Welcome to this first article for an upcoming new section, Trail Blazer, magazine-length features on a variety of topics. Joe Bruns introduces his piece here. Read the entire article and add your comments at Russian Roulette. Are you ready to be a Trail Mix Contributor? Write to
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By Joe Bruns — Twice during the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet union came dangerously close to nuclear war. The first time was the Cuban Missile Crisis. The second time, lesser known, was thirty-years ago, in late 1983. Some analysts think it was a more dangerous period than 1962.
But as American families in November, 1983 prepared to watch a new holiday comedy, A Christmas Story, about the dangers of a Red Rider BB Gun, much more dangerous weapons were being loaded and nuclear launch keys encoded. A series of events culminating in a NATO nuclear war exercise Able Archer 83 led to a crisis sufficiently grave for President Ronald Reagan to be ‘stunned,’ and for British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to warn her friend to tone down his rhetoric and to work to ease tensions.
The Major Actors were:
- Richard Nixon and Soviet General Brezhnev, Cold War antagonists who bridged their differences to sign the ABM Treaty;
- President Jimmy Carter, who moved after the Iranian Revolution and Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to pronounce The Carter Doctrine;
- Ronald Reagan, who wanted America to stand tall again on her principles, and spooked the Soviets;
- Yuri Andropov, the ailing Soviet General Secretary. Ambassador to Hungary during the 1956 uprising, he had no use for dissidents;
- Averell Harriman, Served as diplomatic advisor to four Presidents, including Reagan. Brought back a warning in 1982 from Andropov that the Soviet Union was alarmed with the state of relations between the two countries.
- Stanislas Petrov, a Lt Col in the Soviet Air Defense command, in 1983 made the judgement call that a Soviet spy satellite system had malfunctioned in issuing a warning that Americans had launched ICBMs at the USSR;
- Oleg Gordievsky, a Soviet KGB agent who was secretly aiding British Intelligence. Gordievsky warned the British how close the West had come to nuclear war.
- Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady Prime Minister of Great Britian, was shocked to learn from British intelligence about the crisis of November, 1983, and counseled her friend and counterpart, President Reagan that tensions had to be eased;
- Mikhail Gorbachev, the last General Secretary of the Soviet Union. Worked with Reagan and the West during the peaceful dissolution of the Soviet Union.
at Russian Roulette
- 1972 Salt (I) talks between Nixon and Brezhnev lead to ABM Treaty and offensive warhead interim agreement.
- June 1979 Salt II leads to limitations on strategic weapons (Not Ratified by U.S. Senate)
- November 4, 1979 Iranian Students storm the US Embassy in Tehran taking American diplomats hostage and effectively ending Jimmy Carter’s Presidency.
- December 24, 1979, the Soviet Union invades Afghanistan for the purpose of putting down Mujahideen uprising and installing a puppet regime.
- January 1980, President Carter announces The Carter Doctrine, designating the Persian Gulf as an American vital interests.
- January 1981, Ronald Reagan takes office, the American hostages are released. Reagan pledges a new era of American supremacy.
- May, 1981, Soviet intelligence initiates Operation Ryan to look intensively for indicators of an American first nuclear strike on the USSR1982- Reagan begins build up of American military forces and increased global military exercises. Renovation of the Voice of America and increase emphasis on public diplomacy confronting the Soviets on human rights and military interventions. Roll-back of Communism replaces containment.
- May 21, 1983, National Andrei Sakharov Day in the United States, celebrating the dissident physicist and jabbing the USSR on human rights.
- April 4, 1983, American naval fighter-bombers simulate a bombing run over Soviet island in the Pacific.
- September 1, 1983, Soviets shoot down Korean Airlines Flight 007, killing all 269 on board.
- September 26, 1983, a Soviet spy satellite indicates that the United States has launched up to five ICBMs against the USSR.
- November 4, 1983, NATO War Exercise Able Archer 83 commences with a scenario involving a Soviet land invasion on multiple fronts against Western allies. Soviets perceive this as potential cover for an actual first-strike attack.
- November 11, Able Archer winds down after testing Command and Control response to simulated attack and culminating in multiple nuclear attacks against Soviet targets. The Soviet Union places its strategic forces on highest level of alert, prepared to launch.
Joe Bruns is a Trail Mix Contributor.
Read his entire narrative and comment on this topic at Russian Roulette.