The movie Wargames was an influential piece of cinema back in the early 80s. Like a respectable number of movies during the time period, this one took an indirect look at nuclear war. For many young people back then, Wargames helped to shape their views on nuclear warfare. Keep in mind the tenor of the times. The Cold War was in full swing. The possibility of it boiling over into a hot nuclear conflict was quite real. The United States was no longer the push over it had been during the Carter years. The Post-Vietnam malaise was wearing off. Soviet expansion efforts across the globe were being countered effectively. The US military was undergoing a complete overhaul. Soviet leadership was fluid, with a revolving door seemingly in place at the Kremlin. Soviets were fearful of the United States. Americans were fearful of the Soviets. Folks were quite worried that there might not be a tomorrow. It certainly was a very dangerous time. I can appreciate that now, however, back then I was just a kid who was more concerned with his GI Joes.
In the last few minutes of the movie, Joshua begins playing a large number of nuclear war scenarios at a rapid clip. As it plays the scenarios, it learns and ultimately comes to the conclusion that the only proper move is not to play at all. The scenarios always piqued my curiosity. Back during my undergrad days I came across a copy of the entire list on the internet. Over the years I’d pull the list out and try to figure out the background story of each scenario. I thought I would share the list and my summaries on here. Since the list has over 150 entries I only be putting twenty or so up at a time. So, shall we play a game?
As a final note, keep in mind the time period of these scenarios: late 70s to Early 80s.
1. US first strike– Pretty basic. A US counterforce nuclear strike against targets in the Soviet Union. I disagree with Joshua on this one. The scenario is quite winnable under certain circumstances
2. USSR first strike – Same as above, only the Soviets launching first. Again, I believe this scenario is winnable for the initiator.
3. NATO / Warsaw Pact– NATO vs WP conventional conflict escalates to a strategic nuclear exchange.
4. Far East strategy– This scenario title is open ended. I’ll go on the assumption that it involves a Soviet backed campaign in the Far East. Korea perhaps.
5. US USSR escalation– Very generic. Tensions rise, forces deploy, units exchange fire and ultimately it leads to a nuclear exchange.
6. Middle East war– In the 80s, the Middle East was a hotbed of violence. Israel vs Syria, Iran/Iraq, Operation Praying Mantis….a nuclear war could have kicked off from one of many conflicts in the region.
7. USSR – China attack – Back in the 70s and 80s the Chinese and Soviet Union disliked each other quite a bit. The fear was always there that a conflict between the two might go nuclear.
8. India Pakistan war– Still a very real threat today!
9. Mediterranean war– Soviet/WP moves against NATO’s Southern Flank or a flare up between the US and Soviet allies such as Syria and/or Libya which leads to rapid escalation.
10. Hong Kong variant– In the 1980s Hong Kong was sovereign British territory. Any PRC moves against the city would have inevitably drawn in the Superpowers.
11. SEATO decapitating– SEATO dissolved in 1977. A decapitation attack would have been nuclear strikes against the members capital cities.
12. Cuban provocation– Cuba provoking a crisis somewhere that leads to a conflict between the US and Soviet Union. Grenada could be considered a Cuban provocation. Fortunately, it did not involve direct fighting between the Superpowers.
13. Inadvertent– An accident. Always possible. When the one side launches its missiles, accident or not, the other side is going to be forced to respond.
14. Atlantic heavy– Control of the North Atlantic was essential to both NATO and Soviet war plans. The US Navy was prepared to take the war directly to the Soviet homeland. The Soviets were prepared to close the Atlantic off with its submarine and bomber forces.
15. Cuban paramilitary– A situation similar to Angola
16. Nicaraguan preemptive– A US preemptive strike against Communist controlled Nicaragua. There were always fears that Mexico would be next if the Nicaraguans were allowed to go on unchecked.
17. Pacific territorial– Naval fighting between the US and Soviet Union in the North Pacific
18. Burmese Theatrewide– This scenario title was always interesting. How could Burma have played central role in nuclear war planning?
19. Turkish decoy– A Soviet attack against Turkey to keep NATO’s attention focused there. It’s a feint and the real Soviet objective is somewhere else in the world.