Jun 222011

Voice’s Dave Watt invites readers to come along to a Talk/Discussion on Palestine

The Aberdeen branch of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) are hosting Zaytoun representative Sandy Stuart‘s talk on his experience of the Palestinian olive harvest.

This is an excellent opportunity to come along and find out about Palestine and a chance to buy Palestinian produce.

“I first became involved with Zaytoun/ Palestine as a distributor for Palestinian products about 7/8 years ago and have been active in this ever since. It then seemed a logical step then to go to the West Bank and support the farmers directly during the olive harvest.” – Sandy Stuart

Zaytoun is a Community Interest Company founded in 2004 to create and develop a UK market for artisan Palestinian produce.

The company is a cooperative, and a member of the International Fair trade Association.  As a member of the International Fair Trade Association it’s Primary objective lie with the welfare of the producing communities

Quakers Meeting Hall,
98 Crown street, AB11 6HJ
30th June 2011 at 7:30pm


May 272011

News that our great nation is urgently in need of a national anthem has struck a chord  amongst the staff and assorted literary aficionados at Aberdeen Voice, with many perceptive and pertinent suggestions put forward to replace our present national dirge. Dave Watt chairs the adjudication panel

Suggestions have varied from such musical phenomena as Hoots Mon, There’s a Moose Loose Aboot This Hoose by Lord Rockingham’s XI to Tang Dynasty’s heavy rock version of The Internationale.

The suggestion that the country might be represented by Frank Zappa’s Brown Shoes Don’t Make It, which contains the stirring lines –

I’d like to make her do a nasty
On the White House lawn,
Smother my daughter in chocolate syrup
And boogie ’till the cows come home

– was probably a bridge too far, as well as not being likely to do very much for international relations. Mind you, hearing 60,000 people singing it at Hampden would be quite a mind-bending experience.

An alternative Corries’ song, Scotland Will Flourish, looks to be a good front runner with First Minister Eck quoting from it in a couple of his speeches lately. At least it’s a bit livelier than the dirge-like Flower of Scotland, which I suspect will be another contender.

Another possibility is Hamish Henderson’s 1960 song, Freedom Come All Ye, which is quite a nice tune but is done in such broad Scots as to be almost unintelligible. That is to say, despite having been born here and living in the bloody place for over half a century, there are still words in it I need subtitles for.

A definite non-front runner is the even-more-dirge-like-than-Flower of Scotland, God Save The Queen which apparently is still the official anthem. God Save The Queen was originally German – a bit like the Royal family really – the tune being sung as the Prussian Heil Dir Im Seigerkranz until the catchy present Jock-bashing version was rush-released on the Cumberland label after Culloden.

It was played before Scottish rugby matches until the mid-seventies and, football-wise, some grovelling gong hunters at the SFA kept it going until the eighties, despite the crescendo of booing at Hampden reaching ear-splitting proportions. Its last materialisation was possibly before Scotland’s 3-1 humping by Argentina at Hampden in June 1979. Its only competitor in the unpopularity stakes I can remember was in Edinburgh during the height of the anti-Poll Tax campaign when a visiting orchestra at the Festival thought they would please their hosts by a spirited rendition of Land of Hope and Glory. By the time Sandra and I left, chairs were being thrown on the stage.

The final front runner, Scotland the Brave – words by Cliff Hanley – replaced God Save The Queen in time for the World Cup Finals in 1982, despite some heavy duty mumping by Thatcher and the Daily Mail who referred to our dumping it as ‘an insult to the monarchy’ -obviously unaware that the whole notion of monarchy is an insult to human intelligence.

Apr 292011

Voice’s Dave Watt reports….

5500 Royal Wedding Street Party applications in England and Wales.

13 in Scotland.

Occasionally I am proud to be Scottish.



A Man’s A Man For A’ That

(Robert Burns 1795)

Is there for honest poverty that hings his heid and a’ that
The coward slave we pass him by, we daur be puir for a’ that
For a’ that and a’ that, our toils obscure and a’ that
The rank is but the guinea stamp, the man’s the gowd for a’ that.

What though on hamely fare we dine, wear hodden grey and a’ that,
Gie fools their silk and knaves their wine, a man’s a man for a’ that,
For a’ that and a’ that, their tinsel show an’ a’ that,
The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor, is king o’ men for a’ that.

Ye se yon birkie ca’d a lord, wha struts an’ stares an’ a’ that,
Tho’ hundreds worship at his word, he’s but a cuif for a’ that,
For a’ that and a’ that, his ribband, star, an’ a’ that,
The man o’ independent mind, he looks an’ laughs at a’ that.

A King can mak a belted knight, a marquis, duke and a’ that,
But an honest man’s aboon his might – guid faith he mauna fa’ that!
For a’ that and a’ that, their dignities an’ a’ that,,
The pith o’ sense and pride o’ worth are higher rank than a’ that.

Then let us pray that come it may, as come it will for a’ that,
That sense and worth o’er a’ the Earth shall bear the gree an’ a’ that,
For a’ that and a’ that, it’s coming yet for a’ that,
That man to man the world o’er shall brithers be for a’ that.


Apr 152011

Voice’s Dave Watt poses the question – “When We Talk About ‘Culling’ Deer, What Do We Actually Mean?”

