On 6th August – the 63rd anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing – Stanley Kubrick’s cult Cold War classic ‘Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’, is being shown at Somerset House in London. Starring Peter Sellers in multiple roles, Dr Strangelove is extremely funny. But it is also very disturbing.
Made at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the world was on the brink of nuclear annilhilation, Dr Strangelove satirises the Cold War policy of mutually assured destruction. This was based on the idea that we were all much safer because the superpowers could destroy each other – and everyone else – many times over. The film raises just one of the problems with this policy. What happens when a mentally unstable US Air Force general orders a first strike nuclear attack on the Soviet Union and the systems are irreversible?
Just a joke? Well sadly not entirely. During the Cold War and since, there have been numerous examples of nuclear near-misses: human error, misinterpretation, technical or physical accidents – the list is long and terrifying. In fact, we are extremely lucky to have avoided nuclear disaster by these means, never mind war. You cannot legislate to eradicate human error and you can never be 100% certain of what anyone is going to do.
This risk is another compelling reason to pursue nuclear disarmament. Indeed, support for nuclear disarmament is growing across the political spectrum. Very recently, four former UK defence and foreign secretaries have called for new initiatives. One of those, Lord Owen, will be joining John Pilger, Bianca Jagger and myself at Somerset House on the evening of August 6th, prior to the screening, to discuss the relevance of Dr Strangelove today. You are welcome to join us.