Sunday, September 23, 2012

Worrying about the Bomb

I enjoyed watching The Crimson Tide, which depicts (fictional) events in a US nuclear submarine at the brink of a nuclear holocaust caused by Russian nationalist extremists seizing control of nuclear weapons in the 1990s. The movie is built around the clash of personalities and the struggle for power between an aging battle hardy coarse white captain [Gene Hackman] and his younger well-educated and diplomatic black deputy [Denzel Washington] who has no combat experience.

Two memorable lines:
We are about saving democracy, not practising it. 
There is no nuclear war, only nuclear holocaust.
The movie ends with the claim:
As of January 1996, primary authority and ability to fire nuclear missiles will no longer rest with U.S. submarine commanders... Principal control will reside with the President of the United States.
Besides being good entertainment the movie had two striking messages.

First, the importance of personal relationships for a meaningful life. Hackman's character is tragic/pathetic because his coarse and authoritarian life means he is left with only one meaningful relationship: with his comfort dog, a cute little terrier.

Second, the scenario for the outbreak of nuclear war is quite believable. I think the end of the Cold War has increased rather than decreased the chances of nuclear war. This seems contrary to public perceptions and priority. The issue of nuclear weapons seems to get less political attention than during the Cold War. Why am I so concerned?
The very large nuclear arsenal [about 20,000 weapons] in the former Soviet Union is not particularly well maintained or secure and so is prone to theft, accident, or seizure by extremist political or terrorist groups. The Wikipedia page on Nuclear Terrorism gives good reason to be concerned.

1983 demonstration in Sydney, Australia

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