Sat 19 Nov 2016
The message of Robert Kenner‘s documentary Command and Control is crisp and scary. Atomic weapons are man-made machines. Man-made machines sooner or later break. A very serious accident, or even atomic apocalypse is only a matter of time. Actually a very serious accident did happen in 1980 at a nuclear missile in Arkansas, when the area around, the continent and maybe the whole world was close to a disaster maybe similar in proportions to the one that happened in Chernobyl in Ukraine (then part of the Soviet Union) a few years later.
I liked the low-key documentary style of this production. The authors restrained from commenting too much (although there are a few punch lines) and let the facts speak. It is amazing how much filmed material was available if we are taking into account the classified nature of the events that took place. We can also draw some conclusions, this being mostly left to us, viewers. At the end of the day the safety systems in place worked, but the wrong decisions of the human factors did not lack either. What was different from the incident in the Soviet Union besides the very existence and quality of the safety equipment was also the fact that the decisions were made at a relative low level, and eventually the right decisions prevailed. Heroism was there, at least one precious life was lost, and several people remained with physical and psychological traumas, not to speak about the imposed silence about the events. For these people the film is an act of recovery and rehabilitation which seems to be well deserved.
One more thought could not escape me when seeing this film – how young the heroes of this story were. The safety of the nuclear devices was put in the hands of very young people in uniform, who were only a few years before just kids. Many of the members of the emergency teams were also very young. Maybe one day a film needs to be made about those kids, or men and women who have been so recently kids to whom we trust not only the manipulation of deadly weapons, but the very existence of the planet and of life on it.