Yesterday we featured the equal parts horrific and boring US government job application for "nuclear war survivor." Today we're taking a look at the United States Air Force film "The Power of Decision," perhaps the only American military training movie to depict global nuclear annihilation. Cheerful stuff!
In the film, none of the military operatives are shocked, excited, or anxious about the prospect of civilization being reduced to a glowing crater. They might as well be tabulating the USAF's annual budget for slide rulers and latrine doors. Notes William Burr at George Washington University's National Security Archive:
"The Power of Decision" may be the first (and perhaps the only) U.S. government film dramatizing nuclear war decision-making. Commissioned by the Strategic Air Command in 1956, the film has the look of a 1950s TV drama, but the subject is the ultimate Cold War nightmare. By the end of the film, after the U.S. Air Force has implemented war plan "Quick Strike" following a Soviet surprise attack, millions of Americans, Russians, Europeans, and Japanese are dead. The narrator, a Colonel Dodd, asserts that "nobody wins a nuclear war because both sides are sure to suffer terrible damage." Despite the "catastrophic" damage, one of the film's operating assumptions is that defeat is avoidable as long as the adversary cannot impose its "will" on the United States. The film's last few minutes suggest that the United States would prevail because of the "success" of its nuclear air offensive. Moscow, not the United States, is sending out pleas for a cease-fire [...]
Little is known about the production and distribution of "The Power of Decision," or even if it was actually shown. According to the history of the Air Photographic and Charting Service for January through June 1957, on 28 May 1956, the Strategic Air Command requested the service to produce the film, which would be classified Secret. SAC leaders may have wanted such a film for internal indoctrination and training purposes, to help officers and airmen prepare themselves for the worst active-duty situation that they could encounter. Perhaps the relatively unruffled style of the film's performers was to serve as a model for SAC officers if they ever had to follow orders that could produce a nuclear holocaust.