Although I have loved this film since first seeing it when it came out on home video, naturally there were many elements of the film that only became clear as I grew older (as I was only five in 1984).

While it didn't take long to 'get' the humour of jokes such as "your wife?" the last element to grab my attention was the initial conversation between the airmen in the silos (played by John Spencer and Michael Madsen respectively). Needless to say, it was only upon reaching adolescence that I realised that Capt. Lawson's discussion about the chanting related to the growing of cannabis.

While it may seem so obvious to some, it took me some time to conclude that this must have been an attempt on the writers part to set the Captain up as somewhat of a pacifist (bloody peace freaks!) just prior to him freezing up during the simulated launch command.

As while it took me well over a decade to arrive at this conclusion, is it something that is so obvious that it is completely self evident or is there any reference (in any literature or commentary on the film) to the writers intentions regarding that conversation with respect to the foreshadowing of his moral inability to "TURN (the) KEY SIR"?

TL:DR - Is there any objective evidence that the writers intentionally included the cannabis reference to suggest Lawson was a pacifist at heart?


There is quite of bit of room between being a pacifist and being unwilling to participate in the death of several hundred million people simply because you've been ordered to. One might be a dedicated soldier convinced that the nuclear arsenal is vital for the purpose of deterrence, and equally convinced that actually launching the weapons was pointless and criminal one deterrence failed.

Also, note that the simulation was a so-called "bolt from the blue", tensions had not been particularly high immediately before the simulation, so the missile officer has to wonder if this is an actual attack, a system failure, or an illegal order. Not an easy decision to make when a billion lives are on the line. Thus Lawson's attempt to reach higher command before proceeding with the launch.

This sets up the motivating tension for the movie. Wouldn't it be great to replace unreliable (if well meaning) soldiers with computers, which will follow any order they're given? The movie then points out the downside of this.

This is not a fictional issue. We recently celebrated Stanislav Petrov Day. Stanislav Petrov was a Soviet missile officer who arguably saved the world when he correctly identified an apparent first strike on the USSR by the US as a false alarm. The USSR's early warning system indicated that the US had launched tens of ICBMS at the USSR. At that time the USSR nuclear strategy was believed to be "launch on warning". Petrov believed that the apparent US attack made no sense and correctly classified it as a false alarm, apparently against standing orders and Soviet military doctrine.

The marijuana dialog in not related to pacifism. Lots of US soldiers have smoked marijuana, particularly post-Vietnam.

  • Absolutley - I would 100% agree with you here - my question just enquires about the writing as to whether the writers somewhat took a shortcut including the cannabis reference as to the captains character. I know that you do need to use drugs to be human and I also know that many drug users continue to commit violent acts. It is a good answer but it is not what I am looking for, only positive (if it exists) confirmation. – Stephen Francis Nov 1 '18 at 8:27

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