1955 nuclear weapons test

World War III Without Missiles

Most World War III scenarios start with a Soviet first strike, but it were the Western Allies who first planned to use nuclear weapons in Europe to offset the Red Army’s numerical superiority.

From Britain’s Operation Unthinkable to America’s Operation Dropshot, these war planes help us imagine a land war in Europe fought only partially with atomic weapons.

When technology progressed in the 1960s — more and bigger atomic bombs, intercontinental ballistic missiles — NATO moved away from integrating nuclear weapons in its war planes. It envisaged either a conventional land war or mutually assured destruction with nothing in between.

The Soviets moved in the opposite direction. Joseph Stalin saw little use for nuclear weapons, but the West’s technological edge compelled his successors to integrate them more seriously in their offensive plans. It wasn’t until the 1980s that both sides abandoned the tactical use of nuclear weapons.

Continue reading “World War III Without Missiles”

Topaz

Topaz

Topaz has a lot to work with. Based on the real-life Martel affair, in which a Soviet defection triggered a crisis in American-French relations, it has a good spy story, believable characters and exotic locations.

Alfred Hitchcock does a competent job weaving it all together, but the end result somehow lacks momentum.

The story sounds exciting on paper. A high KGB official defects to the United States and reveals the presence of nuclear missiles on Cuba. The CIA recruit a French secret agent, AndrĂ© Devereaux (Frederick Stafford), to get proof from a member of the Cuban delegation — who would not cooperate with an American — that is visiting New York for the United Nations.

Continue reading “Topaz”
1944 Germany map

How Germany Was Divided: A History of Partition Plans

The way Germany was divided into Western- and Soviet-aligned republics after the Second World War was hardly a straightforward process. The Allies started thinking about whether and how to dismember Germany in the middle of the war and considered several options.

Some, like the Dutch request for territorial compensation, were ignored. Others, like President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s suggestion of a north-south split, would morph into the east-west divide of the Cold War. Continue reading “How Germany Was Divided: A History of Partition Plans”

Seven Days in May

Seven Days in May

Seven Days in May, based on the highly successful novel of the same name by Charles W. Bailey II and Fletcher Knebel, tells the story of an attempted military putsch in the United States.

It’s the early 1970s. An unpopular President Jordan Lyman (Fredric March) has signed a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviet Union and is facing strong opposition from the military and the right. The charismatic Air Force General James Mattoon Scott (Burt Lancaster) has convinced all but one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to support him in a coup against the president. Colonel Jiggs Casey (Kirk Douglas), director of the Joint Staff, finds out about the plan and teams up with Lyman to stop it.

Continue reading “Seven Days in May”
Washington DC nuclear attack illustration

Imagining World War III in 1945

As soon as the Second World War was over, military strategists started planning for the next one.

Life magazine reported in its November 19, 1945 edition that the head of the United States Air Force, General Henry H. Arnold, had warned that technologies developed during the last war — atomic bombs, ballistic missile, long-range bombers — could make possible “the ghastliest of all wars.”

The destruction caused by nuclear weapons would be so swift and terrible that a “war might well be decided in 36 hours.”

Life envisaged what such a war might look like.

Continue reading “Imagining World War III in 1945”

Deutschland 83

Deutschland 83

Deutschland 83 is Germany’s answer to the highly successful American television drama The Americans. Whereas the latter follows two well-trained KGB “illegals” in the United States, Deutschland 83 centers on a young East German border guard who is unwillingly thrust into the middle of a nuclear standoff.

The two series have a powerful theme in common: the way in which the extreme polarization of the Cold War could tear families apart.

Continue reading “Deutschland 83”

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Guy Ritchie — maker of the two recent steampunky Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey, Jr. — gives us a great spy-fi comedy adventure this summer that dieselpunk fans ought to be interested in.

Although the The Man from U.N.C.L.E., based on the 1960s television series of the same name, takes place in the post-dieselpunk era, it contains many of the genre’s tropes and themes: spies, unrepentant Nazis in a plot against the two superpowers, missing nuclear weapons, speedboats, helicopters, industrial decors reminiscent of Thunderbirds and dashing Space Age costumes.

Continue reading “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

If you expect a high explosives, action-packed, gunfire and combat scenes everywhere kind of movie — the likes of which Hollywood puts out every week — then you’ll be sorely disappointed with this. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is as far from the bog-standard, no-thoughts action film as it can be.

It’s a movie that takes its time for things to evolve, the plot to unfold and characters to develop. For the best, because this is one of the strongest espionage movies, possibly the strongest, I have seen in years.

Continue reading “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”