In 1982, a secret Home Office exercise tested the UK’s capacity to rebuild after a massive nuclear attack. Files recently released at the National Archives detail one short-lived proposal to recruit psychopaths to help keep order.
More than 300 megatons of nuclear bombs are detonated over Britain, in the space of a 16-hour exchange. Many cities are flattened – millions are dead from the blast, millions more have survived and suffer radiation sickness. In bunkers are 12 regional commissioners with their staff, ready to come out and take charge. How do they do this? How do they restore order and begin to rebuild?
This was what a top-secret Home Office exercise intended to test in 1982, according to documents recently released at the National Archives. Optimistically termed Regenerate, this was a war game covering the first six months after the nuclear exchange of World War Three. It focused on one central region, the five counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and South Yorkshire.
Officials imagined what would happen after the bombs had dropped. They knew the most likely targets in the area, and predicted how “rings” of damage would affect the country. At the epicentres of the bombs, there would be “unimaginable” damage, on the outer ring “broken panes” and “debris in the streets”. The scientific advisers estimated 50% of the country would be untouched – though survivors could be affected by radiation fallout.
Planning the war game, one civil servant tried to imagine how law and order would be maintained. Jane Hogg, a scientific officer in the Home Office, envisaged the police would be busy helping “inadequate” people in disaster-struck areas, and suggested that another group could be recruited to help keep order.
“It is… generally accepted that around 1% of the population are psychopaths,” she wrote.
“These are the people who could be expected to show no psychological effects in the communities which have suffered the severest losses.”
Hogg suggested psychopaths would be “very good in crises” as “they have no feelings for others, nor moral code, and tend to be very intelligent and logical”.
If this is starting to sound vaguely familiar, it’s because it is very close to the plot of the award-winning BBC Drama Threads, which was broadcast in 1984. That followed the fortunes of two families in South Yorkshire, before and after nuclear war. Acclaimed at the time for its shockingly detailed portrayal of the impact of nuclear strike, it closely followed Exercise Regenerate. The drama’s producer, Mick Jackson, knew about the game, and the file shows he’d made a formal request to observe it. He was turned down.
The breakdown – or disorder – depicted in Threads was how the game imagined the days and weeks after the strike. Vigilante groups emerged, challenging the authorities. Within the bunkers, morale fell. Some industry survived, but who would run it and how? The administration was weak.
Shot on a budget of £250,000–350,000, the film was notable in being the first of its kind to depict a nuclear winter.Certain reviewers have nominated Threads as the “film which comes closest to representing the full horror of nuclear war and its aftermath, as well as the catastrophic impact that the event would have on human culture”. It has been compared to the earlier programme The War Game produced in Britain in the 1960s and its contemporary The Day After, a 1983 ABC television film depicting a similar scenario in the United States
“If this is starting to sound vaguely familiar, it’s because it is very close to the plot of the award-winning BBC Drama Threads, which was broadcast in 1984.”
truth is stranger than fiction time and time again..
“Acclaimed at the time for its shockingly detailed portrayal of the impact of nuclear strike, it closely followed Exercise Regenerate. The drama’s producer, Mick Jackson, knew about the game, and the file shows he’d made a formal request to observe it.”
a really early example of predictive programming?..and they wanted to use psychopaths to enforce law and order..thats the pot calling the kettle black..psychopaths organising psychopaths..
“Hogg suggested psychopaths would be “very good in crises” as “they have no feelings for others, nor moral code, and tend to be very intelligent and logical”