The Power of Decision — a short review

Posted in Imminent Catastrophe at 12:10 pm by George Smith

By way of J. at Armchair Generalist, I’m tipped to “The Power of Decision,” a 1958 in-house USAF movie on how it might wage all-out strategic nuclear war against the Soviet Union.

The National Security Archive, which has released the footage onto the web, describes it thus:

“The Power of Decision” may be the first (and perhaps the only) U.S. government film depicting the Cold War nightmare of a U.S.-Soviet nuclear conflict. The U.S. Air Force produced it during 1956-1957 at the request of the Strategic Air Command. Unseen for years and made public for the first time by the National Security Archive, the film depicts the U.S. Air Force’s implementation of war plan “Quick Strike” …

In 1958, there were still no underwater-launched ballistic missile submarines. And the only true intercontinental ballistic missile in the US arsenal was the Atlas rocket.

Late in “The Power of Decision,” a number of Atlas launches are shown. (I may have even spied an old Thor launch, too.) Early cruise missiles using liquid propellants like the Hound Dog and the Rascal are also shown taking part in the imagined war.

But the bulk of the counter-attack against a Soviet Union first strike is carried out by B-47, B-52, and B-58 bombers of the Strategic Air Command.

In counter-attack after counter-attack, SAC destroys the Soviet Union, achieving air supremacy. The enemy knows we have him, remarks one general during the last reel.

Of course, the US does get it’s hair mussed. Sixty million killed and wounded. New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, DC, Pittsburgh and other major cities are totally destroyed.

Unsurprisingly, since it is a dry internal US movie on strategic nuclear war, none of the characters show any emotion at all during the conflict. Their’s is a distant analog world of Bakelite telephones, tube circuitry, wall-sized sliding maps maintained by soldiers on wheeled platforms, white boards with various tallies and old television sets.

Communication, when it inevitably breaks down as more and more bombs explode, is said to be “spasmodic.”

No doubt, this was very optimistic.

At the National Security Archive here, the movie is about an hour long.

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