Breaking News: The President has a secret friendship with the leader of Russia and its top generals!
Is your response:
A. This is treason! Impeach him!
B. Four more years! Four more years!
The correct answer is B.
Candidates don’t talk about it anymore (besides Tulsi Gabbard), but the President’s most important job is nuclear diplomacy.
Every other federal initiative that seems important – from the Middle East to Medicare – is meaningless minutia compared to the necessity to avoid nuclear war.
If President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev didn’t have a productive conversation in good faith during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the world could have ended right there.
“Fail Safe” is a gripping drama with a timely practical message: Those who believe that war with Russia is desirable and winnable are bellicose buffoons. And those who are willing to listen to Russia are heroes who are trying to prevent disaster.
The plot is simple (and exactly the same as “Dr. Strangelove”): due to a technical glitch, a squadron of nuclear bombers is headed to Moscow to begin World War III.
Walter Matthieu is frightening as Dr. Groeteschele: the voice of the hawks in Washington. He is excited about the first strike on Moscow. He predicts that either the USSR will surrender in terror. Or, even better, the war is allowed to progress and the Russians are wiped clean from the Earth. Groeteschedle calmly predicts that The United States would suffer acceptable losses (40 to 60 million dead).
On the other end of the spectrum is the President (Henry Fonda). When he learns about the nuclear error, he gets right on the phone with the Soviet Premier.
The President’s plan is simple and noble. He is completely transparent about what is happening. He eagerly gives out military secrets with hopes that the Soviets can use them to shoot down the bombers.
And the President also prepares for the worst: he is willing to sacrifice anything to gain the Premier’s trust and avoid an all-out nuclear conflagration.
Director Sidney Lumet crafted a lean, tense thriller. And he nails his point home: the technology of killing is getting to the point where good leaders can’t control it anymore.
“Fail-Safe” is even scarier today because our leaders aren’t as good as they used to be.
Politicians care more about partisanship than peace. And that’s our fault, too. There are plenty of voters who wouldn’t support a peace-loving President if he has the wrong letter next to his name.
“Fail-Safe” doesn’t exactly have a Disney ending. However, President Henry Fonda does come up with a bold, innovative peace plan and everyone in the military bows to his authority.
In 2023, this feels like a far-fetched fantasy.
How long has it been since our President was a confident, diplomatic man of peace who was willing to talk to Russia and wasn’t undermined by the militant Washington establishment? Reagan maybe? … it has been a while.
These days, our leaders are asking the wrong questions. How bad is it if Russia conquers all of Ukraine? And annexes Belarus? And attacks the Baltics? Correct answer: it doesn’t matter at all if we get into a nuclear war and the world is destroyed.