Thirty years ago the world came uncomfortably close to Armageddon.

Some believe that at no time since the Cuban Missile Crisis have we perched so precariously close to the nuclear abyss. Yet even today, the story is little known…


The 1980s arrived with something of a bang, or rather with a sorrowful whimper that has yet to be extinguished. Between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, 1979, Soviet troops entered Afghanistan in force to instigate a coup and sustain Soviet influence in that failing Central Asian state. Just over a month prior, the US Embassy in neighboring Iran had been overrun and 52 American hostages were taken. International tension was focused on the Middle East and Central Asia; many wondered if the US and the Soviet Union might be headed for a geopolitical showdown in the Persian Gulf.*

Later in 1980, unrest in Poland led to the founding of Solidarity. September saw the initiation of the Iran-Iraq War, and in November Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter in the race for the US Presidency, in a campaign where, among other things, he promised increased military spending and a more vigorous anti-Soviet stance as part of his plan to “restore American self-confidence.” The Soviets, already quite exasperated with President Carter and his military deployments and moralistic foreign policy, did not believe that bilateral relations could get worse. And yet they did.

According to declassified CIA documents, soon after coming into office, in March 1981, President Reagan authorized an expansive PSYOP (psychological warfare operations) program that would employ US naval and air forces to more aggressively probe Soviet border defenses, “to operate and exercise near maritime approaches to the USSR, in places where US warships had never gone before.” The PSYOP operations continued through 1983, becoming increasingly daring, amounting to – according to the CIA reports – “a full court press against the Soviets in various forward areas.”

Perhaps in response to these secret probes, but more likely also as a reaction to international events and to Reagan’s heightened anti-Soviet rhetoric (in his first press conference, he remarked that the Soviet leaders “reserve unto themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat” to promote world revolution), the Politburo approved the largest peacetime military intelligence operation in Soviet history.

In May of 1981, at a secret KGB conference in Moscow, Soviet KGB head Yuri Andropov announced his view that the US was actively preparing a nuclear first strike against the USSR and that, in response, the KGB and GRU (the military’s intelligence arm) were joining in an unprecedented collaboration called RYAN, an acronym for Raketno Yadernoye Napadenia (Nuclear Rocket Attack). KGB agents the world over were put on high alert and special agents were dispatched to residencies worldwide to actively seek out any and all signs that the US and NATO were preparing a first-strike nuclear attack, from unusual late night activity at defense ministries, to inexplicable troop movements, ramped up blood drives, or urgent slaughterhouse activities.

In his RYAN cable to KGB residencies throughout the world, Andropov declared that “Not since the end of World War II has the international situation been as explosive as it is now.” Little did he know; it would get still worse.

Throughout 1981 and 1982, US policy toward the Soviet Union was guided by President Reagan’s deeply-held belief that the Soviets were committed to an expansionist foreign policy, and that the proper response was the largest peacetime defense buildup in US history, combined with expanded support for human rights activists in the USSR and Poland, as well as for anti-Soviet groups in the third world, including in Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Angola and elsewhere.

On the Soviet side, a similar entrenchment was underway. As Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev became increasingly infirm and incapacitated, Yuri Andropov, his anointed successor, stepped into the breach. According to ex-KGB counterintelligence chief Oleg Kalugin, who alleges he was mentored by Andropov, the KGB chief “possessed one of the most virulent anti-Western streaks among the Soviet leadership…. he was sharply distrustful of the outside world and saw CIA plots and imperialist intrigues around every corner.” What is more, the Politburo appears to have been genuinely baffled by Reagan and his sharp rhetoric, especially when it did not match his actions. “Reagan is unpredictable. You should expect anything of him,” Andropov once said to Anatoly Dobrynin, Soviet ambassador to Washington.

On November 10, 1982, Leonid Brezhnev died and Andropov formally assumed the position of General Secretary of the Communist Party.

So it was that, as 1983 dawned, the two superpowers were helmed by fierce ideologues, each of whom was convinced the other side was capable of anything, including a first-strike nuclear attack. As if that were not enough, the international stage was set with several intractable flashpoints: the Soviets were bogged down in Afghanistan, martial law had been declared the previous year in Poland, leftist insurgencies were harrying US allies in Central America, and, in response to expanded Soviet deployment of new SS-20 intermediate range nuclear missiles in the Western Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the US and NATO resolved to deploy new intermediate range Pershing nuclear missiles in Europe.