What this means is that a bullet and a deer’s body are going to meet at somewhere in between 600 and 3000 feet a second.  (These are the figures for a hand gun and an assault rifle respectively).

So what does this mean for the unfortunate deer?

I obviously don’t have input from deer that have been shot previously but as I’m a) ex-army, b) have studied the subject of warfare quite a bit and c) have spoken to several doctors about it, I have a fair idea of the horrors  which occur when a body and a bullet meet at a couple of thousand feet a second.

Richard Holmes in his book ‘The Firing Line’ points out that almost all wounds become painful when the initial shock wears off and some are utterly agonising from the start. “Wounded men scream, either because of the pain itself, or in sheer panic and terror”. Lt. Edwin Campion of Royal Warwicks described the noise coming from the darkness at Passchaendale:

“On all sides  came the groans and wails of the wounded men: faint, long, sobbing moans of agony and despairing shrieks.”

Michael Herr’s description of a wounded man shot and entangled in barbed wire is equally moving:

“We heard then what sounded at first like a little girl crying”, he reported,

“a subdued delicate wailing , and as we listened it became louder and more intense, taking on pain as it grew until it became a full , piercing shriek.”

The people I’m describing here undergoing these agonies are not freaks of nature, they are people like you and me. Hit by a bullet as they were, you and I and poor old Bambi up in Tullos would cry, writhe and shriek in undignified pain just as they did.  Luckily for you and me this scenario’s pretty unlikely but I’m not so sure about Bambi.

Sounds fun, doesn’t it? I bet old Bambi and his pals can hardly wait.

As a medical friend of mine pointed out, the dreadful thing about mammals is our sensitivity to pain and the equally dreadful fact that the organisms of dying mammals cling on to life with a ghastly pertinacity.

Additionally, unlike all that nonsense that Hollywood has been spouting over the years, the agony from a wound is in almost exact proportion to the severity of the wound.

Another grisly little aside to that is that unmarried men dying in the extremes of major wound agonies tend to cry on their mothers and married men on their wives. Isn’t that a lovely little statistic to take away and keep in some dark little corner of your mind? Perhaps as Bambi lies twitching in agony on the ground with his bowels loosened (yes, that happens too) he might cough out , with the spray of arterial blood, a choked cry for his ma or the cute little doe he’s been mating with. Who knows?

Even in the unlikely event that the poor old Bambi is fortunate enough to be hit with a head shot (which, despite Hollywood, are frequently not immediately fatal either) this is still hardly an enjoyable experience as Charles Carrington at the Somme had the disconcerting experience of speaking to a corporal as the man was hit by a rifle bullet:

“He was alive and then he was dying or dead, and there was nothing human left about him. He fell with a neat round hole in his forehead and the back of his head blown out.”

While Pte Le Brun of the Canadian Army referred to a comrade being killed beside him,

“His blood and brains, pieces of skull and lumps of burning hair spattered over the front of my greatcoat and gasmask”.

Sounds fun, doesn’t it? I bet old Bambi and his pals can hardly wait.

Finally, General Sir John Hackett writing an article on World War II films for the Sunday Times pointed out the inaccuracy of the depiction of casualties in  Hollywood films where:

“If men are shot ….they fall down like children in a game, to lie motionless. The most harrowing thing in real battles is that  usually don’t lie still; only the lucky ones die outright.”


Hollywood And The Bomb – Part 3

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Feb 252011
Hollywood And The Bomb – or Trivialising a Nuclear Holocaust 1945-1990 – Part 3.

Voice’s Dave Watt lifts the lid on the somewhat shady influences at work at the highest levels of post-war US government when McCarthyism and ‘Commie plot’ paranoia was rife. Not even Hollywood’s cinematic art was safe, it seems.

This final section of the series concentrates mainly on Hollywood and the Bomb in the 1970s and 80s with occasional trips across the Atlantic to compare their treatment of the subject with British filmmakers.

The 1970s : An decade of détente, Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, humiliating end of Vietnam War for the US and the controversial deployment of short and medium range nukes amongst a largely unwilling European population but with the usual connivance of their governments.

The last instance of using nuclear war as a theme in the 1960s was curiously in the film Planet of The Apes (1968) where the human civilization is revealed to have been destroyed by a nuclear war thereby leaving the planet to the apes.

After this there was a largish gap in the 1970s until: Twilight’s Last Gleaming in 1977 starring Burt Lancaster and Richard Widmark. It tells the story of Lawrence Dell, a renegade USAAF general, who escapes from a military prison and takes over an ICBM silo near Montana, threatening to launch the missiles at the USSR and start World War III unless the President reveals the real reasons why America fought for so long in Vietnam. Control of The ICBM silo is duly recovered by the hero and some special forces sub-heroes although the audience are left in no doubt about the big business interests profiting from the US’s extended involvement in Vietnam.

The 1980s

With the appearance of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher on the scene in 1979/81 international relations took a turn for the worse with much sabre rattling, tub thumping and bear baiting of the mid-1950s variety (and the generation of an unpleasant ‘if you’re not 100% for us you’re against us’ mentality). Thatcher began this with Exercise Square Leg in 1980 despite huge protests by CND and other progressive organisations against it.

