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Film Review: 'The War Game'

This is a film which depicts what this country would be like during and after a nuclear attack. Peter Watkins has spared no effort to convince us that the situation would be one of unspeakable suffering, death and destruction.

There is a fire storm and a commentator tells us the gruesome details of what happens to people when oxygen is burnt out of the air they breathe. The hopelessness of so-called Civil Defence in trying to cope with such havoc is shown. Everywhere there are people with flash and radiation burns who might have been creatures from some monster film.

There are three categories of survivors. The last of these with 50 per cent body bums or more are given up; medical facilities are practically nil. The police, who are armed, put them out of their misery. About here a parson says he favours a war for law and order. In fact, religious hypocrisy comes in for much attention. The Vatican is recorded as saying they know “our nuclear bombs will be used with wisdom.” An American church leader advises survivors to “think twice before letting a neighbour into your shelter.” In the midst of all the carnage, in the background is heard the strains of Christ the Saviour is Born. There are food riots where armed survivors kill government guards and raid the food stores.

A commentator remarks that morality goes by the board when people have been reduced to this level. Almost as though they were expected to behave as if nothing had happened.

A man-in-the-street says he was offered £1 for a loaf of bread but refused it because “you can’t eat money.” This is one point worth dwelling on, as it illustrates the whole absurdity of capitalism. It is surely the things of life such as food, clothing and shelter which people need. Money stands in the way of the fulfilment of social needs. What good would a cupboard full of pound notes be if there were no food? Yet it takes a situation of social chaos and complete breakdown of effective control before it is dimly seen that food is important but money is obsolete.

One man was interviewed among the survivors, who had some young children. He helplessly pleaded that he did not want the radioactive poison working in their bones.

It has been said that in 15 years time at least 12 more nations will have nuclear bombs: that the present stock-pile will have doubled in five years and that there is already enough for everyone on earth to have the equivalent of 20 tons of T.N.T. all to themselves. What a damning indictment of the system under which we live that it can only operate in such a way.

The main object of The War Game seems to be to make the point that there is not nearly enough publicity given to the facts about nuclear weapons and their effects. Information is at a minimum, the public are not being told. They partly defeat their own purpose by telling us in the film that scenes of a similar kind did, in fact, take place in Dresden, Hamburg, Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War Two. The fact remains that although the working-class had close personal contact with these horrors it did not produce an attitude against such madness which is obviously to be hoped for. All the widely known suffering and slaughter of World War One did not prevent the occurrence of World War Two some 20 years later. This recalls another film, All Quiet On The Western Front, which showed the useless butchery of the First World War.

The War Game makes no criticism of capitalism as a system, and the idea emerges that hut for the menace of nuclear bombs everything would be just fine. This fallacy is something common to all piecemeal thinking. It leaves out of account the inter-relation of all the major social problems and ignores their common origin. When we are confronted with two-thirds of humanity starving and charity organisations passing the hat round, while in the same week there is an appeal for cancer research, and we know that there are still millions of ugly slums all over the world, it is ludicrous to think of problems in isolation. Neither should it be forgotten that so-called conventional weapons serve no working class interest. While all the attention is focused on one end product—the Bomb—capitalism grinds its sinister way from one crisis to another with war lurking as an ever-present possibility.

It is the questions left unanswered by such films which hold the key to the whole problem. What is the cause of war? How can it be abolished? To publicise the effects of nuclear weapons is useful but not in itself an answer to war.

The concept of nationalism is one of the attitudes which makes war acceptable to workers. This is not referred to in the film. While the idea of “the nation” survives, workers will continue to think of themselves as British or Russian etc.; and, therefore, when their ruling-classes clash over markets, oil or investments, they will wrongly believe they have something at stake.

The vital thing is to replace such fallacies with Socialist understanding, which points to the unity of working class interests all over the world. Then from the basis of a sound understanding of the world they live in, they will take the necessary political action to end the nightmare of capitalism and replace it with a world community of production for use, where the conditions out of which wars arise will cease to exist

Harry Baldwin