From the October 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard
This BBC documentary film, made in 1965, shows the possible effects of nuclear attack, and was banned from television screening. It is currently being used quite widely by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament as a recruiting film. The effects of the winds and heat of fire-storms, of the displacement of oxygen by carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, and of radiation itself are portrayed to horrific effect. Mass neurosis and widespread mental debilitation are evident, and those who survive are driven to violent rioting over meagre food supplies. Evacuation and other civil defence provisions are shown as tragically futile, and it is suggested that Britain, with its NATO bases, would be the worst hit area in the world in the event of war. Armed police are shown prowling the streets and supervising the burning of bodies and there is a pervasive chaos of devastation.
The film was based on the supposition of a “minimal” attack; today the effects of nuclear weaponry would be many times more destructive. (Sigvard Eklund, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency estimates the number of warheads in the world today to be 50,000, with the power of 1,000,000 Hiroshimas.) All the same, the film is essential viewing for anyone who is concerned to get even a vague idea of what the threat of war really amounts to. The War Game also ridicules the attitudes of the clergy, quoting one minister who has said that he trusts nuclear bombs will be used “with wisdom”, and another who defends their use provided that the war they are to be used in is a “just war”.
One important irony in the film’s use as propaganda by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, is that it is based in part on the effects suffered at the bombing of Dresden in 1945, when no nuclear weapons were used. The fact is that it is not just nuclear weapons which can be responsible for unspeakable human suffering and universal devastation; “conventional” arms are quite sufficient for the purpose, to say nothing of the horrors of chemical and biological warfare. So that if CND were in some miraculous way able to persuade governments to start dismantling some of their immense nuclear stock, there would still remain all manner of other terrible weaponry. The problem is that these people, however genuinely concerned they may be about the threat of war, have responded by considering the tools with which war is waged, instead of the cause of war itself (of whatever kind) and removing that once and for all.
The cause of war was stated by Joseph Chamberlain nearly a century ago when he said that
All the great offices of state are occupied with commercial affairs. The Foreign Office and the Colonial Office are chiefly engaged in finding new markets and in defending old ones
and by W M Hughes, ex-Prime Minister of Australia:
The increasing intensity of competition for economic markets must lead to armed conflict unless an economic settlement is found. This, however, is hardly to be hoped for. Talk about peace in a world armed to the teeth is utterly futile.
So what are these “markets” over which so much blood is spilt? They are simply the areas in which capitalist enterprises, including that monster enterprise, the USSR, try to sell commodities in order to realise a profit. The markets, materials, territories and trade routes fought over in wars all represent profit, which belongs to the property-owning, capital-controlling class in society. The working class have no reason to fight over the property and profit of the various sections of the world’s ruling class.
The cause of war is world capitalism, the profit system, and it is that which will have to be removed. If it is not acceptable to see welfare services cut back while a minor nation like Britain spends more than a million pounds an hour on arms, then we must withdraw our support not just from Conservative politicians, but from all of the representatives of the profit system. And that applies equally to the Labour Party and the USSR patriots of the Communist Party who want nuclear bombs to defend state capitalist Russia.
It should not be forgotten, though, that war is just one particularly destructive aspect of the capitalist system. Capitalism’s converse of “peace” in some ways holds in store just as many horrors.
The expressive faces of despair which feature in The War Game are by no means uncommon in the world today. The problems of starvation or malnourishment are rife in capitalism, and sometimes unemployment is all that the working class can hope for from this system of wage-labour and capital, whether the state of affairs is officially described as “peace” or as “war”.