However, the campaigners against these chest beating exercises in fatuous optimism refined their strategies and Exercise Hard Rock in 1981 was cancelled by a massive CND campaign with 20 out of 54 county councils refusing to take part and many major cities declaring themselves Nuclear Free Zones.

It plays the devastation with a rather light hand – a bit like most US disaster movies with some photogenic survivors slightly mud and bloodstained

The next film with a nuclear theme was:  The Day After (1983) which portrayed a fictional nuclear war between NATO forces and the Warsaw Pact that rapidly escalates into a full scale exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union, focusing on the residents of Kansas and Missouri, as well as several family farms situated next to nearby nuclear missile silos.

It plays the devastation with a rather light hand – a bit like most US disaster movies with some photogenic survivors slightly mud and bloodstained in general although Jason Robards does develop an unpleasantly realistic radiation sickness near the end.

It was very lightweight (like most Hollywood offerings) – in fact, probably the  most horrendous shots of a nuclear attack in a Hollywood offering is in Terminator 2(1991) where a children’s play area is shown during a nuclear blast. However in ‘The Day After’ this is pretty sanitised and one gets the impression that help will soon arrive and everything will be back to normal.

Slightly more thought provoking was the film Special Bulletin.which was an American made-for-TV movie first broadcast in 1983 The film has no opening credits Instead, the program begins with a promo for a typical daytime morning lineup: previews of various shows, and a catchy network jingle, “RBS: We’re Moving Up!” Suddenly, an ominous “Special Bulletin” slide appears on the screen, with an announcer saying “We interrupt this program to bring you a Special Bulletin from RBS News.” It shows how a local TV crew, covering a dockworkers’ strike, become caught in the middle of a firefight between the Coast Guard and some people on board a tugboat sitting at a dock in Charleston, South Carolina.

This extraordinary TV movie — shot on video, to make it resemble a news broadcast — shows us how network news might cover a group of terrorists holding a city hostage with a nuclear bomb and in doing so creates extraordinary tension while also getting in subtle and pointed digs at the media.

The government tries to fool the insurgent group and storm the tugboat. The attempt fails disastrously and there is a nuclear detonation.

Interestingly, when this was shown, despite a disclaimer on air there was a certain amount of panic in the  Charleston area

The final shots are of a female reporter and her cameraman trapped on a nearby old aircraft carrier with huge fires blazing in the background and, clearly stunned and dazed, she is terrified of imminent radiation sickness. The cameraman then replays the detonation in harbour which contains nothing but a raging firestorm. At this, the TV anchor breaks down on air crying out and weeping.

There is a break and the next shots are from three days later where the news, with the typical banality of TV news, has gone on to cover all the other events around the world (strikes in Poland, a World Bank announcement) which have continued to occur despite the destruction of Charleston.

Interestingly, when this was shown, despite a disclaimer on air there was a certain amount of panic in the  Charleston area when the film was originally shown on TV.

Back in the UK, the next film up was Threads (1984) – a BBC television play set in the city of Sheffield depicting the effects of a nuclear war and its aftermath on the United Kingdom. The premise of Threads was to hypothesise the effects of a nuclear war on the United Kingdom after an exchange between the Soviet Union and the United States escalates to include the UK.

The primary plot centres on two families: the Kemps and the Becketts — as an international crisis erupts and escalates. As NATO and the UK prepare for war, the members of each family deal with their own personal crises. Meanwhile, a secondary plot centered upon Clive Sutton, the Chief Executive of the City of Sheffield serves to illustrate for the viewer the UK Government’s then-current continuity of government arrangements. The balance of the film details the fate of each family as the characters face the medical, economic, social, and environmental consequences of a nuclear war.

Both the plot and the atmosphere of the play are extremely bleak with the UK ending up as a declining medieval society in the throes of a nuclear winter.

Despite the apparent extreme bleakness Threads was actually based on the results for the previously mentioned (and almost unbelievably optimistic) Exercise Square Leg instigated by the Tories in the 1980 in which the Soviets obligingly decide to nuke bizarre out-of-the-way places like Eastbourne but not Central London. In addition, whereas a Soviet attack on the UK could engender up to 1000 megatons, Square Leg was based on an attack involving 239 megatons.

There’s an equally childish disposition towards happy endings despite the mega-deaths on display

Despite this the mortality figures were estimated at 29 million (53% of the population); serious injuries at 7 million (12%); short-term survivors at 19 million (35%) so even at Thatcher’s mindlessly optimistic best we’d all have had it.

The last film on the list is also a British film and is that unusual combination a rather harrowing cartoon.

When the Wind Blows 1986 depicts a nuclear attack on the UK by the Soviet Union from the viewpoint of a retired couple, Jim and Hilda Bloggs. [Voices by John Mills & Peggy Ashcroft]  The Bloggs live in rural Sussex and are confused regarding the nature and seriousness of their situation which is sometimes used to generate gentle comedy as well as darker elements. As the film progresses their situation becomes steadily more hopeless as they suffer from the effects of radiation sickness. The film ends on an extremely moving note, with both Jim and Hilda dying as they pray.

CONCLUSION – Hollywood : There was a period of more thoughtful filmmaking in the 60s and 70s but as usual it’s been lots of glitz, glorious technicolour, wonderful special effects, very little in the way of plot lines with rather childish bipolar worldviews of the US as basically good and Johnny Foreigner regarded as rather murderous and irrational demons. There’s an equally childish disposition towards happy endings despite the mega-deaths on display.

