Are you interested in using film in your course to teach about WMD?
In my film and WMD series, I will provide detailed guides on using film to teach on WMD topics.
- Dr. Strangelove and Deterrence, Volume 1, Issue 1 (August 2016) – provides the foundation for understanding deterrence through the film, Dr. Strangelove.
- Fat Man and Little Boy, Volume 1, Issue 2 (September 2016) – offers an in-depth look at the Manhattan Project. To receive a copy of the latest issue, subscribe to my series below or join my Nuclear Spin Cycle Facebook group.
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Weapons of mass destruction (WMD) have found a special place in American culture and entertainment arts since the mid-1930s. For decades, WMD themes in film, popular fiction, and documentary television have informed the public‘s consciousness of WMD issues and encouraged specific remedies.
Today, WMD topics are a staple feature of entertainment films, television, electronic games, popular music, graphic arts, and folk music. In fact, most of the information the American public consumes about the threat from WMD comes, not from government or subject matter experts, but from American popular entertainment. The ideas depicted in entertainment media, be they fact or farce, have shaped not only the general public’s collective awareness of the WMD challenge, but also have on occasion influenced U.S. policy.
In 1998, The Cobra Event, a fictional thriller by Richard Preston, became a bestseller in the United States. The novel describes a biological attack on the United States in which a man known only as “Archimedes” creates a new virus—called Cobra—by combining the contagiousness of the common cold with one of the world’s most deadly diseases, smallpox. Upon reading the novel, President Bill Clinton “was so struck by the scenario depicted in The Cobra Event” that he asked Dr. John Hamre, then Deputy Secretary of Defense, to evaluate the plausibility of the novel’s scenario: Could a terrorist unleash an unstoppable plague with designer pathogens?
This is is just one example of how pop culture has influenced policy in addition to shaping American public opinion. Partly as a result of Preston’s novel and partly as the result of concerns about international non-compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention, the issue of biological terrorism climbed to the top of the policy agenda of the U.S. Government and led to significant increases in effort and funding to counter the threat of biological terrorism.
Within pop culture, film offers a particularly useful teaching tool for the classroom. Video unleashes the imagination like no other medium and allows us to visualize the range of scenarios in which WMD might be used effectively to achieve certain ends.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.