Both films, despite significant differences in how the stories were presented, dealt with issues including:
- Decision-making complexity (whether or not to launch nuclear weapons, based on possibly inaccurate information) during unusually stressful conditions.
- The conflict between flexible human judgement versus strict adherence to protocol.
- The futility of war in a nuclear era.
Watching the personal conflict (especially the discussion about Clausewitz, hence the title of this post) between Commander Hunter (Denzel Washington)--educated and "complicated"--versus Captain Ramsey (Gene Hackman)--simple, instinctive, and aggressively confident--reminded me of the 'Jocks versus Nerds' dichotomy humorously explained by John Hodgman in his address at the 2009 Radio and TV Correspondents' Dinner. See below for the whole video.
Timothy Leary wrote about WarGames in an essay (see below) in which he described the film's protagonists as examples of self-directed cyberpunk heroes who followed a critical mantra: "Think for yourself; question authority" (TFYQA)--especially when the fate of humanity is on the line and the authority in question is based on rigid protocols and machine intelligence versus actual experience and human wisdom.
The essence of WarGames is summed up when Professor Stephen Falken implores General Beringer: "You are listening to a machine! Do the world a favor and don't act like one."
Sound advice in any era...
The Letter of Last Resort: The decision about nuclear apocalypse lying in a safe at the bottom of the sea
Leary, Timothy. 1991. "The Cyberpunk: The individual as reality pilot." Pp. 529-539 in The Cybercultures Reader, edited by David Bell. London: Routledge.