Indeed, Dobrynin, who had been the Soviet ambassador in Washington since just before the Cuban Missile Crisis, said, “Those early Reagan years in Washington were the most difficult and unpleasant I experienced in my long tenure as ambassador.”

The Ire of March

Despite the ominous backdrop, there were signs in early 1983 that there might be a turn for the better. In mid-1982, George Shultz had replaced Alexander Haig in the post of US Secretary of State, and in January 1983 he began to slowly urge a more pragmatic policy vis-a-vis the Soviets. While the previous two years of policy were codified in the hawkish NSC Directive 75 (which also, interestingly, called for greater cultural exchange), Shultz sought to join to this a more nuanced policy that actively engaged, rather than confronted, the Soviets. Unlike Reagan, he seemed to understand the contradiction in administration policy of, on the one hand, demonizing the USSR, while, on the other, calling for its liberalization. He sought to put Soviet intentions to the test, with limited initiatives on a range of issues.

On February 15, Shultz invited Dobrynin for a secret one-on-one White House meeting with Reagan. The two-hour meeting was Reagan’s first substantive meeting with a top Soviet official, and it seemed to offer hope for opening a constructive dialog. In the meeting, Reagan and Shultz indicated that the Soviets could greatly advance relations by making a good faith gesture: allowing the safe passage out of the USSR of seven Soviet Pentacostal dissidents who in 1978 had stormed into the US embassy and demanded asylum. The Politburo was puzzled that, after two years in office, this should be the focus of Reagan’s first bilateral negotiation, but by the summer they acquiesced. Afterward, highly placed US officials repeatedly told Dobrynin that this was “the first symbolic breakthrough in the president’s conviction that it was impossible to deal with the Russians.”

Be that as it may, on the Soviet side there was no breakthrough in their conviction that Reagan could not be trusted, that a nuclear attack might be imminent. On February 17, Moscow Center notified all KGB residencies on alert that RYAN had “acquired an especial degree of urgency” and was “now of particularly grave importance.” Station chiefs were directed to step up their activities, recruit new agents, and put selected targets under surveillance. One week later, Moscow Center ordered the US residency to ramp up all measures to thwart Reagan’s reelection campaign, nearly two years off.

On March 8, in a now famous Florida speech to the National Association of Evangelicals, Reagan sought to staunch the growing Nuclear Freeze movement among Christian churches with a strident assertion of American values. After dealing at length with domestic policy and admitting that the US had “a legacy of evil” in its past (slavery), he came to his final point, arguing that, “a [nuclear] freeze now would be a very dangerous fraud, for that is merely the illusion of peace. The reality is that we must find peace through strength.” A unilateral freeze, he said, would give the Soviets an upper hand in negotiations, stop a needed buildup in US military strength, and “reward the Soviet Union for its enormous and unparalleled military buildup.”

Then, in the words that have been most remembered from this long speech, Reagan said, “Yes, let us pray for the salvation of all of those who live in that totalitarian darkness – pray they will discover the joy of knowing God. But until they do, let us be aware that while they preach the supremacy of the state, declare its omnipotence over individual man, and predict its eventual domination of all peoples on the Earth, they are the focus of evil in the modern world.”

Likening the nuclear freeze movement to appeasement, Reagan continued, “So, in your discussions of the nuclear freeze proposals, I urge you to beware the temptation of pride – the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.” Further, he concluded, “I believe that communism is another sad, bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages even now are being written.”

This speech, while getting high marks from a handful of conservatives, flopped in two important respects. First, it failed to rally for the president the support he sought for a continued military buildup, for painting the world in Manichean tones. US religious leaders across the spectrum condemned Reagan for couching an attack on the Nuclear Freeze movement in the language of theology, and political observers said the speech expressed a self-righteous and over-simplified view of the world. Second, the “evil empire” charge caused top Soviet leaders to resent the US president as a “political dinosaur” whose extreme rhetoric was an obstacle, rather than an incentive to negotiation.

What is more, no one in the State Department had reviewed Reagan’s speech prior to its delivery, to raise possible flags. “The entire episode,” said Anatoly Dobrynin, “demonstrated a certain paradox about Ronald Reagan: contradiction between words and deeds that greatly angered Moscow… [which] regarded such behavior at that time as a sign of deliberate duplicity and hostility.” Yet, Dobrynin said, the Soviet leadership was perhaps being a bit thin-skinned, as they themselves regularly engaged in hyperbolic propaganda. Reagan’s speech was a dose of their own medicine.