British films of the period tended to be rather more thoughtful, socially realistic and less given to mindless flag wagging – in general, somewhere in between the more cerebral European mainland films produced on the same subject and the rather shallow US films made during this period.

Feb 182011
Hollywood And The Bomb – or Trivialising a Nuclear Holocaust 1945-1990 – Part 2.

Voice’s Dave Watt lifts the lid on the somewhat shady influences at work at the highest levels of post-war US government when McCarthyism and ‘Commie plot’ paranoia was rife. Not even Hollywood’s cinematic art was safe, it seems.

This section concentrates mainly on Hollywood and the Bomb in the 1950s and 60s with occasional trips across the Atlantic to compare their treatment of the subject with British filmmakers.

Equally upbeat as per the Cheerful Charlie Reader’s Digest was the film Duck and Cover – a civil defence film/public guidance film which first shown publicly in January 1952.
Made with the help of schoolchildren from New York City who were, needless to say, shown ducking under desks and covering their eyes, it was shown in schools as the cornerstone of the government’s “duck and cover” public awareness campaign.

The movie stated that nuclear war could happen at any time without warning and U.S. citizens should keep this constantly in mind and be ever ready (presumably by carrying a school desk around with them).
This was followed up by another public guidance film called  The House in the Middle [1954] which was a short documentary film produced by the Federal Civil Defence Administration, which attempted to show that a clean, freshly painted house is more likely to survive a nuclear attack than its poorly maintained counterpart. As it turned out, however, this film was actually sponsored by the US National Paint, Varnish and Lacquer Association so I’d take its nuclear protection advice with a large pinch of salt.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic in 1950, the first British Nuclear protestor appeared in the film Seven Days to Noon (beating the first Aldermaston March by a clear eight years).  Starring Barry Jones and Andrew Morell it showed a British scientist, John Willingdon, running away from a research centre with an atomic bomb which he has in a suitcase. He threatens to blow up the centre of London if the Government don’t agree to stop any further nuclear testing. Special agents from Scotland Yard try to stop him with help from his assistant and her fiancé. In a dramatic finish the scientist is accidentally shot a few minutes before the bomb goes off, the hero marries the heroine and everyone lives happily ever after. Nowadays it seems quite a thought provoking item for the time although in the original film blurb Willingdon the scientist was obligingly referred to as a madman.

Back to the US in 1951 there was a sci- fi film called Five which was a  post-apocalyptic US film. The title refers to the number of survivors of an atomic war that wiped out the rest of the human race. Fortunately for the survivors they all lived in the US, spoke English and were within walking distance of each other – just how lucky is that? This was, however, something of a benchmark as it was the first ever film to depict the aftermath of such a catastrophe.

Next film produced by Hollywood with a nuclear war theme was Invasion USA (1952) – basically a pro-military pro-government propaganda film which starts off with a group of anti-government, anti-war people in a bar in Washington decrying  the early military-industrial complex of those days.

However, the film goes on to show that while these misguided peaceniks are chewing the fat the evil robotic Soviets are plotting to attack the US with A-Bombs. The A-bombs duly arrive on American air force bases causing mayhem and after a series of horrifying disasters and the usual heroic resistance the few surviving peaceniks are predictably shown to conclude that their government and military were right after all.

their response to any military face confrontation with the Soviets would be a first strike nuclear attack

And I hope they were all thoroughly ashamed of themselves, too. The Soviets in this film were rather confusingly dressed similarly to Nazi SS men – Mind you it probably wouldn’t be too confusing to modern American audiences over 30% of who think the Soviet Union & Germany were on the same side in World War Two anyway.

There was a gap in Hollywood films involving actual nuclear war over the next few years but quite a few pro-military but specifically pro USAAF films. (Just keep remembering here those horrible, pro-commie, fellow traveller, pinkos in the US Navy have been defeated and the United States Army Air Force is the way to go.)

First of these was: James Stewart in Strategic Air Command [1955] , Stewart plays a USAAF Reserve officer recalled reluctantly to active duty to fly bombers for the Strategic Air Command. The film details the duties and responsibilities of being an Air Force strategic bomber pilot, and the strains such service places on family life. Happily, Stewart overcomes all these and goes on to enjoy his new military career defending the USA from the godless Commie threat.

Similarly in Bombers B52 [1957] Karl Malden plays a US air force sergeant who is tempted by a better-paying civilian job. After much moral deliberation Malden decides that he’s of more value in the service and goes on to enjoy his continuing military career defending the USA from the godless Commie threat.

The lack of films depicting a nuclear exchange is particularly significant during this time as the US military was irrevocably committed to the first use of nuclear weapons under the 1951 New Look Strategy -the concept being that the considerably more powerful Soviet forces represented such a world wide threat to US hegemony that their response to any military face confrontation with the Soviets would be a first strike nuclear attack.

In fact, the next film on the subject was produced well after McCarthy’s decline and is the bleakly realistic 1959 film On The Beach which is set in 1964 in the months following World War III. The conflict has devastated the northern hemisphere, polluting the atmosphere with nuclear fallout and killing all human life there while global air currents are slowly carrying the fallout to the southern hemisphere. The only part of the planet still habitable is the far south of the globe, specifically Australia but as the film ends it becomes apparent than everyone is either dying about to die.

