"We may have been on the brink of Nuclear war and not even known it." - Robert Gates, deputy director of intelligence at the CIA in 1983.
I remember first seeing this in early 2008, wondering to myself why I hadn't even heard of this global near-catastrophy. This was the closest the world ever came to nuclear annihilation, yet nothing about this momentously important time had been mentioned in school, nor was there a huge presence of information in the public domain. Yet the lessons learned from this time are invaluable for the 21st Century.
In 1983, the world was dominated by two super-powers: the United States of America, and the Soviet Union. Their leaders, Ronald Regan and Yuri Andropov, presided over the last great threat of nuclear war in the 20th Century. Before the great thaw in relations between east and west, the bravado of Regan and the paranoia of Andropov nearly wiped life as we know it from this wonderful planet. It was in March of that year that Regan announced the Star Wars project; in August when the Soviets shot down passanger flight KAL-007, mistaking it for a US spy plane, killing over 200 people; and the early days of November, when operation Able Arthur, a nuclear training exercise began.
The documentary '1983: The Brink of Apocalypse' explains just how, in this paronoid time, the superpowers edged towards DEFCON 2, and how disaster was averted by the most unlikely of sources: in one case by two spies, a double agent called Oleg Gordievsky based in London, and Rainer Rupp, codenamed Topaz, an East German spy who had infiltrated the very highest levels of NATO; the second, by a man named Stanislav Petrov, who kept his nerve and refused to react during what proved to be a false alarm that the United States had launched a small number of nuclear missiles at the Soviet Union.
No matter what your political or national affiliation, this documentary is an excellent source of information, containing interviews with key political and military figures of the time, and with 'Topaz' and Petrov.