Godzilla Is Back -- and He's Got Something to Say

This weekend, the world's favorite nuclear lizard, Godzilla, roars back to the big screen. This time, in 3D and with new, powerful anti-nuclear message.

1954's original Godzilla, called Gojira in Japan, was a thoughtful and solemn movie that explored the painful and frustrating relationship between the Japanese and U.S. nuclear weapons, as we discussed in our previous post. It was also a huge commercial and critical success that spawned its own genre of giant monster, or kaiju, movies and dozens of sequels, remakes, and imitators.

Director Gareth Edwards looks like he will duplicate both the success and the moral of the original in the new Godzilla. "We were trying to put more into it than just a simple monster movie," he told the Associated Press, "Because the original was definitely a metaphor for Hiroshima and Nagasaki and a very serious film, so we were inspired to try and reflect that."

He updates the story by adding in nuclear power stations to the original warning about nuclear weapons. The movie opens with a disaster at a Japanese nuclear power reactor -- an obvious reference to the 2011 incident at the Fukushima facility.

But there is still hell to pay. Whereas "in the 1954 original, Godzilla represented the destructive threat of nuclear power after the United States unleashed it on Japan during World War II," says Edwards, "in 2014, Godzilla and the other monsters feed on radiation, so nations with nuclear arms are targets."

There is no shortage of nuclear weapons in Hollywood films. But many of the scriptwriters and directors still follow a Cold War paradigm: These are necessary weapons that are the ultimate guarantor of our security. So, in Independence Day and The Avengers our heroes use nuclear weapons to blow up the alien mother ship, saving the planet. Pacific Rim ends with soldiers using a massive nuclear bomb to seal a kaiju trans-dimensional portal, again saving the Earth. Only a few films present nuclear weapons as the threat, not the solution. In The Dark Knight Rises, for instance, Batman risks his life to fly a nuclear bomb out to sea before it can destroy Gotham

In fact, downplaying the threat of nuclear weapons goes back to the original US release of the original Godzilla. Called Godzilla, King of the Monsters, the Americanized version of the film cut all references to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the U.S. atomic testing in the Marshall Islands, and replaced about twenty minutes of the film with scenes of an American reporter, played by Raymond Burr, chasing the monster around Japan. This sanitized Godzilla took out the haunting anti-nuclear allegory, stripping it of its real power.

But this is no trivial matter. The way that our culture perceives nuclear weapons has played a major role in shaping our nuclear strategy.

Today, most Americans think our nuclear nightmares are behind us. Many may believe that such threats ended with the Cold War or that current policies can prevent or contain nuclear disaster. They are dead wrong. The United States alone still has over 7,000 nuclear bombs, each one capable of producing the destructive power of 10 to 30 Hiroshima bombs. Globally there are more than 17,000 weapons held my nine nations large and small, stable and unstable. There is a high risk that someone will use, either by accident or design, one of them. Or more. They remain an ongoing nightmare.

So, thank you, Mr. Edwards, for sending Godzilla to correct the balance. His monster accurately conveys the view held by many security experts today: Whatever value nuclear weapon may have had during the Cold War, they are now a major liability, not a security asset.

He uses the power of the beast to make a basic point made my many leaders in the world today: "The West ... we police the world and go, 'You can't have nuclear power. You can't have it. But we can have it, and we have nuclear weapons.' And what if there were a creature that existed, creatures that were attracted to radiation?" he says, "Suddenly the tables would be turned, and we'd be desperately trying to get rid of that stuff."

While thousands enjoy watching Godzilla fight other monsters and level cities (including the Ploughshares Fund home base in San Francisco!), here's hoping the big guy can save us once again, waking us up to the ongoing nightmare nuclear weapons still present.