The story of Frank Oppenheimer and The Manhattan Project has been widely covered in film and on television. The race to build the first atomic bomb may have been the most important chapter in the history of the deadly weapon but its role in shaping the world has not diminished. Though The Cold War and the arms race may to a large extent be over, developing nations still seek to build a bomb as a nuclear deterrent to their neighbours.
Anand Patwardhan’s documentary War and Peace focuses on India and Pakistan and their place in the world as nuclear powers. Whilst many Americans may look at their pivotal role with a sense of sadness and guilt, in the Indian subcontinent being a nuclear capability is used as nationalist rhetoric and a symbol of pride. In the first part of the film, Patwardhan travels around India and Pakistan gauging the thoughts of ordinary people and investigating how atomic capacity is used as a political device. The second half concentrates on the implications of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, from the effect of radiation on the survivors and their progeny to the devastation they reeked. He also investigates the harm caused by radiation on Indians.
War and Peace is a rather sprawling and unfocussed documentary which seems to amble at times, giving it a different aesthetic to many Western documentaries. However, this is part of the film’s charm. it’s a very important expose of the pressing issue of new countries developing nuclear capacity (which, as we’ve seen with Iran this month, is still a major concern). The shameful refusal of the American Administration to take responsibility for their actions is mirrored by the governments of India and Pakistan who seem content to sweep any public health issues under the carpet. This kind of power in the hands of strong and confident Nations is troubling. When it’s held by States with an inferiority complex it becomes scary.
War and Peace is released by Second Run DVD on Monday,