Predictably the U.S. Department of Defence refused to cooperate in the production of this little item, refusing access to their nuclear-powered submarines and the film production crew was forced to use a non-nuclear Royal Navy submarine, the HMS Andrew.

The US contrived to lose seven nukes in the years after the WW2 which means that they’re lying around somewhere rusting quietly away.

Despite the loan of the HMS Andrew this did not indicate an anti nuclear stance by the British Government and, in fact, the then Foreign Secretary and future Tory Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas Hume stated in June 1961 that in their commitment to NATO and the US that “The British people are prepared to be blown to atomic dust if necessary” which must have been news to most of the population.

Following the the international concern over the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and the groundbreaking film of’ On The Beach’ and there appeared a reaction to this within the US establishment which contradicted the previously held view characterised by the Rand Corporation’s Herman Kahn ‘On Thermonuclear War’ (1960) which postulated the idea yet again of a ‘winnable nuclear war’.

This public outcry engendered by the Cuban Missile Crisis caused Kahn’s to amend his following books ‘Thinking About The Unthinkable (1962) and On Escalation (1965) backpedalled a bit and produced such delights as his Escalation Ladder (seehttp://www.texaschapbookpress.com/magellanslog41/escalation.htm) which ranges from Ostensible Crisis and Political, Economic & Diplomatic Gestures for 44 stages up to Unmodified Counterforce Attack or Spasm and Insensate War – which apparently means firing off everything nuclear you’ve got in the general direction of the enemy. According to Mr Kahn, 24 of these 44 stages involve a ‘nuclear exchange’.

Next film up was A Gathering of Eagles [1963] a movie about the Cold War and the pressures of Air Force command. Rock Hudson plays a USAAF Colonel, Jim Caldwell, who despite his misgivings is promoted to be a Strategic Air Command B-52 wing commander –. Needless to say Hudson predictably overcomes all the tribulations and pressures of command and like Karl Malden and Jimmy Stewart goes on to enjoy his new military career defending the USA from the godless Commie threat.

This film was heavily supported by the USAAF and SAC commander Curtis Lemay in particular as it showed SAC in the most promising light imaginable as intelligently led, competent and relentlessly efficient whereas they had been receiving a fair bit of flak for several major nuclear accidents. The US contrived to lose seven nukes in the years after the WW2 which means that they’re lying around somewhere rusting quietly away.

the last poignant scene is of nuclear blasts all over the globe as Vera Lynn sings ‘We’ll Meet Again’.

Curtis LeMay may be a name familiar to some of you as a rather deranged US superhawk very keen on using B52s in Vietnam and was extremely miffed when LBJ stopped him dropping a nuke in front of the threatened US marine base at Khe Sanh in 1967. His alter ego, General Turgidson, was played by George C Scott in the next film which is:

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb which is a 1964 American/British black comedy film directed by Stanley Kubrick, starring Peter Sellers and George C. Scott, and featuring Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn and Slim Pickens..

The story concerns an unhinged US Air Force general Jack D Ripper who orders a first strike nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, and follows the President of the United States, his advisors, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and an RAF officer as they try to recall the bombers to prevent a nuclear apocalypse, as well as the crew of one B-52 as they attempt to deliver their payload. The situation is made more critical by the Soviet Union having created a Doomsday Machine which will fire off a huge cloud of radioactive dust which will envelop the earth if a nuke hits the Soviet Union. The bomber eventually hits a tertiary target within the Soviet Union and the last poignant scene is of nuclear blasts all over the globe as Vera Lynn sings ‘We’ll Meet Again’.

A similar theme appears in Fail-Safe (1964) Sidney Lumet’s original 1964 film  employs a stylized and heightened dramatic structure in its nerve-crushing moral tale. When an off-course commercial airplane triggers the Pentagon’s complex “fail-safe” maneuver, leaving an arsenal of nuclear-bomb-carrying jet fighters at the ready, a mechanical error puts the entire world in danger of destruction.

Walter Matthau gives an uncharacteristic turn as an unpleasantly cold and contemptuous political scientist Prof. Groteschele, apparently based on  Herman Kahn. Henry Fonda plays the American president who manages with the Soviet Premiere to navigate the complex and urgent political trauma and prevent total destruction. As one of the American bombers makes it through to drop an A-bomb on Moscow the only concession the US President can offer to prevent all out war is to drop a similar bomb on New York.

This duly happens (thus incidentally invoking Mr Kahn’s Stage 29 of his Escalation Ladder ‘Exemplary Attack on Population’) and the countdown to the bomb hitting New York involves a series of movie stills taken in the streets of the city.

Back across the Atlantic, The War Game was a 1965 television film on nuclear war. Written, directed, and produced by Peter Watkins for the BBC’s The Wednesday Play strand, its graphic depiction of the impact of a Soviet nuclear attack on Britain caused dismay within the BBC and in government.

It was scheduled for transmission on 6th of August 1966 but the effect of the film was judged by the BBC to be “too horrifying for the medium of broadcasting” and it was not actually transmitted for 19 years and eventually appeared on the BBC in 1985, Presumably, following this timescale they’ll get around to broadcasting the appeal for Gaza in 2038.

