Tonight through Thursday night, National Public Radio will focus on the complex and volatile issues surrounding worldwide nuclear strategies in a sobering series of hour-long documentaries titled "The Most Dangerous Game." (WAMU-FM, 88.5, will carry it locally beginning at 10 p.m.)
Tonight's program, "America's Nuclear Strategy," traces the development of this country's strategic policy since Hiroshima and outlines current options and capabilities. Tomorrow night, "Soviet Perspectives on Nuclear War" will examine current Soviet policy, emphasizing the impact that the deaths of 20 million Russians in World War II have had on Soviet thinking.
Wednesday's program, "Nuclear Face-Off in Europe," focuses on current reactions to missile deployment in both West and East Germany. On Thursday, host Susan Stamberg will moderate a roundtable discussion with American, Soviet and European defense experts; the panel, with members in Bonn, Paris, Moscow, Stockholm and Washington, will convene via satellite.
Each of the first three documentaries was taped on location and features interviews with leading figures from the government, military and private sectors. There are also a number of scenarios built around nuclear confrontations and possible responses. Because of President Reagan's recent defense initiatives and changes in proposed strategic arms bargaining positions, the openings and closings of the programs were still in production late last week, but the major portions of each program seemed admirably produced and even-handed.
There are some weak moments, particularly the opening of tonight's program, where listeners will hear a less-than-believable simulation of a rushed Oval Office reaction to a single incoming missile--probably Soviet in origin. With only 8 1/2 minutes to form a response, "it's important that we get you out of town," an aide tells the president. "Then we'll figure out what's going on," he adds, pointing out that retaliatory options depend on whether the incoming missile takes out the president or Baltimore. The later examination of real options with current administration officials and advisers is much more chilling, particularly because it is evident that a chain of events can unfold much faster than a chain of command can respond.
The program also goes inside the underground NORAD system at Cheyenne Mountain, where the buildings, "the shock absorbers of nuclear war," are on springs, and to Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, where a number of worst-case scenarios are played out in regular rehearsals. "It's like insurance," says one sky watcher. "You've got to pay for it and hope you never need it . . . but you're glad it's there."
The NPR programs, beautifully produced by Deborah Amos, falter only when their focus shifts to "the people." "I'm just an ordinary housewife and workin' gal. What can I do about it?" asks one interviewee. Happily, these just-short-of-advocacy segments are very few and far between. For the most part, the information is presented fairly, without hysteria or guilt-edged seriousness. "The Most Dangerous Game" is a fine primer and up-to-date guide to an issue that could have no winners.