For truly frightening cinematic fare you don’t have to go to the movie theater or wait until the wee hours of the morning, just follow your browser to “The Heritage Foundation Presents: 33 Minutes.”
The Heritage Foundation, a privately-funded think tank in Washington, DC, is hardly known for producing horror movies. “33 Minutes” is the unintentional exception to that rule. Produced with the skill and input of numerous experts from the Heritage Foundation, this movie is both chilling and thought provoking.
The opening images of this 60-minute video are from the point of view of a ballistic missile as it screams into the heart of an American city. “33 Minutes” begins its narrative with an historical review of missiles and rocketry; from the modern threats of Iran and North Korea, to the first successful rocket built by Robert Goddard, further back still to the “rockets’ red glare,” of the War of 1812. Interspersed with the narrative are pointed interjections from political figures such as former Attorney General Edwin Meese, and Margaret Thatcher. The Heritage Foundation’s own Dr. James Carafano, an expert on nuclear ballistic missile warfare, makes the heady concepts of missile technology, and the dangers of nuclear proliferation in rogue states, understandable, and fascinating to the average viewer.
The central premise of 33 Minutes is the Constitutional directive to “Provide for the Common Defense.” The movie argues for increasing America’s capability to defend against nuclear, biological, and chemical missile attack with a robust system of preemptive missile defenses. “Providing for the common defense requires anticipating new threat conditions and developing effective counter measures.” Powerful narration such as this is delivered against an artful backdrop of historical images and news flashes. “33 Minutes” is humanized by intermittent “man-on-the-street” commentaries. Most Americans can identify with the bewildered individuals who attempted to answer basic questions about ballistic missiles, the nature of the threats they present, and the present state of America’s defensive shield. The Heritage Foundation produced this frightening movie for the purpose of educating an unconversant public about the terrible dangers posed by intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The movie’s title comes from the estimated time it would take for a ballistic missile launched from any point on the globe, to reach the United States mainland. Dr. Carafano describes the ramifications of a nuclear attack on Manhattan. The devastating, long-term effects of an electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) resulting from a high altitude nuclear burst are detailed. The ugly aftermaths of explosive, biological, and chemical missile attacks are also illustrated. These disquieting scenarios are amplified by the very real possibility that terrorist organizations have, or will have, ballistic missile technology at their disposal.
By this juncture in 33 Minutes, you may be feeling a little anxious. The dangers to the United States are almost innumerable. This, however, is not a horror movie whose protagonist is helpless. The deus ex machina of “33 Minutes” is just that, a machine, or more accurately, cutting-edge technology. In 1983, during the height of Cold War tensions, Ronald Reagan declared an initiative that would place anti-ballistic missile (ABM) defenses into space, where missiles could be shot down before their 33-minute trip was completed. The Strategic Defense Initiative, SDI or “Star Wars,” was the answer to the threat of attack from the Soviet Union at the time. The initiative was supported by the logic that if effective defenses were in place that no enemy would incur the expense of attacking the United States and that, over time, nuclear arsenals would decrease simply because they would lose their strategic importance.
Produced in 2008, the timeline in 33 Minutes, follows the stops and starts, since Reagan, in the development of anti-ballistic weapons technology. By 2008 the technological ability to “hit a spot on a bullet with a bullet,” had been reached. Land and sea-based anti-ballistic defenses were well on their way to becoming functional, though they were imperfect and not fully deployed. The next push would be for space-based Star Wars defenses to be developed. There would then exist a comprehensive array of ABMs that could shoot down entire salvos of missiles before they re-entered Earth’s atmosphere. This would provide the psychological deterrent to nuclear proliferation as well as a physical shield against harm to America.
The man-on-the-street interviewees were asked how much they thought it would cost to fully implement SDI; billions, trillions? In fact, since 1983 100 billion defense dollars have been spent on ballistic missile defenses. That amounts to about 3 1/2 billion per year. In comparison, the cost in damage to Manhattan from the 9/11 attacks cost 83 billion. You can be left a little breathless by the disclosures in 33 Minutes. And one is left to ask, “what price can be put on the survival of the United States, and her millions of souls?”
The Heritage Foundation made “33 Minutes” prior to the election of Barak Obama . In an unfortunate footnote, one of President Obama’s first acts was to cut defense spending. More specifically, he took $1.5 billion out of ABM programs and cut by one-third the number of ground-based missile interceptors in Alaska and California. 33 Minutes, in an ironic twist, had been produced shortly before the United States would become even more vulnerable to ballistic missile attack.
If you want to pass the time with a scary movie this summer, 33 Minutes is your best bet. But just so you are not left feeling like a sitting duck, you can visit the website and see that there are a number of actions you can take to get the message out. The American electorate will be empowered by knowing about our vulnerabilities in a nuclear proliferation world. The answer to this dilemma lies in technology which already exists. With proper funding, political will, and a little time, the unimaginable effects of a ballistic missile attack can be relegated to the realm of the imaginary.