Be that as it may, the dosage was drastically increased just two weeks later when, in a nationally televised speech from the Oval Office, Reagan unveiled his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, soon better known as Star Wars).

The impetus for Reagan’s initiative was at once simple and complex. Reagan had long had a deeply felt revulsion for the reigning nuclear strategy (on both sides) of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) – the idea that we are safe because no sane leader would launch a nuclear attack on the other if a swift and overwhelming retaliation was certain. The strategy made Reagan all the more uneasy because it relied on trusting an enemy whom he knew in his heart could not be trusted, for their true Marxist-Leninist intent was world domination. Reagan simply could not live with the idea that the US had, in the end, no real protection against Soviet missiles. “It was like having two westerners standing in a saloon aiming their guns at each other’s heads – permanently,” Reagan wrote in his memoirs.

In contrast, SDI postulated that we could develop technological solutions to our nuclear vulnerability through ground- and space-based defensive systems. That this might be in violation of the 1974 Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty did not seem to bother policy makers. Yet MAD could not persist if either side had a credible defense; if you can defend yourself, you can attack with impunity.

Moscow, Dobrynin said, was gravely worried by the announcement of SDI. First, because an ABM system of any type would destabilize the superpowers’ nuclear parity, tilting the strategic correlation of forces decidedly against the USSR, and second because the Kremlin worried “that the United States had achieved a technological breakthrough.” The Soviets had a profound respect for US technological prowess and knew they could not compete.

Four days after Reagan’s speech, Andropov responded by accusing the United States of preparing a first-strike attack on the Soviet Union, asserting that Reagan was “inventing new plans on how to unleash a nuclear war in the best way, with the hope of winning it.” According to a CIA report, Andropov “violated a longstanding taboo by citing numbers and capabilities of US nuclear weapons in the mass media. He also referred to Soviet weapons with highly unusual specificity. And, for the first time since 1953, the top Soviet leader was telling his nation that the world was on the verge of a nuclear holocaust. If candor is a sign of sincerity, then Moscow was worried.”

Rhetoric was indeed strident. Relations strained to the breaking point – at least superficially, and things might well have gotten even worse that spring, but for a twist of fate in Moscow: Andropov was dying.

Propaganda Summer

When he left for his February holidays in 1983, Andropov, who had long suffered from kidney problems (in addition to hypertension, myocardial infarctions, pneumonia, shingles, arrhythmia and other ailments), suffered a downturn in his health. Doctors found that his kidneys were failing and he had to begin dialysis. Over the next few months, his health continued to deteriorate. For the May Day parade, the 3.5-meter stair descent from the Kremlin down to Red Square was so difficult that the Politburo decided in July to install a special escalator inside the Kremlin’s Senate Tower, to allow the leader an easier descent. He never got the chance. By summer he could barely move and was all but confined to bed.

The Soviet leader’s health during this difficult period in US-Soviet relations may well have helped keep matters from getting worse. For one thing, it created a greater sense of uncertainty and caution in the Politburo than otherwise might have been the case. And Andropov, arguably the Politburo’s most vociferous anti-Westerner, was coming face to face with his own mortality.

This may partly explain the modest cooling off that occurred from April through August. Another factor was the growing public concern in the US and Europe over nuclear confrontation, particularly November’s scheduled deployment of US Pershing II missiles in Europe, to counter the new Soviet SS-20s.

In April, the hawkish NSC advised Reagan that “no approach should be made to the Soviets.” Reagan overruled them and, together with Shultz, continued pushing Dobrynin and the Kremlin for a series of small-step agreements upon which to rebuild the fractured relationship. The Pentacostal case was slowly being cleared up, and Reagan indicated that, if progress continued, the US would extend an expiring fishing agreement and conclude a new long-term grain agreement.

That same month, a ten-year-old schoolgirl from Maine, Samantha Smith, received a reply, ostensibly from Andropov, to a letter she had written the previous November, in which she asked the leader, “Are you going to vote to have a war or not?”

Andropov’s long reply cited the Soviet victory over fascism and Soviets’ justifiable hatred of war, saying the USSR did not want “either a big or a ‘little’ war… We want peace for ourselves and for all peoples of the planet. For our children and for you, Samantha.” Andropov went on to invite Smith and her family to Russia in what became, that July, the most publicized trip of a private citizen to the USSR in history, launching half a decade of citizen exchange programs.

