Pandora's Box
Pandora's Box: A fable from the age of science

Directed by

Adam Curtis





No. of episodes




Part 2: To The Brink Of Eternity Edit

Part two concerns the Cold War and how scientists in the RAND Corporation used game theory and systems analysis in an attempt to devise strategies to either win or stay competitive in a thermonuclear war with the Soviet Union.

The doctrine of 'mutual assured destruction' (M.A.D.) was established during this period - a theory that presupposed that both military superpowers have enough devastating firepower to obliterate the other as to make a direct conflict a loss-loss situation for both. The general public in the United States were being taught to exercise safety precautions - in public schools, for instance, by hiding under their desks, or at home by taking refuge in a fallout shelter.

RAND's philosophy, of using science to manipulate fear, had the convenient side effect of doubling or tripling their budget. Massively over-inflated estimates on the number of missile bases and radars the Soviets had in their possession did not pose to be a credibility problem for RAND because of the Vietnam War and the opportunities it provided. RAND produced flowcharts, sardonically referred to by one ex-RAND employee as "the Founding Constitution of RAND", that outlined how the military should engage the residents of towns in Vietnam based on their predisposition towards the Americans.

Part 4: Goodbye, Mrs. Ant Edit

Episode four focuses on man in his fight against the insect. The insecticide DDT was pushed in the late 1940s as an end-all solution for farmers worried about insects destroying their crops. But it soon pitted entomologists against ecologists, the latter a new branch of science claiming that DDT was to blame for ruining the entire ecosystem of the planet.

Before DDT, the focus of the entomologist seemed to focus on insect classification - a 'bug detective', as illustrated in one of the commercials depicted in the documentary. Post-DDT, this had shifted to the eradication of insects - the chemical companies promoting ever-more efficient forms of insecticide.

Their justification for this was a slight perversion of Darwin's 'evolution theory' - if mankind did not intervene with science, the insect would have the upper hand over man. Thus instead of playing on an even playing field with the insect, the entomologists' role was in upsetting the balance so that man could claim dominance over it instead.

It wasn't long until entomologists discovered that other species of wildlife were affected by the pesticides, such as birds. This - and other ecological concerns - prompted environmentalists to hit back against the chemical industry - the first serious attempt being Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.

Part 5: Black Power Edit

Episode five takes the series to Africa of the mid-'50s and a promising politician desiring to take Ghana into the industrialised age. In comparison to other parts of Africa, Ghana was surprisingly well-educated and free of rife corruption. Kwame Nkrumah, the leader of Ghana from 1952 to 1966, centered his entire industrial dream on the Volta dam, which was to provide Ghana with the electricity necessary to pull it out of Third World status.

Initially, this project was to be funded by Britain, but because it found itself in dire economic straits after World War II, it had to give up its previous colonial/imperial ambitions and pulled out of the project. Later on, Nkrumah was able to revive the project when it found a new money lender in the United States. A plan was drawn together with Kaiser Aluminium.

The deal came with a couple of strings attached: Kaiser Aluminium did not want to use Ghanan resources for the construction of the Volta dam (which was odd because Ghana was home to the materials necessary for producing aluminium), preferring American material instead - adding additional costs to the project. And Nkrumah was eventually forced to take a massive loan from the World Bank - the highest in its history for a foreign non-industrialised country.

It later transpired that the United States had only agreed to fund the Volta dam because it gave them greater leverage power over Nkrumah. It was imperative for the United States to have a US-affiliated country in West-Africa in the fight against communism, and the native-English speaking nation of Ghana seemed to fit the bill. Nkrumah was never able to see his dream materialize: he saw himself isolated in the Cold War, the debts to the World Bank were ever-mounting and his government was eventually replaced in a CIA-backed coup.[citation needed]