An Analysis of Ethical Issues in the Film "Fail Safe"


G. Stolyarov II

See Mr. Stolyarov's Index of Selected Writings, Originally Published on Associated Content / Yahoo! Voices.
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Note from the Author: This essay was originally written in 2001 and published on Associated Content (subsequently, Yahoo! Voices) in 2007, where it received over 2,700 page views. To preserve a record of my writings following the shutdown of Yahoo! Voices in 2014, I have given this article a permanent presence on this page.

~ G. Stolyarov II, July 28, 2014

Nuclear conflict is despicable because of the choices that human beings make after it commences. These decisions are often undertaken in a setting away from the carnage and the suffering, and officials manipulate and expend the lives of innocents all the while conscious of the fact that theirs shall be secure. Such atrocious choices were made by the United States President in the 1964 film, Fail Safe. They shall be evaluated herein from the perspective of morality, which is the sole determinant of a "correct" action that concerns the lives of human beings.

Firstly, let us examine the film's chain of events that led to the disaster which culminated in the unwarranted destruction of New York City. The United States NORAD Command Center in Omaha, Nebraska, detected an unidentified flying object near the country's eastern shores and initiated a countdown to the fail-safe point, when the President would possess the ability to order the launch of a nuclear strike at Russia using his voice. Shortly after that point had been reached, the UFO was discovered to be a commercial aircraft that had wandered off-course from its scheduled maneuver. The alarm was deactivated, and all was thought to have returned to its regular state. Alas, it was not so.

The pilots of Bomber Group 6, carrying 22-megaton atomic explosives, received a false signal to attack Moscow via the communication devices aboard their planes. Due to Russian jamming of the United States' radio, they were not able to obtain confirmation from headquarters and thus resolved to follow "orders" without questioning. Thus, they advanced willingly toward a deliberate murder of millions of innocent human beings.

That the pilots could not confirm the order's genuineness does not justify their unstoppable rush to genocide. Elementary logic would suggest that if one is not confident of the existence of an object or action, one should attempt to ascertain such but assume that it does not exist until one obtains sufficient reason to believe otherwise. Thus, the moral response to this action would have been inactivity until headquarters became accessible.

Having comprehended the fact that the pilots of Group 6 were deliberately attempting to commit genocide against innocents, we now, by all common sense, remove any human rights from them and are able to justify their destruction for the purpose of preserving millions of inoffensive human creatures. Thus we see a justification for the President's first order, to send out fighter aircraft on afterburners to pursue and destroy Group 6. Unfortunately, the fighters were short on fuel and spiraled into the ocean prior to making contact with the renegade bombers. The threat of annihilation continued to loom over humankind. The President then attempted to contact the Soviet Premier and explain the accident as well as obtain military cooperation to eliminate the aircraft and save Moscow. Unfortunately, one of the bombers, piloted by Colonel Brady, the fanatical commander of Group 6, remained out of harm's way through careful maneuvering and masterful tactical decisions, all aimed at achieving a monstrous end.

And that was when the President's sanity departed from him and he turned into a madman, assuming that it was within his power to dispose of innocent human lives. Moments prior to the destruction of Moscow, the Russian Premier contacted the President and in a grim voice stated that he fully sympathizes with the United States and acknowledges that the attack was accidental. "No human beings were responsible," he stated in a magnanimous, forgiving manner and promised to de-alert any Russian systems that could have offered him the opportunity to conduct a retaliatory strike. The threat of nuclear war was thus averted, but, in his madness, the President could not comprehend this. His rage exerted itself upon the Premier as he embraced the "there are some things man was not meant to know" philosophy (antiprogressivism) and declared that humans were at fault for having developed nuclear weapons in the first place and at having devised complex machinery to assist in their handing. His hypocrisy was at last exposed when he ordered his childhood comrade, General Black, to launch two 22-megaton bombs on New York City in order to compensate for the damage inflicted upon the Russians!

Now some may argue that such action may have been committed to dissolve any doubt on the Russians' behalf of the accidental nature of the attack on Moscow, however that is a utilitarian claim that justifies mass murder of living, breathing human beings. From a moral perspective, one cannot quantify human life. One cannot ruthlessly dispose of a minority only to secure a majority (this, of course, only applies to those who themselves are innocent of intent to murder). From a logical perspective, the Russians comprehended that the Moscow bombing was not deliberate and thus needed no such demonstration of cruelty to convince them further.

How many infants perished in the fictional United States' government's genocide against its own people in this film? How many of them had come into this world only to find the time to be blown into microscopic particles? Were they in any way responsible for nuclear war? The attack on Moscow was the fault of only several human beings, the pilots of Group 6 and, mainly, Colonel Brady, who refused to turn back despite repeated pleas by the President and his own wife. The New Yorkers had absolutely no fault in this incident. Yet the President used this as an excuse to unleash his antiprogressive views upon them and destroy more centers of civilization than was necessary.

When the government murders its own populace, it cannot be condoned, no matter what excuses are devised. "We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that should any government become destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it." (Jefferson). Indeed, one questions the competence and morality of the man in the film whom the people elected so that he could murder them by the millions.

Gennady Stolyarov II (G. Stolyarov II) is an actuary, science-fiction novelist, independent philosophical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician, composer, and Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator, a magazine championing the principles of reason, rights, and progress. 

In December 2013, Mr. Stolyarov published Death is Wrong, an ambitious children’s book on life extension illustrated by his wife Wendy. Death is Wrong can be found on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.

Mr. Stolyarov has contributed articles to the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET), The Wave Chronicle, Le Quebecois Libre, Brighter Brains Institute, Immortal Life, Enter Stage RightRebirth of Reason, The Liberal Institute, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

In an effort to assist the spread of rational ideas, Mr. Stolyarov published his articles on Associated Content (subsequently the Yahoo! Contributor Network and Yahoo! Voices) from 2007 until Yahoo! closed this venue in 2014. Mr. Stolyarov held the highest Clout Level (10) possible on the Yahoo! Contributor Network and was one of its Page View Millionaires, with over 3,175,000 views. Mr. Stolyarov’s selected writings from that era have been preserved on this page.

Mr. Stolyarov holds the professional insurance designations of Associate of the Society of Actuaries (ASA), Associate of the Casualty Actuarial Society (ACAS), Member of the American Academy of Actuaries (MAAA), Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU), Associate in Reinsurance (ARe), Associate in Regulation and Compliance (ARC), Associate in Personal Insurance (API), Associate in Insurance Services (AIS), Accredited Insurance Examiner (AIE), and Associate in Insurance Accounting and Finance (AIAF).

Mr. Stolyarov has written a science fiction novel, Eden against the Colossus, a philosophical treatise, A Rational Cosmology,  a play, Implied Consent, and a free self-help treatise, The Best Self-Help is Free. You can watch his YouTube Videos.Mr. Stolyarov can be contacted at

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Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's new comprehensive treatise, A Rational Cosmology, explicating such terms as the universe, matter, space, time, sound, light, life, consciousness, and volition, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's new four-act play, Implied Consent, a futuristic intellectual drama on the sanctity of human life, here.