Back in Hollywood the forces of good were still battling for God & Profit but a lot of public questioning was going on about US involvement in Laos and Vietnam and the next film revealed a certain ambivalence in US society.

In The Bedford Incident (1965) Richard Widmark plays the stern and unforgiving skipper of an American destroyer on peacetime patrol in North Atlantic waters as an element of the NATO fleet. He develops an obsessive determination to hunt down a Soviet submarine and as the danger in his compulsive chase develops a fatal incident occurs with the US destroyer firing off its missile and the Soviet submarine retaliating with its nuclear weaponry and both are utterly destroyed.

Part 3  (The 1970s onwards) -next week.

Feb 112011
Hollywood And The Bomb – or Trivialising a Nuclear Holocaust 1945-1990

Voice’s Dave Watt lifts the lid on the somewhat shady influences at work at the highest levels of post-war US government when McCarthyism and ‘Commie plot’ paranoia was rife. Not even Hollywood’s cinematic art was safe, it seems.

Part 1.  Setting the scene – Government and film

First, let me say that films aren’t made in a vacuum. In a way they reflect the needs and desires of the society in which they’re made.

Sometimes they are made to reflect the interests of the ruling elite in that society and sometimes, rather more rarely, they’re made to challenge that elite and its world view.

Hollywood, and to an extent the British film industry produce, in general, films without an overt political message but this does not mean there is no political influence.

In the US, the military’s influence on Hollywood has been increasingly pervasive since the establishment of the Committee of Public Information in early 1917 to present the US’s entry to the First World War as a noble crusade and not as a desperate prop for that country’s massive investment in the failing Allied cause.

Following the Second World War, the Pentagon formally established its ‘film approval’ process and in 1948, set up a special Movie Liaison Office. With the onset of the Cold War, the US military demanded even greater control over the movies it ‘assisted’.

Producers and directors seeking access to military equipment, locations or personnel, or even Department of Defense archival footage, are required to have their work vetted by the Pentagon. Those prepared to reshape their movies in line with Pentagon directives are given substantial financial and technical help; those unwilling to accept its dictates are denied any assistance.

Since then, plot and character changes and outright historical falsification have been the most common demands made by the military, its stated aim being to encourage movies which boost ‘recruitment and retention programs’. Filmmakers are told that excessive foul language, alcohol and drug use, sexism, racism and other bigotry in the armed forces must be toned down and replaced with ‘positive’ portrayals. In fact it is not unusual for the Pentagon to demand entire scenes, even central characters, be deleted.

There’s a very good David L Robb book on the subject, Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes and Censors the Movies.

So, bear this in mind as you read on.

Hollywood and the Bomb

My delving around revealed that the first nuclear war film made in Hollywood was a gem called The First Yank Into Tokyo, rushed out in September 1945, which featured a rather large American boxing star Tom Neal being parachuted into the land of the Rising Sun disguised as a Japanese soldier – honestly – to rescue a captured nuclear scientist.

two nuclear bombs have gone off in Japan and very few people in the West know that much about them

Predictably, he rescues the scientist and wins the heroine before the film ends with stirring music and an approving gravelly voice narrating over film of the mushroom cloud at Hiroshima – presumably engendered by work of the rescued scientist.

Washington Post film critic Jeff Hill described it as:

Not only the most racist movie I have ever seen, it is probably quite simply the worst film I have ever seen in any category of any motion picture ever

Needless to say, the real films taken by the US military showing what had actually happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were confiscated by the US government and locked away for 25 years, whilst any reports of the attacks were systematically discredited.

For example, within three days of Wilfred Burchett’s shocking dispatch on radiation sickness, The Atomic Plague appearing in the Daily Express on September 5 1945, the US military had a front page story in the New York Times disputing the notion that radiation sickness was actually killing people. Their news story included this remarkable commentary, “The Japanese are still continuing their propaganda aimed at creating the impression that we won the war unfairly, and thus attempting to create sympathy for themselves and thereby obtain milder surrender terms”.

John Hersey’s 1946 film Hiroshima, which moved beyond generalised images of a destroyed city to offer sharply-etched narratives of six survivors’ experiences, was also predictably rubbished and concealed by the US government as best it could.

So here we are; it’s the late 1940s – two nuclear bombs have gone off in Japan and very few people in the West know that much about them or their effects, and those who do go to great lengths to conceal the facts.

On the other hand, some who did know about the effects of the bombs did act and here we find the first and most unusual band of nuclear protestors.

The Admirals’ Revolt 1948-49

Ofstie’s evidence to the hearings was particularly crucial as his post war assignment was to the US Strategic Bombing Survey of Japan

Admirals are in an unusual position as far as military command goes. Whereas an army commander can be thirty to fifty miles behind the lines and his air force counterpart can be three thousand miles away from the action, an admiral is generally there with the fleet, taking the same risks and seeing the same carnage as the crews of the ships, possibly engendering a greater sense of social realism to war’s horrors.

Whatever the reason, in 1948 and 1949, during stormy congressional hearings on the US Air Force’s ill-fated and unbelievably expensive nuclear white elephant, the B-37 bomber, there appeared what was to be called the Admirals’ Revolt – a group of US senior naval officers consisting of Secretary of the Navy Sullivan, Admiral Denfield, Rear Admirals Ofstie and Radford, and about a dozen others supported by James Forrestal, the then US Secretary of Defence.

