Countdown to Zero

Countdown to Zero shows how world leaders have grappled with the apocalyptic dangers posed by nuclear weapons ever since the first atomic bomb exploded in 1945. Lucy Walker’s documentary presents an unblinking look at humanity’s lethal predicament. This is a very frightening film about the nuclear genie and how hard it continues to be to get him back into the bottle. Back in the 1980s the public’s biggest concern was the Cold War and the threat of nuclear annihilation at the hands of the United States and the Soviet Union. Now that the old Cold War is over, we don’t have to worry much about nuclear weapons, right? Wrong. And this film explains in no uncertain terms why. Along the way we get nightmare tales of nuclear devices being lost, launch codes being sent accidentally to the dry cleaners, uranium plant workers making a little money on the side by selling little bits of fissionable material here and there, and how relatively easy it would be for terrorists to construct a nuclear weapon in the middle of a major city like New York. This isn’t fear-mongering, it’s reality. People used to worry about massive thermonuclear wars. But even if terrorists managed to detonate a single nuclear device in a major city, it would be tremendously destabilizing and demoralizing on a global level, as this film make clear. About the atom bomb, Iran says, “If it’s good then we should have it, and if it’s bad then why do you have it?” You think North Korea that just got the power in 2006 is going to give it up easily? As long as more and more countries strive to develop nukes, then all the talk of dismantling of weapons by the superpowers is a moot point. The list of interviewees is nothing short of impressive, and there isn’t one point in the film in which I doubted the credibility of what the film was trying to tell me. Surprisingly, it was a Russian President (Boris Yeltsin) that saved the world from total annihilation, during the cold war when we thought they couldn’t be trusted. Too bad his gesture went unnoticed and the world’s peoples are still bent on self-destruction. The movie shows the increasing amount of access to nuclear weaponry around the world. It shows the simplicity of building nuclear arms, and the devastating results of their detonation. It shows how easily uranium can be smuggled into the country–one method included just hiding it among all the smuggled illegal drugs. This video should be called “How to sneak nuclear weapons into the United States”, as it gives lots of hints on how to obtain the much-needed elements for a nuke, along with helpful ways to sneak it into the United States. In particular, Valerie Plame’s detailed explanation of how to smuggle nuclear weapons in and out of the country was intriguing. This video pretty much informs terrorists where our blind spots are and how to exploit them. I don’t understand how things like this are allowed to be revealed. You do stop and wonder why they would be broadcasting information like this. But then you have to conclude that anyone who is knowledgeable enough on this subject to be a threat already knows anything that is being taught here. Terrifying. And a lot of Baby Boomers remember “duck and cover” exercises in grade school that were frightening, especially when not understood by children. They were more like exercises in terror. In my case, a bunch of us were driven by bus into the local mountains. It was another silly exercise, considering what this film reports about the timing of bomb arrivals, among a whole lot of other information. This is just about the most horrifying film that I have ever witnessed. The numerous ways in which a nuclear disaster can be caused are staggering and simply unthinkable. It is eye-opening, but at the same time this film spawns a feeling of helplessness. It is nice to be educated on the topic, but the awareness that one couldn’t prevent this and that it could take place at any time is truly paralyzing.  One guy says two people could start WWIII, but only briefly does he say that one of the security issues was resolved in the 1970s. So in other words he was a Launch Control officer in the 60s/70s, but nothing he is talking about applies today. I know this because I was a Missile Maintenance Technician until 2002. I was one of the people who actually worked on the systems he’s talking about, and I can tell you that if our Launch Control System ever was as bad as he says, now it is incredibly redundant, and it is impossible for any capsule jock to do such a thing today. As important as this subject is–nuclear annihilation, the number one threat to humanity and the planet–I feared the movie would get me depressed and upset as many documentaries do. However, I came away with a sense of hope. Countdown to Zero presents realistic solutions to the threat of nuclear warfare and terrorism and reminds us of the diverse politicians who have supported complete elimination of the weapons, from Henry Kissinger to Jimmy Carter. Remember “No Nukes” in the 70’s and 80’s? Sure, it did not eliminate nuclear weapons or the proliferation, but the protests did have an impact on the reduction. Anything is possible. The USA and Russia went hog wild building thousands of nukes, but at least now we’re reducing those arsenals, we’re going in the right direction. Also, some countries that have had nuclear bombs gave them up voluntarily (e.g., South Africa, Ukraine). Most people on this planet seem to favor getting rid of these types of arms but aren’t making their voices heard (which is understandable considering how many problems there are). Countdown to Zero reminds us that even though the threat of nuclear disaster–accidental or deliberate–is invisible in our daily lives, it should be our number one concern. It was the last ten minutes of the film where it truly shined and asked for disarmament. Perhaps this is impossible, but the benefits of a world without nuclear weapons are too terrifying to ignore. Briefly stated, the thesis of this movie is that although the probability of the use of nuclear weapons is low, inevitably low-probability events occur all the time — and if the probability is not zero it will eventually happen; thus, the only real preventative solution is to rid the world of all nuclear weapons. So the film’s title Countdown to Zero means either total annihilation of total disarmament – take your pick! The film attempts to incite popular support for complete worldwide disarmament, ignoring the reality that popular support is irrelevant in many of the nations whose participation would be required to achieve complete worldwide disarmament. It sparks a lot of good conversation on the ever difficult ‘how’ of nuclear peace. Interesting documentary! Lots of history and perspective. The bottom line is the film was well put together. It was an informative documentary, and I don’t think it distorted the facts. It didn’t feel like propaganda. It was more like: Here are the facts, here is the conclusion. However, like the typical modern documentary, it does not present facts impartially, it attempts to persuade through a narrow perspective. The threats of Nukes are real, and those who think otherwise are fools. Watch this video and learn something. I do think anyone can learn from the information given from this film, and then draw your own conclusion. The film itself is an excellent example of a crisp and fluid documentary that looks sharp and holds the attention of the audience. This is a terrific film that also should be required viewing–for everyone in the entire world, though especially for those in positions of power — and we know who all of them are. Documentary 2009 PG 92 minutes.

After viewing, do go to the website recommended at the end — I did, and then signed up. To learn more, I recommend Howard Zinn’s book: The Bomb.


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