The 1980s were a formative decade for most of us bloggers and politics aficionados. We listened to the sounds of the New Romantics, and Electro-Pop, watched the movies of Andrew McCarthy and Molly Ringwald and the tried to solve the conundrums of the Rubiks Cube and Snake. So far, so good. But it was also a time when we all grew up under the terrifying threat of Nuclear War; and it wasn’t that long ago. This writer was reminded of the era recently after viewing a programme that is hardly talked about at all now but still has the power to shock.
Stick the word ‘Threads’ into a search engine and you’ll be referred to BBC TV play of the same name made in 1984. It’s an early example of a docu-drama and is set in Sheffield, Northern England, an old steel town going through recession. The programme title refers to both the threads that bind us together as a society and the thread-like smoke trails that are part of a nuclear mushroom cloud. The plot revolves around the lives of ordinary people set against the backdrop of, wait for it, a super-power confrontation in Iran. The escalation of this conflict in the Middle East (!) is frighteningly credible, the scripting is superb and the acting and special effects are absolutely realistic. We see how society reverts to a quasi-medieval state in the wake of a nuclear holocaust. Cheery it is not – this is possibly the most frightening television programme ever made.
And ‘Threads’ reminds us all of how much background anxiety and fear we all lived under in that decade. Okay, détente and negotiation escalated in Gorbachev’s time till the collapse of the Soviet Union. But up until 1985, many of us thought we’d be lucky to see the next ten years, yet alone the next twenty. Thinking kids and teenagers always were aware of the hellish background noise of Mutually Assured Destruction. It is such a difficult concept for modern teenagers to comprehend; that in theory we were always only days away from holocaust.
There are still Nuclear hot-spots; India and Pakistan came close to the brink in 2000, China may be stable but its not a democracy and has that capacity to destroy a large part of Japan if required. Then there’s Israel and Iran or future flashpoints in the region. There will always be unforeseen events and crises where nuclear weapons will provide sinister shadows in the background.
Karl Sagan classed the Arms Race as “two sworn enemies standing waist-deep in gasoline, one with three matches, the other with five.” This quote captures how much of a gamble the nuclear strategy was and is. We can’t un-invent nuclear technology but we can reduce nuclear weapons drastically again and police the world to prevent further proliferation. We owe it to future generations.