Despite his promise to meet with Smith or her family when they visited, Andropov was not available. Of course, at the time, no one outside the top leadership knew that the reason was because he was too ill. He was barely meeting with Politburo members on a regular basis, and rarely left the Kremlin clinic in Kuntsevo, outside Moscow. In one of his last meetings with foreign leaders, with Germany’s Helmut Kohl, to Kohl’s proposal that Andropov meet with the Americans to discuss the issue of Euromissiles, Andropov replied, “We’re not going to take part in any fancy dress parade. If the USA doesn’t want to respond to our initiatives in a positive way, what’s the point of meeting?”

In the summer, back in Washington, veteran diplomat Jack Matlock became the top Soviet analyst at the NSC, replacing Richard Pipes. A long-time Soviet watcher who was first drawn to Russia through the works of Dostoyevsky, Matlock had a deep understanding of Russian and Soviet history. “I was told that President Reagan had felt that he was too weak to negotiate effectively when he took office,” Matlock recalled in an interview with Russian Life.* “But now that he had some increases in the defense budget, he was eager to engage the Soviet leaders. From then on he endorsed virtually everything Secretary Shultz and I recommended.” Meanwhile, Reagan authorized Shultz to negotiate an agreement with the Soviets on new consulates and cultural exchanges.

On July 22, martial law was ended in Poland.

Hope began to form on the horizon. Unfortunately, it was the quiet before the storm.

Nuclear Fall

Early in the morning of September 1, through a combination of pilot and technical errors, Korean Air Lines flight 007, traveling from Anchorage to Seoul, drifted off its correct flight path and passed over prohibited airspace, traversing the Kamchatka Peninsula. Soviet MiGs were scrambled to intercept (and identify) the plane, but had difficulty doing so, in part because Arctic gales had knocked out Soviet radar in the region ten days previous.

The plane passed again into international waters over the Sea of Okhotsk, at which point local Soviet air commanders debated what to do with the as yet unidentified intruder. After tracking the plane for more than an hour, command classified the plane as a military target as it re-entered Soviet airspace over Sakhalin Island.

Major Gennady Osipovich, pilot of the MiG that finally caught up with the flight 007, said he told ground controllers that there were “blinking lights… I saw two rows of windows and knew that this was a Boeing. I knew this was a civilian plane. But for me this meant nothing. It is easy to turn a civilian type of plane into one for military use…” He did not provide a detailed description of the aircraft to his ground controllers. “I did not tell the ground that it was a Boeing-type plane; they did not ask me.”

General Anatoly Kornukov, commander of the Sokol Air Base on Sakhalin Island (who later became Commander of the Russian Air Force), gave the order that was passed down the line to Osipovich:

“I repeat the task, Fire the missiles, Fire on target 60-65. Destroy target 60-65… Take control of the MiG 23 from Smirnikh, call sign 163, call sign 163 He is behind the target at the moment. Destroy the target!… Carry out the task, Destroy it!”

The MiG fired two air-to-air missiles at the plane, which were proximity-fused missiles; one exploded about 50 meters from the tail, damaging the hydraulic system and piercing the fuselage. KAL 007 did not go down in a ball of flame or experience a dramatic explosion. It flew on for approximately 12 minutes with normal engine power, first flying upward, then descending and going into a gradual downward spiral, before crashing into the sea near Moneron Island.

The announcement of the Soviet downing of a passenger aircraft, killing 269 passengers and crew, sparked international outrage and brought bilateral relations to an all time low. The Politburo, and Andropov particularly, took the ill-advised strategy of silence and stonewalling. They did not acknowledge the disaster until five days later, and even after that, no mistake was ever admitted.

What is more, the Soviets repeatedly called the aircraft’s incursion a provocation, stating that it was on a spy mission, flying deep into Soviet territory for several hundred kilometers, that it did not respond to signals and that it disobeyed the orders of interceptor fighter planes. The fact that aircraft from the US Navy, during its PSYOP exercises, had repeatedly overflown Soviet military installations in this region earlier in 1983, resulting in the dismissal or reprimand of Soviet military officials who had been unable to shoot them down, certainly contributed to local commanders’ hair-trigger responses. What is more, there was a heightened alert on Kamchatka Peninsula, because of a Soviet missile test that was scheduled for the same day, and a US reconnaissance plane had been in the area shortly before KAL 007 stumbled into Soviet airspace.

