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The Heritage Foundation’s 33 Minutes – The Most Terrifying Movie of the Year

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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.

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About Marjorie Haun

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Marjorie –

    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.

    You really don’t think there’s something badly wrong with America spending as much on defense as the rest of the world put together? NO nation that spends so much on defense will be economically viable for very long.

    And ICBM’s should be the LEAST of our worries. If a nation wants to nuke NYC or DC or LA or Seattle, they do NOT need a hugely-expensive ICBM. All they need is a shipping container on a ship…or even just a yacht.

    Do you not realize this? Do you really think that if Kim or Ahmadinejad or whoever really wanted to nuke us, that they’d spend billions on developing an accurate and reliable ICBM when buying and using a doggone yacht is far cheaper? FYI, they’ll look for the cheapest and most effective way to send one or more nukes…and an ICBM is the most expensive option. Their tests of ICBM’s are political maneuver and nothing more.

    30 years and hundreds of billions of dollars have been wasted on SDI…when it would have been FAR more effective to develop and implement a way to quickly and effectively screen all cargo and vessels entering U.S. waters.

  • zingzing

    ah, the heritage foundation. that grand font of american conservative thought, creating a movie to scare people. who’d’ve thunk it…

    we could all die next week. glad to know it. i will run around in fear, not knowing when my instant death will come. sounds like a plan. such is life.

    you do know they’re just trying to pump money for their backers, yeah? the ones who make the weapons you fear? stop helping them.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    That’s all well and good, Glenn, but the cold hard fact remains that, Cold War or no Cold War, the main ICBM threat still comes from Russia. With the possible exception of China, it remains the only nation capable of launching a widespread and sustained missile attack on the West.

    Besides, ICBMs do have advantages, principally that an airburst will inflict damage on a much wider area, and that a ballistic missile is much harder to intercept en route to its target.

    You’re right that for the foreseeable future, we’re in no danger from North Korea or Iran or some other Crazyland firing ICBMs at us. They would be so few in number that they could probably be easily dispensed with before they got near their targets. And for the assailant, it wouldn’t be worth it because our response would be immediate and massive.

    And you’re right again that if an enemy’s concern is more with causing terror than inflicting damage, an attack by sea or land is the most viable option.

    You’re no doubt thinking of that 60 Minutes or 48 Hours or whatever it was special a few years ago in which they managed to smuggle a dummy nuke from Africa all the way to China, into the US through the Port of Newark, and into Manhattan without being detected.

    I would hope that things have been tightened up somewhat since then.

  • John Lake

    The Heritage Foundation is strongly linked to Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and many of the leading Republican contenders for the White House. “Mitt” Romney is a big Heritage man. Newt Gingrich alluded to the Heritage Foundation during the debate in New Hampshire. One might suspect the Heritage Foundation dominates the Republicans, from Old School, to Tea Party.
    The Republicans claim they will save money by decentralization, eliminating entitlements, reducing global commitments and alliances. Yet the Heritage Foundation wants to see a new era of Missile Defense, first strike capability, and star wars. Heritage politicians claim we need more and better battleships to contain the threat of China.
    The cost of ignoring reality, seeing all these nations as dangerous potential enemies, “Bomb,bomb, bomb Iran” would far exceed anything saved by letting regulations of food and medicine slide away. They foreshadow a world in chaos, where panic rules, and none of these things will any longer matter.

  • Marjorie Haun

    The Heritage Foundation was founded long before Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and the others you mention, were ever on the scene. If you watch the movie you will see that Ronald Reagan formulated his ideas for SDI based upon an extensive analysis done by the Heritage Foundation. Do a little research. It is a think tank without a direct link to the GOP.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Yes, the Heritage Foundation. Marjorie, did you know that the founder of the Heritage Foundation once said that “elections are never won by majorities”, that the fewer people who vote, the better it is for Republicans?

    Did you know that he said that in a speech in front of a convention where the audience included 13,000 Baptist ministers, Jerry Falwell, and someone named Ronald Reagan?

    Do you know which party’s supporters are the only ones who use “voter caging” and legislation to make it tougher to vote…and have over the years disenfranchised literally tens of thousands of voters?

    I make none of this up. If you want, I can dig out all the references. But know this – your people do NOT believe in small-d democracy. They believe in whatever keeps them in power.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    And when it comes to ICBM defense – the CIA and DOD said long ago that they do not fear the nation with hundreds or thousands of missiles. They fear the few dozen men – or the one man – with one single nuke…

    …and rightly so. While the movie “True Lies” was an enjoyable light-hearted comedy, the scenario it presented is what keeps our spooks and our military brass awake at night.

    Any nation with ICBMs also knows deep in their hearts that if they launch against us, they will be annihilated. Ahmadinejad and even Kim know this – they love their personal lives and they love the power they have as big fish in small ponds, and they’re NOT going to commit suicide (and force suicide on their families) by launching against us. Of course, neither will Russia or China – the devastation they’ve suffered over the generations has been too great and is still fresh in their memories…and they’re making too much money to want to watch Moscow or Beijing or Shanghai disappear in a radioactive cloud.

    However, this is NOT the case with a small extremist organization that knows no national boundaries.

    We do have to maintain a strong military defense – but it is foolish in the extreme to spend as much on military defense as the rest of the world put together. We should:

    1 – secure our ports.
    2 – invest heavily in internet defense (and offense).
    3 – engage in low-level trade warfare…because that is precisely what China’s been doing successfully for years.
    4 – pay for all this by slashing our defense budget.

  • John Lake

    #5 – Marjorie Haun
    Your response to my portrayal of the Heritage group demonstrates their success. The movie in question is expensive and well choreographed propaganda designed to promote a positive image for a destructive entity.

  • zingzing

    “It is a think tank without a direct link to the GOP.”

    “direct” is the word to pay attention to there. but the heritage foundation has been linked to plenty of gop policy, talking points and soundbites over the years.

  • Ray F.

    Glenn C. Nice comments. Just watched the film and I agree totally with your sentiments. We are directing energy/efforts at the wrong threat.