In 1961, the Bay of Pigs invasion had the world - including JFK himself - squealing for nuclear disarmament. Two decades later, Ronnie Reagan’s ‘Star Wars’ programme reduced us all to paranoid wrecks in “Frankie Say” T-shirts.
Now, after combining art and poverty to memorable effect in Waste Land, British filmmaker Lucy Walker sounds a 91-minute warning to give this generation something to worry about.
Walker's visual history of the arms race comes with an impressive array of talking heads, from key players such as Kennedy's defence secretary Robert McNamara and CIA pariah Valerie Plame (her own story recently dramatised in Doug Liman's Fair Game) to men whose fingers have actually been on the button (Jimmy Carter, Pervez Musharraf, Mikael Gorbachev... gulp, Tony Blair).
It’s effectively a horror movie where the mass-murder weapon is neither pick-axe nor power tool, but highly enriched uranium. Easy to procure yet surprisingly hard to detect, 'HEU' turns any ne'er-do-well with a grasp of basic science into a potential nuclear power.
And while there are nine (officially) nuked-up countries, North Korea, Iran and Pakistan are singled out as the bogeymen. Think Freddy, Jason and Michael Myers with their own anthems. (The fact that only one nation has ever used the bomb against another is not dwelt upon.)
To the portentous sounds of The Cure, Radiohead and Pearl Jam (80s anti-nuke classics Two Tribes and 99 Red Balloons perhaps deemed too naff), the film reveals a catalogue of mistakes, misplacements, miscommunication and misunderstandings.
And enough near-misses to give Rip Van Winkle insomnia.
Take the 1961 incident when two A-bombs accidentally fell on North Carolina. Or the day in 1995 when Russian early warning systems interpreted a US test launch as the real deal. Had President Boris Yeltsin followed protocol, there would have been serious bother. But he didn't. We owed that man a drink.
Though reduced from 40,000, there are still over 23,000 warheads on the planet. Thankfully, there appears to be multilateral agreement on how many nukes we'd have in an ideal world: none.
Hence this timely wake-up call, made to champion the Global Zero initiative which one day hopes to see the total elimination of the world's nuclear stockpiles.
Button fingers crossed.