Last week, over a couple of beers, I was chatting with a few friends whose political views are very different to mine. Put it this way: I’m a democrat. They’re not. But, it doesn’t stop us all from hanging out and having a good time. One of the things that surprised me, though, as we knocked back the beer, was their approach to the matter of nuclear war. There can hardly be anyone out there who hasn’t heard all of the recent statements, concerns, and worries of a nuclear Armageddon and a looming Third World War. The United States, North Korea, China, Russia – everyone is on edge. As we hung out in the bar, I suggested that if the unthinkable should happen it will be the end of civilization – and by that I pretty much meant everywhere. I was, then, amazed, when a couple of my friends said, words to the effect of, “We can beat them all, hands down.”
You too may have seen this growing and disturbing assumption/trend that, somehow, a nuclear war – involving the major powers of this planet – can somehow be won. Let’s be clear on the matter: no-one can win a nuclear war. Period. Hiding in the bathroom, or under the bed, will do you absolutely no good at all when a city-obliterating nuke detonates within a few miles of you. And, if you are “lucky” enough to survive the thousands of nukes that are raining down all across the landscape, there’s the matter of deadly radiation to deal with too. Add to that, starvation, gangs of people desperate for food and who will kill to get what they need to survive, and rampant disease and no fresh water, and the picture is hardly a positive one.
Anyone who thinks that riding out a nuclear attack is possible is sadly deluding themselves. Complete and utter chaos, overwhelming destruction, terror, fear, hysteria and – most of all – death on scales almost unimaginable – on both sides – will be the order of the day. And for the next few hundred years. Society will quickly collapse and the “every man for himself” approach will become the rule of law. Lives will be cut short as a result of the radiation. Malnutrition and illness will take more. Many will likely take their own lives.
The fact is that no nuclear-armed nation on the planet can launch its missiles without the other side knowing – and responding – in quick-time. And, their missiles will be high in the skies before ours even arrive (and vice-versa). So, for anyone who thinks that kicking the ass of the other side is going to be a breeze, wise up. No one will win. Most of us will die. Civilization, as we know it, will not recover. In its place will be a grim world filled with irradiated people, probably in states of mental collapse, and barely able to operate.
If you want to find out what the reality of a nuclear war would really be like, you should watch a 1984 BBC production called Threads. There’s a good (and very welcome) reason why I mention this decades-old show now. Bootlegged versions of the docudrama have appeared online from time to time, as have various, short excerpts from it. Years ago, there was a VHS version. But, who bothers with VHS today? Next to no-one, of course! But, the good news is that in just a couple of weeks from now a Blu-ray edition of Threads is being released.
Nuclear war has been portrayed in many memorable productions, including Dr. Strangelove, The Day After, and a 1960s-era show of the BBC, The War Game – which was banned from being broadcast not just for years but for decades. The Day After gave its viewers at least some hope that life will go on and the human race will overcome the apocalypse. Threads gave them no hope. Instead, Threads gave the viewers just about the worst possible scenario: a world in ruins and billions dead. In other words, Threads gave us reality.
I was a teenager when I watched it, and in the days leading up to the broadcast, the show was highlighted significantly. Everyone I knew was going to settle in and watch it. And they did. And I think just about everyone had a sleepless night afterwards, realizing what nuclear war would really be like. I remember there was nothing but talk of Threads for the next few days at the warehouse where I worked. Everyone was asking the same question: “Did you see Threads?” And the memories continued to linger. As I write these words, they have come back.
Of course, being more than thirty years old, the show’s special-effects are not on a par with what we expect to see today. But, that doesn’t matter. The power of Threads comes from the fact that the story follows, largely, the lives and deaths of two families – families just like mine, yours, and those of everyone else. Children are vaporized. Babies are burned to a cinder. A terrified woman uncontrollably pisses herself in downtown as a huge mushroom cloud appears in the distance. You get the picture: it’s not a pretty one. But, it is one that we all need to see.
Being a docudrama, Threads informs the viewer of the numbers of deaths in the U.K.: tens of millions dead, millions more injured, and who knows how many terribly burned and irradiated. There is no government. There is no society. There are just straggling survivors living on whatever they can find, such as, in one example, the raw remains of a decaying, dead sheep. As the show gets to its latter stages, the story jumps forward more than a decade. Children born into the new world are stunted. They can barely form words and have no concept or understanding of the world that existed not much more than ten years earlier. Those who were adults when the war broke out are still blighted by psychological trauma and lack an ability to function properly.
I could go on and on. But, I’ll close now and say that if you are one of those who thinks that a nuclear war can be won, you are deluded in the extreme. Watch Threads and you’ll see why.