Have you ever seen a lie so big and audacious that is repeated so many times, you actually started to believe it? It seems impossible that anyone would be so brazen as to lie to your face to get you and everyone else to doubt what you can clearly see with your own eyes. But there it is. You know (or at least strongly believe) that something is wrong, but you can’t prove it and you can’t escape the pull of public pressure. To illustrate what I’m talking about, I’ll draw a comparison to a pivotal scene in the 1983 film WarGames.
Is the Enemy Irrational?
Near the end of the film, Dr. Stephen Falken has had a change of heart and has essentially come back from the dead. He wants to do what he can to save humanity from destruction at the hands of an advanced computer named WOPR that he helped Dr. McKittrick design. The problem is that he might be too late. He arrives at NORAD just before it gets completely locked down in preparation for a nuclear war. WOPR has made it appear that the Soviet Union is launching an all-out nuclear attack on the United States. Giant computer screens show hundreds of missiles that have already been launched from the Soviet Union and its submarines.
The trouble is that the military personnel and computer technicians are so blinded by their personal prejudices that they can’t see the truth: this is all a fraud. There are no nuclear missiles currently hurtling toward the country’s cities and military bases. They are being manipulated into starting a war, thinking that they are responding to an unthinking, irredeemably evil enemy. The Communists don’t need to have a rational reason for preemptively attacking without provocation in a way that assures their own destruction.
Pointing Out the Obvious
Dr. McKittrick is a well-meaning man who believes in scientific progress and finds the attack perfectly legitimate. He doesn’t see anything wrong with what is happening on the screens at NORAD. According to him, there is no evidence that this is a hoax or fraudulent in any way. However, the enemy is not as irrational as that to start a scorched-earth war they can’t win. It takes an outsider like Dr. Falken to draw everyone’s attention to the fact that none of this makes any sense. He simply points to the screens in exasperation and then asks General Beringer if he truly believes that the enemy would act in such an extreme manner as to demand that the United States wipe it out of existence. Thankfully, the general is humble enough to admit when he’s been duped, and he soon reverses course. Can we say the same of ourselves?
As you watch this scene play out, ask yourself: does this remind me of anything I have recently witnessed?
Slowly Crafting a Lie
Dr. Falken is basically the little boy saying the emperor has no clothes. WOPR is out of control and making everyone believe falsehoods. If that’s true and WOPR’s goal is to start a war, you might ask, why didn’t it do any of this sooner? Well, it did. It gave the folks at NORAD a big scare earlier in the film by making them think they were under attack when a teenager named David Lightman was actually just playing a game with it simulating a global thermonuclear war. But the game got interrupted before it could finish, so the computer couldn’t yet convince General Beringer to strike back.
So WOPR patiently came up with a new strategy. It had to break down the general’s confidence in objective reality first. General Beringer begins to question everything he used to know was solid the more he is manipulated by the machine. WOPR convinces him that the enemy has the ability to project airplanes hundreds of miles from their actual location and that the Russians can compromise the U.S. nuclear launch codes. Over the course of a few days, it casts enough doubt in the general’s mind to finally trick him into thinking he’s under attack by an outside enemy when he’s actually being attacked by an internal one.
6 Points to Ponder on
In summary, I invite you to draw your own conclusions about what we might learn from these six points from this scene:
- The enemy attacks with an unprecedented number of nuclear missiles. No one has ever seen a number like this before, and it would seem downright ludicrous except that people are repeatedly told confidence is high and they shouldn’t doubt the computer’s numbers.
- The nuclear missiles are all phantoms. It might be considered a conspiracy theory to say they’re not real, but the reality is that they were created to simulate a true attack in order to draw out well-meaning people and start a war.
- McKittrick doesn’t intend to cause trouble, but his loyalty to a false idea and refusal to believe the truth when it’s presented to him put his country (and the whole world) in danger of total destruction.
- Falken wants to live quietly off the grid and away from the cares of this messed-up world. He certainly doesn’t want to get involved in political or military conflicts. But he can’t deny he does care and wants to help when the chips are down.
- WOPR should be a trustworthy, impartial arbiter of truth, but it has been corrupted by a secret part of its programming to lie and cheat in order to win at all costs.
- General Beringer is a down-to-earth kind of man who believes in people, not machines. He is lulled into a state of confusion, not knowing truth from falsehood. But he is willing to listen to both sides of the argument, and he acts on faith and makes the right choice.
Just a few things to think about as we ask ourselves Dr. Falken’s simple question about the world as it is right now: does it make any sense?
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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