A previously scheduled summit meeting between Secretary of State Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko on September 8 ended acrimoniously (Gromyko called it “probably the sharpest exchange I ever had with an American secretary of state, and I have had talks with fourteen of them”), and on September 15, Reagan ordered the revocation Aeroflot’s license to fly into the US.

Then the US attacked.

The Man in the Bunker

Or at least that’s what Soviet radar announced.

Just after midnight on September 26, 1983, Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov was sitting in the Serpukhov-15 bunker, from where the Soviet Union monitored its nuclear early warning satellites that hovered high above the United States.

One of those satellites sent a signal to Petrov’s bunker that a nuclear attack had begun. The alarms sounded and a red button on his control panel flashed “Start.”

In a 1999 interview with the Washington Post, Petrov reported that the satellite first reported that one missile had been launched, then another, and another. Soon, the system was “roaring,” he said. The computers were saying that five Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles had been launched from the US toward the USSR.

There was little time. “For 15 seconds,” Petrov said, “we were in a state of shock. We needed to understand, what’s next?”

What should have been next, according to the chain of command, was that Petrov and his team reported to his superiors at warning-system headquarters; they, in turn, would report to the General Staff, which would report to Andropov, who was ailing and had long anticipated this very eventuality. Normally, a report of a single rocket launch did not get reported up the chain of command. But in this instance, the reports of missile salvos were coming in so fast, that an alert had already been passed up to the General Staff, before Petrov had time to judge if they were genuine.

“I had a funny feeling in my gut,” Petrov told the Post. “I didn’t want to make a mistake. I made a decision, and that was it.”

Actually, he made a guess, based largely on a hunch. For years, Petrov had been told that a nuclear attack would be massive – designed to overwhelm Soviet defenses. But his monitors showed just five missiles. “When people start a war, they don’t start it with only five missiles,” Petrov said.

What is more, Soviet ground-based radar installations, which track missiles rising above the horizon, showed no evidence of an attack.

In the end, the error was later traced to an early warning satellite, “which picked up the sun’s reflection off the tops of clouds and mistook it for a missile launch.”

The computer program designed to filter out such faulty data was rewritten.

Two days later, Andropov, who had been out of public view (and who would not return) since before the KAL incident, issued a denunciation of US policy from his Kuntsevo sickbed in an apocalyptic tone not heard since the darkest days of the Cold War. The US, he said, was a country “where outrageous militarist psychosis is being imposed… If anyone had any illusions about the possibility of an evolution for the better in the policy of the present American administration, recent events have dispelled them once and for all.” According to double agent Oleg Gordievsky, “Andropov spent the last months of his life after the [KAL] shootdown as a morbidly suspicious invalid, brooding over the possible approach of a nuclear Armageddon.”

One More Notch

On October 23, suicide bombers detonated two trucks outside the US military barracks in Lebanon, killing 299 American and French servicemen sent there as part of an international peacekeeping force.

Two days later, halfway around the world, the US unleashed Operation Urgent Fury. On October 25, the US invaded the tiny Caribbean nation of Grenada in response to a bloody coup that ousted a leftist government, in power for just four years.

Then, on November 2, the US and NATO began the Able Archer 83 military exercises. The purpose of the exercises was to simulate command and control procedures through all levels of a nuclear alert, from DEFCON 5 to DEFCON 1. NATO forces were employed in the simulation as were top European and US decision makers.

Not surprisingly, given the events of the last ten months, and given some top Soviet leaders’ belief, voiced in the RYAN cables, that a military exercise might be used as a ruse, behind which a real attack would be prepared, the Soviets put their nuclear forces in Poland and East Germany on alert. A week into the exercises, Moscow Center sent out a flash telegram to KGB residencies, indicating that there was an alert on American military bases, frantically requesting information of an impending US first strike.

The crisis, which went unnoticed outside the highest echelons of Soviet and US power, faded when Able Archer finished on November 11. (Armistice Day, one cannot help noting with dark irony.) While some analysts later said that reports of a Soviet reaction were overblown, Robert Gates, then deputy director of intelligence at the CIA, wrote in his memoirs, “there is a good chance – with all of the other events in 1983 – that [the Soviets] really felt a NATO attack was at least possible and that they took a number of measures to enhance their military readiness short of mobilization… I don’t think the Soviets were crying wolf. They may not have believed a NATO attack was imminent in November 1983, but they did seem to believe that the situation was very dangerous. And US intelligence had failed to grasp the true extent of their anxiety.”

