"... the New York Times Calls It More Hilarious Than a Mushroom Cloud Over Denver"

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

"... the New York Times Calls It More Hilarious Than a Mushroom Cloud Over Denver"

Well, actually, the N.Y. Times said no such thing about this film, but at least I got your attention. In The New Yorker, Hendrik Hertzberg writes about a film that opened recently at an auditorium on Manhattan's East Side:

The film, “Last Best Chance,” was a bit unusual .... You might even say it isn’t really a movie at all — it just plays one on TV. Set in the near future, it takes the form of a slick international suspense thriller, the kind that cuts from a rainswept warehouse in a bleak corner of the former Soviet empire to a dimly lit White House Situation Room.

It has no sex scenes, no car chases, and no wisecracking sidekicks, and it is only forty-five minutes long, but it lays out a frighteningly plausible narrative of how terrorists might buy or steal the makings of a nuclear bomb, assemble one, smuggle it halfway around the world, and send it on its way to an American city in an S.U.V.

The closest thing to a star in the cast is Fred Thompson, the lawyer turned actor turned Republican senator from Tennessee turned actor again. Thompson plays the President of the United States, and his character is mature, wise, and serious — the one jarringly unrealistic note in the picture.

“Last Best Chance” was made not by a movie studio but by a singularly unraffish indie producer: Nunn’s Nuclear Threat Initiative .... The blurb on its poster comes not from Ebert & Roeper but from Kean & Hamilton — Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, the chairman and vice-chairman of the 9/11 Commission. Its grosses are zero. For the past five months, it has been distributed free on DVD.

Now it has been taken up by HBO, which plans to show it repeatedly, beginning on October 17th.

“Last Best Chance” is entertaining, in a grim sort of way, but entertainment is not its raison d’ĂȘtre. Its purpose is to stimulate public support and political pressure on the Bush Administration and Congress to do something serious about the terrifying danger of nuclear terrorism. And this is a scandal

It is scandalous that at this late date, four years after the attacks on New York and Washington, people like (former Senator Sam) Nunn, (Senator Richard) Lugar, and (financier Warren) Buffett feel it necessary to go to such unorthodox lengths to get the attention of Washington’s responsibles.

“Last Best Chance” is a symptom of an immense failure of national, and especially Presidential, leadership. “As short a time ago as nine years or eight years,” Turner said in his remarks after the screening, “I still thought that nuclear weapons, biological and chemical weapons, was an area that the government took care of.”

One of the attendees at the screening was Graham Allison, the founding dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and the director of its Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, who held high Pentagon posts under Reagan and Clinton. Allison’s “Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe,” which has just been published in an expanded paperback edition, is the indispensable text on the subject. “Americans are no safer from a nuclear terrorist attack today than we were on September 10, 2001,” he writes.

... In 1991, thanks to the initiative of Senator Lugar and then-Senator Nunn, the United States launched a program aimed at giving the Russians financial and technical help in “locking down” their bombs and other weapons-adaptable nuclear material subject to theft or diversion.

Fourteen years later, half of Russia’s material is still unsecured, and at the present rate the job won’t be finished until 2022. We don’t have that long. If the President cared to make the effort, it could be finished in four years or less.

Also in urgent need of attention are about a hundred civilian laboratories and reactors in dozens of countries, including the United States — all containing bomb-grade material, some protected by no more than a night watchman and a chain-link fence.

... After the September 11th attacks, Condoleezza Rice said that no one had imagined planes being smashed into buildings. After Hurricane Katrina, President Bush said that no one had imagined the breach of the levees. These statements were untrue, of course, but Rice and Bush probably believed them at the time.

What no one can say, or can have said in good faith for many years, is that no one has imagined nuclear terrorism, and not just onscreen.

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