From bomb silo to big screen, an anti-nuclear quest

Fri Jun 17, 2011 2:56am EDT
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By Dan Williams

LONDON (Reuters) - While the Cold War black comedy "Dr. Strangelove" made fans squirm with its portrayal of catastrophic nuclear brinkmanship, Bruce Blair had reason to feel the cult movie missed the real risks.

As a junior U.S. officer responsible for Minuteman ballistic missiles aimed at the Soviet Union and China, Blair was worried about sloppy safeguards and the reflex obedience of those empowered to slaughter millions from the isolation of a silo.

"I remember watching 'Dr. Strangelove' and thinking, 'They have it all wrong. You don't need to be a general.' We were only lieutenants but we could have started World War Three just as easily," he says.

Decades on, Blair is an international security expert and guiding spirit in "Global Zero," the public campaign for comprehensive nuclear disarmament that found a PR tailwind in President Barack Obama's strident anti-proliferation policies.

He has ventured back into cinema as executive producer of "Countdown to Zero," which opens in Britain next week after a generally well-reviewed U.S. run last year.

"The main purpose of it, at this point, is to provide a tool in the kit-bag of our Global Zero campaign," he told Reuters ahead of the London premiere. "We need to broaden the tent."

In a breathless 89 minutes, the documentary-cum-manifesto recounts miscalculations that nearly led to nuclear launches and accidents. Animated maps stress the city-killing potency of even rudimentary atomic devices. Former statesmen and intelligence analysts appear, warning of an al Qaeda bomb that might one day be built from unregulated fissile materials on black markets.

It's no summer crowd-pleaser, despite an upbeat coda calling on viewers to send text messages to politicians with their demand for disarmament.   Continued...