Joshua/WOPR: “Shall we play a game?”
David (Matthew Broderick): “Love to. How about Global Thermonuclear War.”
Joshua/WOPR: “Wouldn’t you prefer a good game of chess?”
David: “Later. Right now let’s play Global Thermonuclear War.”
General Beringer (Barry Corbin): Mr. McKittrick, after very careful consideration, sir, I’ve come to the conclusion that your new defense system sucks.
McKittrick (Dabney Coleman): I don’t have to take that, you pig-eyed sack of shit.
General Beringer: Oh, I was hoping for something a little better than that from you, sir. A man of your education.
Officer: Sir, it’s the President.
McKittrick: What are you going to tell him?
General Beringer: That I’m ordering our bombers back to fail-safe; we might have to go through this thing after all.
David (Matthew Broderick): “Is this a game or is it real?”
Joshua/WOPR: “What’s the difference?”
- Wargames (1983), Directed by John Badham
Last week I watched Wargames on one of my cable channels, which was a weird bit of synchronicity because just a few days before, February 18th to be exact, the New York Times ran a very interesting article about that point on the graph where fiction and reality meet. It was called “‘Wargames’ and Cybersecurity’s Debt to a Hollywood Hack.”
Wargames, if you don’t remember – and I would be very surprised if you don’t, my fellow geeks – was a 1983 movie which starred Matthew Broderick as David Lightman, a high school student who is failing every class but also happens to be a genius computer geek in an era when it was not yet totally cool to be a high school computer geek. He accidentally hacks into the Cheyenne Mountain security complex known as NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) and its super computer WOPR (War Operations Plan Response). WOPR is programmed to run numerous nuclear war scenarios and their outcomes, but David, a computer game “connoisseur,” believes that he has hacked into a games manufacturer’s R & D system, and decides to play global thermonuclear war, which is listed along with other strategy-learning games such chess, backgammon, checkers, and poker. But the computer “doesn’t know it’s a game,” as David desperately tries to tell the military. WOPR is counting down to Armageddon.
Anyway, the article tells the story of how, on June 4, 1983, then-President Ronald Reagan watched the movie at Camp David. The following Wednesday, Reagan met with his national security team and 16 members of Congress to discuss the upcoming meeting with the Soviets about nuclear arms. There he asked if anyone had seen Wargames, gave a synopsis, and if such a thing was possible. Coming on the heels of his Star Wars speech in which he asked scientist to develop “laser” weapons that could shoot down Soviet (or other hostiles) ICBMs from space, everyone in the room was thinking, to paraphrase, “There he goes again.”
But as the meeting disbanded, Reagan held back General John W. Vessey, Jr., Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and told him to look the possibility of someone breaking into the nation’s high security and top-secret computer systems.
One week later, the General returned to report that the President’s question wasn’t so off the wall and out of the box at all. In fact, to quote the New York Times, what the General actually said was, “the problem is much worse than you think.”
Reality imitating fiction.
There must have been something in the air in 1983, for that was also the year that Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg hit the comic book shops. Published by First Comics – which was co-launched by Rick Obadiah and ComicMix’s own Mike Gold – Flagg takes place in the year 2031. The U.S. government and the boards of major corporations have moved to Mars, and the Soviet Union has collapsed because of Islamist fundamentalism. The new center of power is the Brazilian Union of the Americas and the Pan-African League. America is ruled by the “Plex,” an amalgamation of the U.S. government and corporations. The population of the United States is centered around massive centers of commerce termed Plexmalls; the “Plexus Rangers,” including former television star Reuben Flagg, enforce the law.
Okay, the U.S. government is still in Washington. The Soviet Union did collapse in 1991, but Vlad Putin’s “wannabe” Soviet Union has problems with the Islamic fundamentalists living in the border states. But, can you say “Citizens United?” The 2010 Citizens United Vs. Federal Election Commission case, brought before the Supreme Court – which voted 5-4 in favor of the plaintiff – changed the landscape of our political system. Although it was originally meant for non-profit corporations, the principal has extended to private corporations – our First Amendment right to free speech as been convoluted to money as people. As in, to quote Mitt Romney, “Corporations are people, my friends.”
So I watch the 2016 Presidential campaign with a besotted eye. It does seem like some dystopian science fiction movie or comic, doesn’t it? The Republican candidates are cursing like roughnecks, complaining about television make-up, throwing bottled water at each other, tweeting and trolling like sociopathic adolescents, and a billionaire head of a corporation is leading the polls. The Democratic candidates are a woman suspected of murder and of e-mailing top-secret information on a public server and a socialist Jew from Brooklyn who isn’t Larry David.
And the current President is keen on sending a manned mission to Mars.