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ReThink Review: Countdown to Zero -- How I Learned to Start Worrying

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Countdown to Zero, the new documentary about nuclear weapons from director Lucy Walker and An Inconvenient Truth super-producer Lawrence Bender (see my ReThink Interview with them here), attempts to re-awaken the American public to the possibility and necessity of abolishing all of the world's nuclear weapons. Of course, the best way to do this is to scare the bejeezus out of viewers by describing several instances where nuclear catastrophes were narrowly averted, usually by sheer luck, as well as the growing potential for deliberate nuclear attacks by rogue states and terrorist groups. Bender and Walker didn't set out to make the summer's scariest movie, but as Bender told me, "The truth is scary."

Watch my ReThink Review of Countdown to Zero below.

Countdown to Zero is a film that all should see, especially younger people and students who never experienced the nuclear dread of the Cold War and consider nuclear weapons to largely be a non-issue. However, the film has received some criticism from liberals for not focusing enough on what has historically been the world's largest nuclear threat, whose elephantine presence we were starkly reminded of just last week.

That's because last Friday, August 6, marked the 65th anniversary of one of the worst days in human history -- the destruction of Hiroshima by an atomic bomb dropped by the United States. It was a day when the world learned that humans, for the first time in history, possessed weapons that could end all life on the planet -- and some were willing to use them.

One person who felt the implications of this more than most was Robert Oppenheimer, the scientific director of the Manhattan Project and considered the father of the atomic bomb, who was haunted for the rest of his life by the knowledge that he was largely responsible for the hellish force that had been unleashed on Hiroshima and threatened the world. Check out this amazing clip of Oppenheimer recounting his reaction after witnessing the first successful nuclear detonation at the White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico.

The US remains the only country in history to have used nuclear weapons in a war, and as Greg Mitchell of the Nation points out, we continue to claim that nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki were morally and strategically justified -- in essence, saying that nuclear weapons can and should be used under certain circumstances. The US possesses more than 40% of the world's nuclear weapons and continues to reserve the right to use them for first strikes, not just retaliation. It was the US under George W. Bush that pulled out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, essentially killed the START II Treaty and opposed US ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The US is also leading the world in developing "usable" nuclear weapons, like the incorrectly nicknamed "bunker buster" missiles that would, in fact, be much more powerful than the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ensuring that they will destroy a lot more than bunkers.

Perhaps more disturbing, the US is actually using nuclear weapons right now in Iraq and Afghanistan in the form of depleted uranium munitions. When these cave- and armor-piercing bombs explode, they create a cloud of fine uranium dust that can be spread by the wind and inhaled and absorbed by humans, animals and plants. The Pentagon admits that it left 320 metric tons of DU on the battlefield after the first Gulf War, though Russian military experts claim that the amount is closer to 1,000 metric tons. DU remains radioactive for 4.5 billion years, and a report by the UK Atomic Energy Authority estimates that DU will cause the deaths of some 500,000 Iraqis by the end of the century. DU has been linked to skyrocketing rates of cancer and birth defects in Iraq and Afghanistan and is considered a major cause of Gulf War Syndrome, which affects both Gulf War veterans and their children. Since 9/11, Americans have feared that a terrorist could set off a "dirty bomb", an explosive device attached to radioactive material, in a major city, killing thousands and rendering parts of the city unlivable until the dispersed nuclear material could be cleaned up. In the meantime, we have been setting off tons of dirty bombs all over Iraq and Afghanistan for close to a decade.

America's willingness to use nuclear weapons poses one of the globe's biggest threats. As Countdown to Zero illustrates, it's time we take that threat off the table.

To learn more about Countdown to Zero and learn how to take action on this issue, go here.

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