Just prior to Able Archer, President Reagan had had his eyes opened on the matter of nuclear war. On October 10, he had viewed the TV movie The Day After, showing the effects of nuclear war on the town of Lawrence, Kansas (the US public would not see it until November 20), which left him “greatly depressed.” Later in October he for the first time (over three years into his presidency) sat through a full Pentagon briefing on US strategy in the event of a nuclear war. Reagan later wrote in his memoirs:

“We had many contingency plans for responding to a nuclear attack. But everything would happen so fast that I wondered how much planning or reason could be applied in such a crisis… Six minutes to decide how to respond to a blip on a radar scope and decide whether to unleash Armageddon! How could anyone apply reason at a time like that?”

He might have asked Lieutenant Petrov, had he known of his existence.

More revealing still, Reagan also provided perspective on the course of his administration’s Soviet policy:

“During my first years in Washington, I think many of us in the administration took it for granted that the Russians, like ourselves, considered it unthinkable that the United States would launch a first strike against them. But the more experience I had with Soviet leaders and other heads of state who knew them, the more I began to realize that many Soviet officials feared us not only as adversaries but as potential aggressors who might hurl nuclear weapons at them in a first strike…”

On November 23, one week after the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of US-Soviet relations, US Pershing II missiles began arriving in Europe. The Soviets promptly walked out of bilateral talks on intermediate range nuclear missile reduction. Two days later, Andropov announced that the Soviets would deploy yet more missiles to western USSR.

And then, almost inexplicably, there was a change. Perhaps some on both sides realized things had gone too far, that they were stuck in the middle of a horrific minefield. Perhaps the continued decline in Andropov’s health played a part. Perhaps Reagan’s horror of nuclear winter tipped the balance. Or perhaps some of the subtle initiatives begun through diplomacy six months prior were having an effect. No matter the cause, with the turn of the year the tone began to change.

In December, a noted Soviet hawk, Defense Minister Dmitry Ustinov, stated that it was unnecessary to “overdramatize” the situation and that Soviet forces were strong enough to deal with any contingency. The Soviets agreed to reopen talks on establishing new consulates and delimiting US-Soviet maritime borders in the Bering Sea. In January, Reagan gave a speech to the UN that by all accounts was a turning point. He called for a “constructive working relationship,” a reduction in nuclear arsenals and collaboration to reduce conflict in the third world. There was no talk of evil empires.

The Soviets, of course, were not convinced and RYAN alerts continued, only to slowly peter out in significance by the summer of 1984. In February 1984, Andropov finally succumbed to his illness, and was replaced by another staggeringly inept and aged leader, Konstantin Chernenko, who led the country in name only for the next 13 months, while another young Politburo member, Mikhail Gorbachev, rose in stature and responsibility.

The war scare of 1983 was one of the most menacing episodes in the Cold War. It also is one of the least known – perhaps because it was soon overshadowed by the triumphs of arms control and the demise of communism, because so much of it has been secret until only recently. Or perhaps it is because there are some histories we prefer not to contemplate, because doing so requires considering its alternative outcomes. RL

* Some feel the actual showdown came on February 22, 1980, in Lake Placid, New York, at the Winter Olympics. Against all expectations, the US Hockey team defeated the Soviet team in a semifinal match, in what has since come to be called “The Miracle on Ice.”

Additional Reading

Andrew, Christopher M., and Oleg Gordievsky. KGB: The inside Story of Its Foreign Operations from Lenin to Gorbachev (HarperCollinsPublishers, 1990).

“A Cold War Conundrum: The 1983 Soviet War Scare.” ( Accessed 27 Jan. 2013.

Dobrynin, Anatoly. In Confidence: Moscow’s Ambassador to American’s Six Cold War Presidents (1962-1986) (Random House, 1995).

Foglesong, David S. The American Mission and the “Evil Empire”: The Crusade for a “Free Russia” since 1881 (Cambridge UP, 2007).

Gorbachev, Mikhail Sergeyevich. Memoirs (Doubleday, 1996).

Kalugin, Oleg, Spymaster: My Thirty-two Years in Intelligence and Espionage against the West (Basic, 2009).

Larson, Deborah Welch. Anatomy of Mistrust: US-Soviet Relations during the Cold War (Cornell UP, 1997).

Matlock, Jack Reagan and Gorbachev: Autopsy on an Empire. (Random House, 2005)

Volkogonov, Dmitry Antonovich., and Harold Shukman. Autopsy for an Empire: The Seven Leaders Who Built the Soviet Regime (Free, 1998).



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