I still remember the chill and existential angst as an impressionable if more than a little rebellious teenager watching Dr Strangelove. Two years after the Cuban crisis, and one year after the assassination of President Kennedy, the film dropped into a cultural worldview already distorted by fear, suspicion and the growing insanity of language that spoke of MAD, as mutual assured destruction. The mad antics and the terrifyingly implausibly plausible script did nothing to reassure, nor wat it meant to.
I came across this clip here the other day and watched it with scared fascination. It isn't only the content, it's the jaunty optimism of the narrator describing the triumph of Britain dropping its first hydrogen bomb to explode in the atmosphere in 1957. At the time the fear was an icy terror, a remorselessly spreading glacial fear dubbed the cold war. Perhaps the upbeat BBC commentator was expressing relief that Britain was no longer defenceless against an evil and ambitious Russia. At the very least we could destroy cities of the perceived enemy in retaliation for any attack on our cities. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a million for a million, it's the same principle. It's called deterrence.
There has not been a nuclear exchange in the 56 years since that first successful atmospheric detonation of city killing bombs. Supporters of deterrence would say that's because deterrence works. Maybe. Opponents will argue that nuclear weapons are morally unjustifiable and pose an extinction level threat to human life, and indeed to the future of the planet. I don't know that the argument can be settled - by definition the proof would either never be forthcoming (in which case it worked, maybe) or there will be a catastrophic exchange in which case the argument becomes academic in a nihilistic sort of way.
What's your point Jim? It isn't a global politicised point. I am not an expert in global security, military mind games, or defence strategy and policy. As a Christian theologian I have other concerns, a different perspective, alternative intellectual tools to think through the meaning of human existence and what makes for human flourishing. I watched the clip with a profound and solemn awareness that amongst the crucial components of a Christian worldview is an adequate doctrine of sin. The hydrogen bomb as it was then known carried a mushroom shaped shadow of ultimate menace for humanity's future - and the clip celebrates the success of British efforts to obtain this instrument of mass destruction. I use instrument deliberately - in the background of the clip it would have been entirely appropriate to play Holst's brutal and relentless Mars the Bringer of War to trumpet and announce the newly acquired capacity for orchestrated death on a symphonic scale.
Celebrating the success of such a creation as nuclear weapon capacity is according to the late Lord Macleod, blasphemy, the original sin of creating from the foundation blocks of God's Creation, an instrument capable of global annihilation. I do not see that theological pronouncement as an overstatement. It is one of the most important prophetic denunciations of military and political power in the history of Scottish theology; theology, not politics. But it is theology effectively used to critique all intellectual accommodations to nuclear weapons as an option for the Christian mind. Of course not everyone agreed with Macleod; and not all will agree with what I'm writing here. But go back and look at the clip, listen to the narrative, and then read the Sermon on the Mount. How do the two inhabit the same moral, theological and political universe?
One further thought - the bomb lauded in the 1950's clip is a mere firework when compared with the destructive payload of current contemporary capacity. I recall Jesus argument from the lesser to the greater...how much more...?