Jewish World Review May 31, 2002 / 13 Sivan, 5762
"The Sum of All Fears" is a wake-up call.
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | The new movie "The Sum of All Fears" is the most important movie you may ever see.
A mere nine months have passed since September 11, and many citizens and politicians have grown complacent. Again. In early May, Democrats on Capitol Hill were so unconcerned with the threat of terror-though as committee members they know the evidence and the odds better than the public-that they tried to use terror as political bait against the President.
But with Phil Alden Robinson's "The Sum of All Fears" (based on the Tom Clancy novel of the same name), we can all understand the breathtaking ease with which a terror attack can be carried out-and we get to see both the planning and the outcome in the medium Americans indulge most and understand best, the movies.
Here's the plot: Terrorists come across a deteriorating nuclear weapon lost during the Yom Kippur War of 1973. With the purchased services of three financially strapped Russian scientists, the bomb is reactivated. The bomb is hidden in the back of cigarette machine, transported by ship to the Canary Islands, and then hauled to a vending area in Ravens Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland. Within hours the bomb is detonated, much of a major city is destroyed, radioactive fallout spreads, and the death toll reaches into the millions.
Here are the ingredients for nuclear terror, in case you missed them-and you might have, it's a short list: 1. Unaccounted-for nuclear material; 2. Nuclear scientists who need money; 3. A pallet on a cargo ship; 4. One individual willing to look the other way for five minutes in a port; and 5. A few competent planners who can keep their mouths shut in pursuit of a "victory" that would be unparalleled in the history of war.
It is just as easy as it sounds.
Fact: Nuclear weapons have been lost by the U.S. in 1965, 1956, and possibly later. It is all but certain that China, the former Soviet Union, and other nuclear-equipped states have lost weapons as well.
Fact: Russian nuclear scientists are "for hire." The Carnegie Endowment cites surveys showing that four out of five nuclear staff members bring home less than $50 a month, and that 14 percent are willing to do weapons work for individuals or groups outside their own government.
Fact: The U.S. Customs Service doesn't inspect everything. Add up the miles of coastline, the tens of millions of incoming containers, and the sheer volume of incoming material, and it's clear that thorough inspections will take a lot more than adding a few minimum-wage staffers and declaring us all safe.
So it could happen. And if-or "when," as Vice President Cheney has put it-such a thing occurs, we can remember "The Sum of All Fears" as the preview: In the middle of a calm Sunday, and without warning, a truck is blown off the highway and into the air by the blast of wind from a nuclear explosion miles away. A rain of power lines, poles, debris and dust follow. Aircraft are yanked to the ground. Houses are disintegrated. The sky goes muted. Chaos ensues.
And in reality, that would only be the half of it. The loss of life and the uninhabitable ruin that would replace an entire region will be trumped by the mass panic that will ensure across the nation, and an economy going utterly dead in its tracks with the fear of what might happen next. Would any thinking person stay in Dallas? Washington? New York? Los Angeles?
If this film scares holy hell out of people, good. It's past time we woke up to the threat that we are living under every day, and past time to consider it in real terms (as Robinson's movie does) and do something dramatic about it. This threat should be (and should have been since September 11) our first and only national priority.
At the reception before the screening I attended, I was seated next to a gentleman high up in a de-proliferation project based here in Washington. No scare-monger, the man was a widely respected former Reagan and Bush official. I asked him if the threat from terror was as real as the movie would make it seem-he said it was-and I asked him what he thought the smartest thing to do might be. He told me, quite seriously, to
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