A Soviet MIG fighter takes off into the movie screen's morning sun. The picture dissolves, then focuses as a Russian surface-to-air missile is fired. Other mysterious-looking weapons are loaded into a waiting plane; the camera pans over rows of Russian planes parked on a runway.
A deep voice ticks off an ominous compendium of statistics: Russia has outspent the United States on weapons for years. It is spending three times as much of its GNP and half again as many dollars as we are on arms.
"Such a rapid and intense armament program has not occurred since Hitler's armament of Germany before World War II," the voice says.
The film's message is familiar - one of the major arguments in the American debate on nuclear arms. It says the Communists are militarily stronger than the West, that they ware quickly increasing their advantage, and that the trend is cause for grave concern among Americans.
The medium, though, is out of the ordinary.The MIGs, the missiles, the weapons, and the warning are parts of a documentary made for television by a defense hard-liners' organization that includes some members of Congress and defense contractors.
The film, called "The Price of peace and Freedom," has been reproduced by the Defense Department for showings to American military personnel and has been broadcast more than 300 times on television stations across the country.
The film was produced by the American Security Council Education Foundation, a vocal lobby for beefing up U.S. military capability. The AFL-CIO and Defense Department assisted in making the film.
Using appearances by U.S. and NATO military commanders, comparisons of the numbers of weapons in the opposing camps, and an array of shots of missile firings, the film portrays an arms race the West is losing through passiveness and acquiescence.
"What used to be an Atlantic lake in the minds of the alliance and the United States is now, indeed, an Atlantic moat, filled with predatory steel sharks, if you will, conceived and constructed in the Soviet Union," says Adm. Isaac C. Kidd, Jr., Supreme Alin the film.
The film opens with shots of former President Kennedy at the time of the Cuban missile crisis. Later, the announcer says, "The Soviets moved ahead of the U.S. in 1969 and now have, in some respects, the same supelied Commander Atlantic, at one point riority over us we had over them at the time of the Cuban missile crisis."
During the last months of the Ford Administration, the Pentagon paid $25,000 for rights to reproduce the film, said Henry Valentino, a Defense Department information officer.
Field commanders from all four services became "charged up" about the film and estimated they would need about 600 copies, said Valentino. The estimate was later lowered, he said: 94 copies so far have been made, and plans call for making several more.
The military is using the film "only to show internally to our troops," said Russell Wagner, chief of the documentation branch of the Pentagon's information office.
Wagner said the film is used for "orientation, information . . . You show it as somebody else's opinion, you don't show it as a Defense opinion."
The opinions about military needs expressed in the film are different from those espoused by President Carter and Defense Secretary Harold Brown.
Carter and Brown favor a theory of deterrence, in which it is not the number of weapons that tips the nuclear scale, but the ability and still deliver a counterattack that would devastate the other nation.
The Soviet advantage in explosive power, they argue, is offset by a U.S. technology that permits, among other things, far more accurate targeting of nuclear warheads.
The film's argument is that Russian strategy and capability may soon, if they have not already, enable the Soviets to strike first, withstand a U.S. counterstrike, then attack again and emerge with enough of their society intact to be the "winner."
"The idea of retaliation is so outmoded that nobody thinks we'll retaliate," said John Fisher, head of ASC, the film's makers.
"Once they fire, the whole theory is knocked on its head," he said. "If deterrence is true, then all of a sudden it really applies with full force" after a Soviet first strike agaisnt U.S. missile sites, because the United States would be faced with the choice of not retaliating at all, or attacking a Soviet Union that would still have the ability to destroy American cities, he said.
It is an argument Fisher and his group have made before. In 1971, the American Security Council produced a film entitled "Only the Strong," and enlisted the aid of Gen. Earle G. Wheeler, and Gen. Lyman C. Lemnitzer, both former heads of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to spread its message.
"The trends continued, the numbers kept on going, and we kept cutting back," Fisher said, explaining his reasons for making the new film.
Headquartered in Boston, Va., the American Security Council has about 200,000 members, most of whose activities are limited to paying dues, Fisher said.
Among its members, he said, are some members of Congress, whom he declined to identify. A few companies with large munitions contracts, which he also declined to identify, hold corporate memberships in the organization, Fisher said.