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Nuclear Insight From "WarGames"


I just got finished watching "WarGames" (1983), starring Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy as a couple of high school students who get caught up in a potential WWIII. How did it all happen?

Broderick hacked into NORAD thinking it was a gaming company. He wanted to find the soon-to-be-released games and play them at home, ahead of time, for free. What he ended up finding in NORAD (which he didn't know about until it was too late) was a learning computer that also happened to play games. So he selected Global Thermonuclear War, and the computer began the simulation.

"Joshua" is the name of that computer, and it had recently been given control of the final launch sequence at NORAD (and perhaps elsewhere) for the nuclear missiles.

Joshua combined the simulation with reality, and it looked like it would eventually launch real missiles at Russia as part of the ongoing game. That would provoke a Russian counterstrike, and wipe out all our major cities.

Ok, you probably knew some or all of that already. But I realized a couple things watching the film that I hadn't thought of before. These don't relate to the movie, but to life in general in our Nuclear Age.

First, if we could conceivably scare ourselves into launching on the Russians because of a computer error…

…and the Russians themselves seem to have had a history of faulty, malfunctioning equipment…

…then it isn't inconceivable that they could launch on us because of a computer error.

The second thought I had was with regard to the President. I realized that…

…if all the high-up military officials are acutely aware…

…of the fact that the U.S., Russia, and other countries…

…each have nuclear missiles pointed at high-yield targets all over the planet…

…and those missiles are a little more than a button's press away from launching and wiping out millions of people…

…then the President must live by a different set of rules than most citizens. On top of the whole "He's the President, he can do whatever he wants," deal.

I hadn't really been worried about a nuclear war. I didn't really dwell on it, whether I'm outside, inside, whatever. Nothing to worry about.

But I thought for the President, there must be one of two possibilities. Either he knows the risk of an unprovoked nuclear strike at any given time, and is constantly aware of the possibility that in the next few minutes he'll have to seek shelter in a bunker somewhere…

Or he lets his assistants worry about that.

But I figure when you deal with issues this big on a daily basis, you might equate a nuclear strike with rain, and your hardened bunker with a house. Stay inside the house when its raining. Take an "umbrella" with you when it looks like rain. Always keep an eye out for other places to seek shelter from the storm.

But I guess with missile defense systems, and the apparent "calm" between the U.S. and the long-range Nuclear Powers, there's not much to worry about.

…Or is there?

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