The fate of the planet does not usually hang on how we spend our leisure time.
But it will for the next few weeks.
So heed my words. Go to the movies. Take a friend. Watch the new film Countdown to Zero. Then invite more friends to see the movie.
Countdown to Zero will open your eyes to a nemesis that pretends to be a guard dog.
Nuclear weapons are supposed to be a deterrent. They are supposed to keep us safe. But that's crap. They are designed to kill civilians in cities, to wipe out families, neighborhoods and communities. Yes, nuclear weapons bring influence and power. Small wonder that the number of countries that have them -- or seek to have them -- keeps growing. (Read about Myanmar, anyone?)
But this movie isn't a docu-horror flick. Along with an insightful description of the problem, this savvy, artful film sets out a solution: zero nuclear weapons. It challenges us to care enough to demand zero from our governments.
You see, the movie unmasks the big lie about nuclear weapons -- that they protect us. In fact, our security comes from the elimination of these weapons. And yes, a world convention on nuclear weapons would be necessary to achieve that.
Sure that's hard. But we have no choice. Global negotiation and cooperation aren't just nicey-nice, liberal notions. Unless we find a way to work together to survive we will kill each other, one way or another. Nuclear annihilation is only one option. There are other threats that also require a global response: climate, hunger, water, ecological sustainability. We must think about what benefits the planet over the long-term or preside over its destruction in the short-term.
Nuclear war has been a threat to humanity for more than six decades. In fact, a terrible anniversary approaches. On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. That attack, and one three days later on Nagasaki, are estimated to have killed 200,000 people. Since then the Cold War has come and gone. And still there are 23,000 nuclear weapons in the world with thousands on high alert, ready to be fired in minutes.
Though most of us would prefer a world without nuclear weapons, few people think much about changing the status quo. Proliferation continues, even accelerates. One day terrorists may wield these weapons. Is that a yawn? Or is the subject too terrible to think about?
In any case, our complacency puts us all at risk.
This risk is the subject of Countdown to Zero, which uses a quote from President John F. Kennedy in 1961 as a way to look at our nuclear vulnerability.
"Today, every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be habitable. Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident, or miscalculation, or by madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us."
Countdown to Zero is from the same company (Participant Media) and producer (Lawrence Bender) who brought us An Inconvenient Truth. Al Gore's film served as a wake-up call about climate change. Countdown to Zero promises to raise the alarm on a problem which represents climate change on steroids -- scientists (Scientific American, 2009) estimate that the nuclear winter arising from a nuclear war between India and Pakistan could destroy crops around the world and kill one billion people.
The prudent thing is for all nations to agree on the phased, verifiable elimination of all nuclear weapons. And since 2008, we've made a start or, more accurately, a New Start-- the US-Russia treaty on nuclear weapons. President Obama has made zero nuclear weapons a national goal. But in order to reach that goal, public support for "zero" must grow.
That's why Countdown to Zero is important.
It can make nuclear weapons a talking point. Around the country and across the world. It can inspire a common sense approach to nuclear weapons. To echo JFK, we must abolish them before they abolish us.
Japanese survivors of the atomic attacks say nuclear weapons should never be used again.
How better to achieve never than by zero?
Maybe that's too oblique. Sorry. The real message is very straight-forward. Take a friend to the movies. Please. To save your bacon and the bacon of future generations.
Here is a list of cities and theaters where it is playing in its early release.
Full disclosure: I work for an organization that has sought phased, verifiable and irreversible nuclear disarmament for 28 years, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.