The great fear of nuclear weapons bombarding schools, churches, and homes in the 1980s was not one-sided. While American schoolchildren were scurrying under desks in "duck-and-cover" drills, Soviet citizens were bombarded by government reminders on the radio and television that an American attack could come at any time.


Photo: White House photographer Mary Anne Fackelman

Luckily, nothing in Able Archer 83 pushed Soviet fears over the edge and Russia never launched a preemptive strike. Reagan, who later met Gordievsky in the Oval Office after the spy defected to England, wrote that he thought someone should tell the Soviets directly that America had no intention of launching a first strike.

Otherwise, he feared the Soviets were so "defense-minded, so paranoid about being attacked" that they might launch a nuclear strike just to avoid suffering one.