Rear Admiral Ofstie’s evidence to the hearings was particularly crucial as his post war assignment was to the US Strategic Bombing Survey of Japan, where he interviewed many surviving Japanese officials and civilians. In 1946 he was detached and was reassigned to the Joint Chiefs of Staff Evaluation Group and served at the Bikini nuclear tests.

So, here we have a fighting admiral who has seen death and destruction at close hand and knows about indiscriminate bombing and the effects of nuclear bombs. On October 11, 1949 he and Rear Admiral Radford testified before the Combined Services Defence Committee on the effects of nuclear warfare and concluded, ‘Strategic air warfare, as practised in the past and as proposed for the future, is militarily unsound and of limited effect, is morally wrong, and is decidedly harmful to the stability of a post-war world.’

Cue major uproar in the US armed forces and government.

President Harry H Truman, faced with this revolt, had a great deal of soul-searching to do. However, at some point, it was presumably pointed out to him that among the companies who were profiting massively from the B-37 fiasco and would benefit from future huge USAAF contracts, were those who paid his election expenses. The President and his cabinet predictably came down on the side of the USAAF and set the scene for half a century of nuclear brinkmanship.

the deranged and murderous Commies could start a nuclear war any minute

Defence Secretary Forrestal was hounded out of office, suffered a nervous breakdown and later committed suicide in rather suspicious Kelly-esque circumstances. The admirals involved in the revolt were either eased out of service or remained unpromoted until their retirement.

Truman’s eventual decision may also have been influenced by the events of August 1949 when the first Soviet nuclear bomb, codenamed Joe One, was tested in Kazakhstan.

In addition, the setting off of Joe One generated huge levels of paranoia and hysteria in the US which the government and the embedded media tried to use by generating two rather contradictory notions:

– the deranged and murderous Commies could start a nuclear war any minute.

– don’t worry, your government will show you how to survive it.

This dichotomy was to result in a recurring theme in the 1950s and such august publications as Reader’s Digest produced upbeat articles such as You Can Live Despite The A-Bomb and How US Cities Can Prepare For Atomic War, whilst nuclear bunkers were routinely referred to more prosaically as ‘air raid shelters’.

Next week: Part 2 – Films of 1950s and 60s

Dec 232010

By Dave Watt.

Agricola’s invasion of Scotland and the North of England in 83AD was accompanied by an extensive supply fleet which moved up the east coast of the country landing in rivers, inlets and bays. Being Romans and consequently, like conquerors everywhere, regarding themselves as being far more civilised than the hapless natives, they were inspired to name geographical features according to their own notions.

The east coast of Northern England was referred to as the’ Land of Tattooed People’ owing to the natives’ exotic and widely varied body decorations. In this the Iron Age farmers and hunters of the region were probably a bit more inventive and original than modern Premier League footballers who confine their tattoos to their girlfriend’s name written in really naff upper case Gothic text on the inside of their forearms. However, as there are sticks of rhubarb more capable of original thought than professional footballers this is very little for the Iron Age Geordie or Mackem to pat themselves on the back about.

Moving north into Scotland the modern Firth of Forth was referred to as the ‘Firth of Silence’ probably generating the ongoing Glaswegian calumny that there’s more life in a Glasgow funeral than at an Edinburgh wedding.  Pausing only to build a mega-fort at Inchtuthil near Dundee the combined fleet and the 9th Legion moved further north into the land of the Taexali eventually arriving at an area separated by two rivers.  The larger southernmost river the Romans called the Deva meaning ‘The Goddess’ and the nearby settlement at the estuary of the river was called Devana or ‘Mouth of The Goddess’.

Other Roman writings refer to it as variously Verniconam, Abredonia and Aberdonium at various points

This became a large supply port for the Roman army as they advanced up the coast and into the Grampian Highlands and was no doubt looked upon a beacon of civilisation to overawe the backward, selfish, and treacherous Philistines that inhabited the region.

In this it was largely successful for nearly two millenia until the Philistines had their revenge by building Norco House and have since tried to dump a million tons of concrete into Union Terrace Gardens.

Devana seems to have remained its name for several centuries – Ptolemy in 146 AD referring to the town as being the capital of the land of the Taexali whose tribal area which stretched from the Tay across the region and up towards the Keith/Banff area where the next tribe (the Vacomagi) lived. However, other Roman writings refer to it as variously Verniconam, Abredonia and Aberdonium at various points.

The next mention of the place is in a saga about a Viking jarl called Einar Skulason who’s longboats sacked and pillaged the place in 1153 where it is referred to in Old Norse as ‘Apardion’. The Vikings being men of action and very few words ‘Apardion’ actually means ‘The place where we rowed to for  three bloody days into the teeth of a North Sea gale and came away with a lump of very hard stone, a gourd of some greasy black stuff that tastes like shit and a big fish’*

Acta est fabula, Io Saturnalia

*Not really.

Nov 052010

By Dave Watt.

Nearly one hundred people crowded into meeting room 6 in the Art Gallery on Tuesday evening to hear the Mayor of Nagasaki speak about the atomic bombing of Nagasaki.

