ago this month was the showing of "The Day After" a made-for-television movie of the events that lead to nuclear attacks between the U.S. and the Soviets and the aftermath of the war.

The timing of the movie was compelling as the fall of the real Soviet Union would not happen for another eight years. The war in the movie got its spark based on the Soviets' invasion of West Germany.

In real life, at the time, President Ronald Reagan was always willing to put more strength and dollars into the military to intimidate the Russians, and vice-versa. Eerie to see reality and fiction clash.

I grew up in eastern Colorado a strategic location for nuclear missile silos. You can still see the silos outside of town where I grew up. As nuclear weapon treaties between the U.S. and Russia progressed over the years, some of the silos were vacated. One, in western Nebraska, was converted into an amazingly unique home.

There were occasional anti-nuclear weapons protests at some of the silos, monitored by military police. It's been many years since a protest. I was just 11 years old at the time of "The Day After." I was just proud of myself then to be able to spell eleven rather than write the number. Politics, foreign diplomacy and military strategy were mostly gibberish to me.

The movie focuses on certain characters; a doctor at the University of Kansas medical school (played by Jason Robards, a favorite of mine, RIP) eventually overwhelmed with treating the survivors. Yes, there were survivors from the war. Although the actual missile explosion special-effects scenes were done well for television, producers were still not sure how it would actually look but were confident it would be much worse. Moments are disturbing if you haven't seen it.

Viewers also see how a typical family responds after the attacks. Amy Madigan, who would later star in "Field of Dreams," plays an expectant mother.

"The Day After" and its themes were not alone.

On the big screen during these years were "Red Dawn," a movie about Russia's ground invasion of the U.S. and "Wargames" when a high school kid fears he may start nuclear war after hacking the military's computer system. Hollywood was being trendy cranking out movies about war and fear between America and Communist Soviet Union.

I've have watched "The Day After" a couple of times since being 11; much later in life with a better understanding of politics and foreign diplomacy of the early 1980s. I still don't think I will ever fully comprehend it all. It also reminds me of the work of the late Bruce Blair, a Creston native who was involved in America's nuclear missile strategy. He passed two years ago.

Today's 11 year olds are watching, if they are paying attention, to troubling events around the world. I'm sure a number of them are like me at that age; politics and foreign diplomacy is a different, unknown language.

Russia's attack on Ukraine is closer to two years old than being over. And last month, the terrorist group Hamas attacked Israel. Action taken by the United States late last month included bombings of Iranian-backed groups suspected of supporting and providing for Hamas. There are concerns of getting more anti-Israel entities involved which would spread out the war in that part of the world.

I see some similarities to all of that and what led up to the conflict in "The Day After."

The U.S. has to know its limits supporting Ukraine without consequences. There hasn't been significant retaliation against the U.S. funding Ukraine so far. The fear exists of Vladimir Putin and Russia intensifying, or spreading, its push if the U.S. military would get involved in Ukraine.

The Israel vs. anti-Israel conflict has been going on for generations. This is arguably the most intense fighting in 50 years. People I know who have visited Israel have told me of the intimidation and oppression Israel has over certain areas of the land limiting Palestinians' access to electricity and water. There are differences between license plates for cars from Israel and those not so others know who is who. I'm not going to call Israel innocent.

Pro-Hamas gatherings, or anti-Israeli protests, have happened at different scales across the U.S. I do want to ask those people if they are upset over the senseless violence we have had in this country while, somehow supporting the Hamas violence that, like the U.S., also potentially includes innocent people.

I haven't seen surveys of how much television is watched by 11-year-old kids these days. It doesn't matter about age these days; we are all watching reality as we wonder if and when fiction comes true.