The end of the world, and how we survived it.

“Seven Days to Rhine” Warsaw Pact strategy

I lived through the 80’s on the “wrong” side of the Iron Curtain. Like the West, we always knew the world would end in a nuclear holocaust. We were taught civil defence in schools: how to recognize siren signals, what to do in case of a blast (not much). There was a nuclear shelter at my school. The official war doctrine was of course secret, but enough of it got through to know that Warsaw would be one of the first targets.  It was too strategically important; its main thoroughfares and rail lines were built for the sole purpose of taking Soviet tanks from East to West as fast as possible.

Both sides had their own cultural reactions to the fear. In Poland we treated the apocalypse with humour, making mostly wacky, surreal post-apocalyptic comedies.The US movies that we were getting through on bootleg VHS tapes, and later were even shown on TV (as a warning, I suppose)  – like War Games – focused on the military or action side of the conflict, rather than the aftermath. The main exception was the terrifying The Day After.

The Brits, uncharacteristically, seem to have lost all their sense of humour in the 80’s. I suppose being faced with total annihilation makes one stop quipping for a while.

Here are the two most important movies of the era: Where the Wind Blows and Threads. Warning: they are drastic and bleak, and likely to spoil your Christmassy mood for good. You probably really don’t want to watch them. But they serve as a tragic reminder of how close we got to the real end of the world.

This would be no Mayan Apocalypse. There would be no heroes to stop that asteroid. This was the real deal – and somehow, miraculously, we survived.

If you want to be thankful to any deity for anything these Christmas, be thankful for that.



and the one I remember watching as a kid, the American THE DAY AFTER: