Thoughts on 'The War Game'
Why the Curse of Hiroshima Will Not Leave Us
Tonight, I watched The War Game, the BBC’s eerily advanced take on nuclear war, a granddaddy of Threads, now almost 55 years old. Several years before even I was born, the filmmakers managed to pose what still remains the central, existential question of our age: What the hell do we do with ourselves, now that we are stone-age people, with space-age weapons?
The answer, in The War Game, is horrifying. In this version of a possible future past, we incinerate and irradiate each other over the long-extinct South Vietnam.
In a present scenario, it might be Iran, or Ukraine, which prompts our Gotterdammerung.
But, whatever it is, I know one thing: It’s not worth my daughters’ lives.
Before I watched this, for whatever reason it was, I don’t remember, I’d been treated to an impromptu ballet recital by my girls, now aged nine and six. They danced without self-consciousness or seriousness, completely innocent, totally blind to the fact that weapons which could melt them alive exist to this day.
But Daddy knows. Daddy knows, because he taught a course on weapons of mass destruction at the CBSA College. Daddy knows, because he’s written three books now, on nuclear war, and the people who plan for it. Daddy knows, because he keeps exposing himself to obscenity others would gladly turn away from, obscenity like The War Game and Threads.
Why this obsession with the apocalypse? I don’t know. Perhaps it is the aftereffect of growing up in the shadow of nuclear destruction, with a father who’d trained to load nukes on his carrier’s aircraft as Khrushchev’s fleet edged ever closer to Kennedy’s blockade. Maybe because it’s a damned dramatic story, and I love dramatic stories. But, watching a movie about nuclear war that is older than me left me with one singular idea: We have lived under this cloud for far too long. It will soon be 75 years since the first nuclear weapons were used in combat. Then, we used them to end a war that had gone on too long, and whose continued cost was more than we could bear.
I cannot say that decision was wrong. I did not have to bear the burden of explaining why the Bomb was not used to the mothers of those who would have died in the Invasion of Japan. Harry Truman did, and there is no doubt he suffered for his choice. His refusal to use the bomb on China in 1950 is proof positive.
But other people’s beloved daughters, who no doubt loved to dance, too, died under those manmade suns. And they did not all die quickly.
The Bomb remains. And its use remains an option. An option increasingly unrestrained by reason. The Club has many new members, since The War Game was made. We might have trusted in the sober second thought of the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union, but who trusts the minds behind the launch decision in North Korea, or Pakistan? I know I don’t. But the Bomb cannot be uninvented. And so, we must consider, anew, the possibility of its use. As the old structures of peace and cooperation crumble, and swords are once again unsheathed, what guarantee do I have that my children will not see the blinding light?
When Russia trumpets new apocalyptic weapons of 100 megatons or more, we must give pause. Where is the rationality in that? Sting once blithely assured us, “The Russians love their children too,” and I’m sure that’s true, but is Putin as worried about his as I am?
I am not a pacifist. I have pointed guns at other men, being fully prepared to kill them. But the thought of cities full of burned and puking women and children fills me with horror. This is the result of nuclear war. There can be no other reality in its aftermath.
The answer is not abject surrender. This will bequeath to our children a future perhaps even more dismal. Perhaps we must re-arm. Perhaps we must abandon our silly, principled stance against missile defence, and grasp the shield instead of the sword.
But I know one thing. I would rather die a thousand deaths on any battlefield, than allow the terror of The War Game to visit my sleeping ballerinas. Be wary, those of you who fret over melting glaciers and rising sea levels. The climate change you fear may come to you in seconds, not years. And it might be intentional, not accidental.
The Cold War never ended. It was just taking a smoke break. Start visualizing burned cities and helpless children. Start living the nightmare, if only to figure out how to prevent it.
Now, I’m off to sleep. But I doubt I’ll be able to.
November 15, 2019