It has been said that the best defense is a good offense. Now, there was a time in which this was true, but only because we had no other options. After the world was exposed to the reality of nuclear weapons, many countries scrambled to get their own in order to protect themselves. And yet, the weapons weren’t meant to ever be used, but merely as a deterrent to being attacked. If there was ever the threat of nuclear retaliation, many would weigh the risks and determine that an attack would not be worth it. Still, this is assuming humans have control over the entire system. As we come into an era of constant automation, how can we be sure that the computers won’t do what they were programmed to do, which would result in both sides being annihilated? This week’s two films focus on the concept of mutually assured destruction.
Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Length: 95 minutes / 1.58 hours
To err is human, but machines will always do what they are told, even if these commands come from humans. Our military forces are only as sane as the Generals leading them to battle. Unfortunately, the inability for lower-ranking soldiers to question their leaders can lead to larger problems, especially when nuclear weapons are involved. Now, add to this that the insane Generals are not merely restricted to a single side of the battle, but can be in control on both sides. Insanity fuels insanity until there’s nothing left but the charred remains of the Earth. When the thought that triumphs is, “At least we didn’t leave anyone alive on their side,” casualties can be enormous. Why should we ever go into battle, if we know that no one is going to make it out alive? This is the definition of Mutually Assured Destruction.
When orders from a paranoid General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) get through without higher approval, a squadron of bombers is sent out to nuke the U.S.S.R. Meanwhile, when this situation is realized, key government personnel meet to brief President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers) in the “War Room”. Attempts to get the abort code from General Ripper are eventually successful, but in the meantime, the Russians are informed of the predicament and are told to shoot down the U.S. planes. This drastic measure is needed because as it turns out, the Russians have a doomsday device that will trigger when a nuclear bomb is dropped on their land (because they figured the U.S. was building one too). Unfortunately, even though the abort codes were issued and the Russians shot down the rest of the planes, one is still unaccounted for.
Length: 114 minutes / 1.9 hours
Considering all of the video games we have today that are based on war (Call of Duty especially coming to mind), it’s no wonder that the idea of War Games has been around for quite a while. In fact, SEGA used to specialize in video games for training our military forces before it went mainstream (since SEGA stands for SErvice GAmes). At any rate, simulations are the stronghold of making sure no mistakes are made when a real-world event occurs. Even though simulations are often referred to as games, the implications of the data these simulations provide is much more valuable than any game could provide. By running simulations of a nuclear holocaust, the decision to not attack soon becomes obvious. After all, in war, there are no winners, since everybody ends up losing something. Especially something as valuable as human life.
The internet has always been a powerful tool. And yet, ages before a multitude of security procedures were put in place after September 11th, even a skilled teenager could gain access to almost anything. David Lightman (Matthew Broderick) is just such a teenager. In attempting to access an unreleased video game, he accidentally hacks into a powerful Department of Defense computer that not only runs simulations of Cold War scenarios, but has the power to control the United States’ nuclear arsenal. Unfortunately, a nice game of chess seems too boring to David, who decides to play a game of Global Thermonuclear War with the computer. This simple mistake thrusts David into a world that he had no intention of entering. Can he help stop the computer from destroying earth, or will the supercomputer prove the better chess-master.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 strange games