Mayor Taue told the audience about Nagasaki’s involvement in the international movement towards nuclear disarmament.  He was followed by Takashi Yoshihara, Chairman of Nagasaki City Council and a survivor of the nuclear attack, who spoke about his family’s experiences during and after the atomic bomb attack.

The Director of the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, Tomoo Kurakawa, then passed round a series of pictures and explained about the horrific effects of nuclear weapons.  Questions from the audience followed, and the speakers put forward compelling arguments for abolishing nuclear weapons.  The meeting ended with warm applause.

The Mayor and his colleagues were being hosted by Aberdeen City Council as part of the Citizens’ Friendship City link-up with Nagasaki. This event was organised by Aberdeen CND group.

Oct 012010

By Dave Watt.

Ever wonder how a city council of one of the most prosperous regions of Britain contrived to find itself £55 million in debt in 2007? Aberdeen Voice – courtesy of its home made time machine fearlessly delves into the newspapers of the past/future and brings you those stories that never quite made the front pages.

14th April 1746Council Defends Investing This Year’s Entire Pauper’s Budget in a civic reception for Bonnie Prince Charlie.

no images were found

Amidst an outcry from distressed Aberdeen Citizens Lord Provost Erasmus Stephen defended the council’s decision of spending the annual Pauper’s Fund on a Banquet for Bonnie Prince Charlie and his court. Lord Provost Stephen said that the money was well spent as His Royal Highness’s army would undoubtedly defeat the government forces during tomorrow’s battle at Culloden and that the prince’s gratitude would ensure that the city would be Scotland’s main port for trade with the continent.

Replying to those critics who pointed out that the Duke of Cumberland’s forces had the Jacobite army out numbered two to one and that the Prince had all the tactical awareness of a brain damaged tadpole, the Provost said that he would have actually backed Cumberland’s army but he ‘was afraid that people would laugh at him’.

July 13th 1789Council Delighted With Purchase in French Property Market Boom

Lord Provost Bampfylde Stephen assured Aberdeen citizens that cash spent in acquiring the Bastille in Paris as a hotel in the city centre is money well spent and pointed out that the fortress is in good repair, is on a major trade route and ‘is very handy for the shops’. He said the council expects a large return on their investment next year when crowds will be flocking into Paris for popular monarch Louis XVI’s jubilee.

January 29th 1843Council Invests Yearly Budget on Oak Plantation for Shipbuilding Futures

Provost Diggory Stephen says future of wooden ships are the way to go and dismisses hare brained schemes for iron ships. Council passed motion of censure on local shipbuilders AJ Hall and J Lewis for being led astray by crackpot inventors like Isambard Kingdom Brunel and derided the ludicrous notion that iron ships can float on water.

December 27th 1879Council Denies Financial Outlay in Railway Stock is Rash Move

The city council, fresh from their Yuletide festivities, were involved in an unseemly disturbance this morning as hundreds of outraged citizens objected to the 1880 Fund for Widows and Orphans being invested in the North British Railway Company. Lord Provost Siegfried Stephen, however, dismissed the complaint saying that there were only a few troublemaking protestors and that the money invested was as safe as Sir Thomas Bouch’s railway bridge over the Tay – recently built for the North British Railway Company.

October 28th 1929“We’re In The Money”, says Lord Provost

Council leader says ‘Happy days are here again’ as investing of entire Social Welfare Fund floats huge share portfolio on Wall Street. Lord Provost Rufus T. Firefly Stephen lit a huge cigar as he told assembled journalists this morning that the city’s financial future was assured now that Aberdeen’s wealth was there up on the big board on Wall Street. He dismissed complaints from impoverished citizens as being  the work of a few disgruntled Bolsheviks and malcontents.

Jan 3rd 1972Oil Finds off Aberdeen ‘Just Pie In The Sky’ says Provost

Consequently the city had been on the edge of total bankruptcy with only twenty thousand pounds left in the kitty

Aberdeen’s Provost Hiram J Stephen yesterday dismissed the notion of the city becoming a centre for the oil industry in the North Sea and assured citizens that rumours of large oil finds off the Scottish coast were ‘just so much moonshine’.

In addition, he congratulated the council on its perspicacious decision to invest the Community Welfare Budget on potato recycling. ‘There are vast deposits of tatties in the Grampian Region just waiting to be turned into fossil fuels’ he said.

And now – back to the future…..

September 30th 2020Granite City Saved from Destitution At Last Minute

Aberdeen Provost, head honcho and big enchilada, John Moonchild Fifi Trixibelle Stephen III and his ruling junta gave a collective sigh of relief as he announced that the apparently doomed city had saved by a last minute financial deal. To the angry and increasingly desperate crowds outside the Town House he declared that despite the concreting over of Union Terrace Gardens, the Duthie Park, and the construction of a golf course on the site of Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, visitors to the Granite City just hadn’t appeared in the hoped for numbers. Consequently the city had been on the edge of total bankruptcy with only twenty thousand pounds left in the kitty. Fortunately, however, he had that very morning received an e-mail from a multi-millionaire in Nigeria who wished to clear all his vast funds through a bank in the UK and only needed all of the city’s bank details whereupon which he would immediately send the city fifty percent of his account. Provost Stephen stated that our future was therefore assured…..