First Strike (1979 film)
|Produced by||United States Air Force|
First Strike is a 1979 documentary created by PBS that discusses the United States armed forces strategy for dealing with nuclear warfare. The film became far better known when various clips were edited into the 1983 TV film The Day After.
The documentary is divided into two main segments. The first section of the film is a dramatization of a sneak attack by Soviet Union nuclear weapons against the United States. The premise of the attack is based on Soviet nuclear submarines approaching the United States west coast undetected and launching a barrage of missiles at ICBM silos and B-52 bomber bases, while other Soviet forces manage to destroy a number of U.S. ballistic missile submarines at sea. In the film, by the time Strategic Air Command realizes what is happening, over 80% of U.S. strategic forces have been destroyed and the President of the United States is forced to surrender to the Soviet Union. American casualties are stated to be eight million dead - this "low" number is due to the Soviet attack hitting military bases instead of cities.
The second portion of the film is a series of interviews where analysts discuss American security and the ability of the Soviet military to attack with little to no warning.
Since its original release, the scenario in the film has come to be seen as extremely unrealistic by military theorists. The main flaw in the documentary has been stated that the Soviet Navy would not have been able to deploy its submarine fleet and approach the United States coast undetected: Soviet submarine technology of the 1970s could not have breached U.S. sonar detection, and any attack on America would have unleashed a swift response by the entire armed forces of NATO in Europe.
Depiction in "The Day After"
Four years after its release, significant scenes in the documentary were incorporated into the film The Day After to depict an American nuclear attack. The scenes used in The Day After were:
- The SAC Airborne Command Center general boarding his command plane and receiving a morning briefing
- An ICBM crew arriving at a missile command center for a shift change
- B-52 bomber forces being placed on alert
- A scene in the SAC command plane where the general in command, along with an aide, opens the nuclear missile launch code safe
- A Minuteman Missile crew launching their nuclear missiles
- Beale Air Force Base radar stations detecting inbound Soviet missiles
- Command plane reports that over 300 Soviet ICBMs were inbound
Air Force personnel
The documentary used actual Air Force personnel for actors, filming on location at various United States air force installations. Specifically, the documentary used cameras on-board Strategic Air Command command planes out of Offutt Air Force Base and also shot footage inside NORAD.
The nuclear missile launch sequence seen in the film (and later in The Day After) was performed by actual Air Force officers stationed with the 742d Missile Squadron at Minot Air Force Base. The alert launch of B-52 bombers was performed by the 22nd Bombardment Wing at March Air Force Base, California. An additional scene provided by the United States Navy depicts the USS Francis Scott Key (SSBN-657) getting underway for a patrol.
None of the Air Force personnel were credited in the film, however the ICBM launch crew have visible name tags as "Lieutenant Krause" and "Captain Stanton".
- Sagan, Carl, The Cold and the Dark: The World After Nuclear War, W. W. Norton & Company (1984)