Notes on Nuclear War by Gwynne Dyer

This documentary is part of a larger series, “War” by Gwynne Dyer. This particular episode is an excellent snapshot of how nuclear weapons were developing by 1983 and the policy and politics surrounding them.

I find the tone of the documentary pleasantly realistic and the breadth of sources excellent; Dyer speaks to people on both sides of the then Iron Curtain and discusses the self-serving nature of “deterrent” policy, whether the military industrial complex of the West or the “metal eaters alliance” of the Soviet Union.

As a war historian Gwynne Dyer adds chronological perspective reminding us that there is nothing unique about NATO and the Warsaw Pact; that they were just today’s terms for two opposing ideologies. He also makes it absolutely clear the nature of the double-think going on with policy makers; that Mutual Assured Destruction had been abandoned in the 1960s but they never made an effort to correct the popular myth in public this was still policy. That nuclear war-fighting was the plan and the policy.

As he reveals in the documentary if all you want to do is blow the world up all you need is enough ICBMs in enough silos or in enough submarines. If that’s all that was required the military had more than enough material to do this since the mid 1960s. To go on developing weapons the theory of deterrence needed more than just massive retaliation. Modernised weapons gave us medium and short range weapons; cruise, Pershing, SS-20, etc. It led us to MIRV-ed weapons to strike at multiple targets. It ultimately led us to the worst doublethink weapon of all time, the MX or “Peacekeeper” missile –  a survivable system to provide was eventually called prompt-counterforce deterrence. The irony was the MX missile, for all the talk of its mobility and survivable base system was eventually stuck down old Minuteman silos rather compromising the entire system. Perhaps there was tacit admission that any massive attack on missile silos would result in general retaliation and “limited” nuclear war was every bit as absurd as most sensible people know it is.

This documentary is an important film in capturing our thinking at the height of the Cold War and is a rational examination of our relationship with nuclear weapons and how we justify them: