Will Oppenheimer do for the anti-nuclear movement what Braveheart did for independence?
The release of Braveheart in 1997 had an impact on the cultural identity of Scotland and on politics. To what extent is of course a matter of contestation to this day, but the tourist industry and the independence movement has never looked back.
Will Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, which seems shorter than its three hours by some impressive performances by Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt and others, have a similar impact?
Certainly ICAN, the International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons, hopes that it will.
As a teacher I can testify that it was only after 1997 that the kilt became popular amongst teenage boys kitting out for their final year school prom. Moreover, there is a direct line between academic conferences on the kailyard, seminars on Braveheart’s impact, and a conference on Outlander hosted by Glasgow University a few weeks ago.
At the time of Braveheart’s release a history colleague said that in certain schools the Wars of Independence would now have to be taught. It would be unavoidable, at least in the junior classes.
These thoughts went through my head as I sat in a packed multiplex early evening showing the day Oppenheimer opened.
As a Modern Studies teacher and anti-nuclear activist, I am painfully aware that for most of the Saturday cinema-going demographic Oppenheimer will have been their very first exposure to what a nuclear weapon actually is.
The overwhelming majority of the mainstream political and media communities are deterrence-minded and work carefully to keep it that way. They try and portray the anti-nuclear movement as a pacifistic choice, even a subset of a particular lifestyle choice, rather than a coldly logical conclusion based, dare I say it, on principles that Karl Von Clausewitz, the nineteenth-century military philosopher, would have understood and possibly agreed with.
He saw warfare as part of the political process that was embarked upon to ensure that others behaved the way you wanted them to behave. Personally, I do not see nuclear weapons as a military weapon. They change behaviour in ways akin to pulling out a kitchen knife in a private dispute.
Make no mistake, pro-nuclear interests will do what they can to ‘curate’ the media messaging around Oppenheimer in their terms. Just as they, in a miniature version, work to limit the discourse around the related issue that Europe’s largest nuclear power station is situated a war zone.
Oppenheimer is an opportunity. As the Executive of Peace Education Scotland concluded at our meeting the week after, it is not only an opportunity in terms of aspects of the curriculum that impact on international relations, security, and the environment, but also in terms of media-related studies, and I’m sure many other angles. There is a set of ethical standards that underpin General Teaching Council of Scotland’s stated values, that all GTCS registrants are signed up to uphold. Imaginative teachers can use Oppenheimer to explore the full range of their parameters.
Bill Ramsay is Convener of Peace Education Scotland, Former EIS President, and member of SLR’s editorial committee. He also recently authored Castle Zaporizhzhia: warfighting implications linked to the proliferation of nuclear power as part solution to climate chaos.