40 MILLION PEOPLE
1) What do you think of the exchange between Mr. Foster and the
Professor? Who is right? Why?
WHO CHECKS THE CHECKER?
1) What is the relationship between the sophistication of our weaponry
and the likelihood of war? Does technology change the dynamics of
war and peace? Does it "take over" and "create"
its own situations as Mr. Raskob fears? Can elected officials maintain
responsibility for when and how weapons are used now that our technology
is so sophisticated?
LIMITED WAR AND ACCIDENTAL WAR
1) What is General Black concerned about in the opening of this
scene -- what is he referring to as the "policy of overkill"?
How is it like or unlike the Professor's account of limited war?
Where do they agree? Where do they disagree?
2) Is limited war possible? Can we confine the exchange of nuclear
weapons to military targets alone, or must war lead inevitably to
the destruction of cities? What are the preconditions for fighting
a limited war? What assumptions does it require to fight such a
3) The Professor confesses that the idea of limited war presupposes
no accidents. We learn however that just such an accident is occurring
while he speaks. How would you answer the questions he asks: But,
suppose for an example that unidentified flying object was one of
their 50-megaton missiles that had gotten loose by mistake. What
could be done? How could they prove it was really an accident? Would
it make any difference if they could? Even if we believe them, should
we still think in terms of limiting our response, or should we hit
them back with everything we have?
GROUP 6: TARGET MOSCOW
1) Even knowing that the fighters can't catch the bombers, General
Black argues that they must try. Why?
2) What do you think of the fail-safe system's impenetrability
to human judgment, at all levels, from the Generals to the pilots?
Does it make us safer from accident and human malice, or does it
overly limit the opportunity for soldiers and public servants to
use their own judgement and respond to the particulars of any given
HISTORY AND ACTION
1) Would a policy of assured, mutual destruction - such as the
doomsday system the Professor describes - increase or decrease stability
and security between two nuclear-armed powers?
2) The professor describes the Soviets as "fanatics, not normal
people" - and hyper rational "calculating machines."
Believing this, he reasons they will not respond to an attack. He
believes that this accident is an opportunity to make history by
defeating the Soviets with a massive strike.
General Bogan, contrary to the Professor, argues that the Soviets
possess a different kind of reason, just like his, and that they
will reply, as he would, with an attack.
Finally, the President makes a point of asking Buck to interpret
the Soviet Premier's words, speech and inflections for him. And
he concludes with "history lesson number one" that the
outcome of these events still depends on the actions and choices
of individuals - individuals in this case as minor in this action
as Buck, a translator.
What do you believe is the better account of history and rationality?
What do the President's words and deeds to this point say about
his leadership? What is our responsibility to history?
3) What can the President do to assure the Soviet Premier that
this is an accident so as to avoid a launch of Soviet missiles against
the United States?
1) The Professor further elaborates his position in this scene,
arguing that this accident must be the beginning of a comprehensive
first strike against the Soviet. This position is seemingly at odds
with his previous calls for restraint in war - the targeting of
military interests alone, and not population centers. Can you square
the Professor's earlier emphasis on limited, rational war with his
advocating a sneak attack and justifying it with the claim that
"those that can survive are the only ones worth surviving?"
2) Why does the President ask General Black if he remembers the
biblical story of the Sacrifice of Isaac -- where God tells Abraham
to sacrifice his son Isaac, and doesn't stay his hand until the
very last moment? Who is analogous to Abraham and who to God? Who
or what is Isaac?
THE SACRIFICE OF ISAAC
1) What do you think of the President's plan? Did you expect this?
Does the President have another choice?
2) If you were the Soviet Premier, would the willingness of the
American President to sacrifice New York be adequate to call off
your missiles? Would you, as God stays Abraham's hand when He knows
Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son, stay the President's
hand, once you knew his intentions and heart? Or would you require,
as the President himself seems to suggest he would if he were the
Premier, the President to carry out the execution?
ACCIDENTS WILL HAPPEN?
1) In this final scene two great cities are destroyed, but a comprehensive
nuclear war is avoided. In your opinion, was this much destruction
unavoidable? What does the President think? What hope is there for
avoiding similar episodes in the future?
1) What does this film teach about history, individual choice,
2) This film shows that nuclear weapons complicate an already complex
and fragile peace between two countries. While we may no longer
be a single, small accident away from a nuclear war with Russia,
there are nonetheless at least 8 nuclear weapons states in the world
today. When two such states are heavily armed and view each other
as enemies, are they better off thinking about limiting nuclear
war? Or, are they better off with a policy between them of mutual
destruction - where each can assuredly destroy the other including
its cities? Is there another alternative?
How does Fail-Safe reflect the concerns of the classic authors
in this unit:
3) What would Kant say about the nuclear balance of peace presented
in this film? About the emphasis by the President on individual
choice and responsibility? What does Fail-Safe suggest about
Kant's ideas of the requirement of reason and moral goodness to
achieving a permanent peace?
4) What would Clausewitz think of the argument of the Professor
that the Soviets are mortal enemies, but nevertheless, they will
not respond to the dropping of Group 6's bombs on Moscow? What would
he say of General Black's position?
5) What would Augustine have to say in response to the Professor's
and General Bogan's argument about the character of the Soviets?
Are they pursuing peace? Are there characters in these scenes that
would confound Augustine?
6) Fail-Safe begins with Mr. Foster's assertion, "War
isn't what it used to be." He reasons that nuclear weapons
have forever changed war. Is he right? What do Augustine and Aquinas
have to say about war and peace, courage and fortitude, as well
as justice and the responsibility of those in public office that
are still relevant? Do the other scenes from the film support the
claims of these authors?