A movie from the 1980s I watched recently (and a few other things) got me thinking about the end of the world. The movie, Miracle Mile, got me thinking about what it would take to convince you that the world was about to end within hours.

I won’t spoil the end of Miracle Mile but I do need to explain more specifically than the trailer does just what the looming threat is so this is your spoiler warning.

The basic plot is that in Los Angeles’ Miracle Mile area a man answers a payphone. He is told that a nuclear strike has been launched against the Soviet Union and the retaliatory strike will reach L.A. in about an hour (the caller dialed the wrong area code and thought he was talking to his father). He is initially disbelieving but becomes convinced the call wasn’t a hoax. Things go downhill from there.

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One thing that really struck me from the movie is that during the Cold War it was easy to explain the end of the world in a short phone call. People understood what a nuclear war was and that it could theoretically happen at any time with little warning. Back then nuclear war was the usual culprit for most post-apocalyptic movies. Many classic Twilight Zone episodes involved nuclear war, or at least the threat of imminent nuclear attack.

The United States and Russia still have large nuclear arsenals but things aren’t quite on the same hair trigger as during the Cold War. A full scale nuclear exchange is theoretically possible but less likely to be seriously considered on the flimsy evidence of a phone call.

What I can’t think of is a situation today where a reasonable person could seriously believe that a civilization-ending event is about to happen within hours based on a wrong number phone call (or since it’s the 21st Century a text or email sent to the wrong person) without any genuine confirmation. “The dead have risen” and similar things aren’t something people will believe until they see it for themselves.

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Anyway, that’s something to think about the next time your cell phone rings and you don’t know who is calling. It just might be the Apocalypse (and the call is coming from inside the house).