As part of the research process, you often find interesting little snippets that, while not hugely significant themselves, form part of something bigger. On May 17, 1979, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin wrote a short letter to newly installed British leader Margaret Thatcher. His letter formed part of a wider popular outburst centred around the idea of an “Islamic bomb.” Although the idea of an “Islamic bomb” – an imagined nuclear weapon that transcends state boundaries and spans a transnational religious community – had come up in previous years, it was only in 1979 that the issue really burst into the consciousness of policymakers and the public.
The concept was founded in the rhetoric surrounding the Pakistani nuclear weapons programme. Indeed, it was the two markedly different Pakistani leaders Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Mohammed Zia ul-Haq who gave birth to the idea. But it was the Western (and to a lesser extent, Indian) media that really gave life to the notion that one Muslim state would automatically share the fruits of its nuclear labours with other Muslim states.
The War Game (dir: Peter Watkins, 1965): Arguably the greatest piece of English-language cinema dealing with nuclear war.* Still potent after all these years? More importantly, still potent for those who did not live under the shadow of the Cold War nuclear threat, those for whom the terror of nuclear warfare is but an abstract notion seen in Hollywood films?
Like many others, I find The War Game a fascinating piece of work. The stark, black and white horror of the survivors juxtaposed with the studio-bound assuredness of confident authority figures. The descent into lawless chaos, society only held together by the most brutal of methods.
As part of recently teaching a summer school for 17-18 year olds, I had the opportunity to create a tutorial that assessed and examined The War Game. I was particularly interested in how people of that age group, those born after the end of the Cold War, would react to the film, how they would interpret it, and whether or not they saw it as a curiosity of the past or as a text with enduring significance.