So Oliver Stone isn’t the only film director to rewrite history in his own image. That’s one lesson to come out of Prospect’s Q&A with Eric Schlosser, author of “Command and Control”. (“A beautifully written and utterly terrifying account of the frequency with which those administering the United States’ nuclear weapons programme flirted with disaster during the Cold War”, says Prospect’s Jonathan Derbyshire.) You could say that Stanley Kubrick told that story first in “Dr Strangelove”. Remember gung-ho General Buck Turgidson?
Turgidson was, apparently, based on Curtis LeMay, the chief of Strategic Air Command who went on to become George Wallace’s running mate in 1968. Fruit cake material? I always thought so. But Schlosser – who’s not exactly a rabid right-winger – doesn’t quite see it that way:
I came away from my research with a great deal of respect for him. I think he was a person of integrity and one of the most important military leaders of 20th-century America. The caricature of him in “Dr Strangelove”… led historians to depict him in quite simplistic terms. What I respect about LeMay is that he was obsessed with efficiency, obsessed with not having any mistakes whatsoever in the management of nuclear weapons. He had no tolerance for error… I don’t agree with his politics and his nuclear strategy led to the United States having thousands and thousands of nuclear weapons. But I don’t believe he was a war-mongering baby-killer who deliberately wanted to precipitate a war with the Soviet Union, as some historians have suggested. If Curtis LeMay had wanted to start a war with the USSR we would have had one, because there was nothing to prevent his planes or his missiles from being launched without the President’s approval.