Atomic apocalypse may still be upon us. That is what the filmmakers behind Countdown to Zero want us to remember. As President Kennedy says, “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.” This quote is used as the thesis behind this film. They used this thesis to scare the guano out of me. Seeing images of nuclear bombs going off while being told how your internal organs may explode if you’re close enough to the epicenter, really makes one ponder how to not have that happen. And that is exactly what they are going for. Getting a response is their way to get their audience to act and do what they want them to do whether that is writing their government, texting to a specific number, donating to a charity or reducing carbon emissions. It is emotional manipulation and it works. However, the direction they are trying to get us to move in is not only naïve, it is futile.
In 1942, the Manhattan Project, led by the American physicist Robert Oppenheimer, came together to beat Germany in creating a fission-based weapon. Many of the world’s leading physicists were brought into this incredibly top-secret project. They decided to make two bombs and use uranium in one (Little Boy) and plutonium in the other (Fat Man). Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945 while the Manhattan Project had yet to finish a working weapon. After a test in New Mexico that showed that the plutonium Fat Man released around 19 kilotons of TNT upon detonation, President Truman decided to use it against Japan. Little Boy was released above Hiroshima; Fat Man, above Nagasaki. At least one hundred thousand people died, most of them civilians. Tens of thousands would later die from radiation sicknesses and cancers.
Since 1945, the world has gone from two nuclear weapons to over 23,000 nuclear warheads. We’ve come a long way, baby. It would take just one-megaton bomb exploding in the air to throw the earth into a nuclear winter. So we have enough going here on this little planet to really mess things up. To have any bombs active really feels, on all sides, irresponsible. Like children picking up loaded guns, I wonder if our world leaders really comprehend what they have in their hands? The film’s solution to all this madness: Disarm all the bombs. It’s great to aim high, but what are we truly trying to accomplish? In a way, the ancient demon we’re trying to destroy is the threat of great weapons in the wrong hands. It’s stopping outwardly antagonistic countries like North Korea and Iran from getting their hands on something that will kill us all. But then, is it right that we should have the bombs and they shouldn’t? As Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is quoted in the film as saying, “If they are good, then why should we be deprived? If they are bad, then why do you have them?” Are we really more reliable, more responsible then they? We, America, are the only country who has ever used one. So really that ancient demon is us — all of us. Every single human on the planet is the reason why the dream of disarming all the nuclear weapons is never going to happen. We are not trusting, nor trustworthy enough to bring the count back down to zero.
There are currently nine countries in the world with confirmed nuclear weapons. Even if by sheer will and luck we are able to get seven of those countries to completely disarm, the two that are left will fall into a “No, you first” face off. There is just too much power in having something your enemy doesn’t, which won’t allow us to just let it go. We, as a people, do not trust enough to do that. We think, “If I disarm my bombs, and they SAY they’ve disarmed all their bombs, but they really have a secret stash, that will leave me open to attack. I need to have my own secret stash.” And we also think it’s safer for us to have an ace up our sleeve just in case something happens — and in that way we are not trustworthy either. Countdown to Zero is great in that it got me to ponder and talk about all these situations and scenarios. However, call me cynical, but the solution they offer is, I believe, a big pipe dream that will never be realized.