Thursday, June 4, 2015

THE UGLY FACTS IN "RED OCTOBER": And You Thought the Nuclear Threat Was Hush-Hush

Nuclear-missile-equipped submarines: so many interesting facts.
Several months ago I wrote a post about a popular thriller -- Unmanned -- that surprised me with its perceptive revelations about drones, drone surveillance, drone warfare, and the general way in which our lives are becoming militarized in ways we seldom imagine.

That experience made me wonder about other works of popular fiction: Are there other books that are similarly revelatory about the threat posed to us by militarization and military technology?

And then I had an intriguing notion: what about the Tom Clancy novels, like The Hunt for Red October? Is it possible that the millions of people who have read Clancy's books, and seen the film adaptations, have been provided with the key facts they need to understand the risks posed by nuclear weapons?  Is the truth hiding in plain sight?

I know that people can get the facts about the nuclear threat by reading works of political science. For instance, in my sister's book, Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom, readers learn that the U.S. has 14 Ohio-class submarines, each armed with enough nuclear warheads to destroy a continent. (14 Ohio-class submarines, 7 continents, you do the math . . . . )

But what are all those people in airports reading paperbacks learning?

I was somewhat shocked that a quick review of The Hunt for Red October yielded quotes like these:

"The Red October carried twenty-six SS-N-20 Seahawk missiles, each with eight 500-kiloton multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles -- MIRVs -- enough to destroy two hundred cities. . . . [M]issile submarines were by definition beyond any control from land." (p.12)
Tom Clancy, The Hunt for Red October

"Ryan lifted a pointer. 'In addition to being considerably larger than our own Ohio-class Trident submarines, Red October has a number of technical differences.  She carries twenty-six missiles instead of our twenty-four. . . .'" (p. 117)

"'The SS-N-20 has a range of six thousand miles. That means he could have hit any target in the Northern Hemisphere from the moment he left the dock.'" (p. 121)

Hmmmm . . . it seems like the facts are right there in the open. Do people think they are exaggerated?  Or are they too wrapped up in the man-to-man intrigue (watch out Jack! he's coming up behind you!) to be troubled by the real "clear and present danger"?

More than three million copies of The Hunt for Red October have been sold; worldwide ticket sales for the film adaptation of The Hunt for Red October have topped $200 million. So where are all of the alert readers who now know the facts and have become nuclear disarmament activists?

Page citations are to the 1993 Harper Collins paperback edition (2).

Related posts

There were so many places in this book where I thought, "Holy mackerel - he knows about that? It's as if he was part of the same anti-drone movement that I've been so deeply involved in for the past several years!"

(See 7 Ways the Ugly Facts About Drones Are Hidden in Plain Site in UNMANNED )

Elaine Scarry demonstrates that the power of one leader to obliterate millions of people with a nuclear weapon - a possibility that remains very real even in the wake of the Cold War - deeply violates our constitutional rights, undermines the social contract, and is fundamentally at odds with the deliberative principles of democracy.

(See Reviews of "Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom" by Elaine Scarry )

England might negotiate to obtain lease on the base, so it can stay open. (Some commentators call that unlikely.) England might decide to move the Tridents to a port in England. (But that would require them to create a depot to store the nuclear missiles - a dicey proposition in densely populated areas.)  England might find another country to allow them to base this dangerous cargo; some have suggested France. (Um - hello? France?)

(See YES! to Scotland; No Place for Trident )

"It's not enough to remember this just once a year; it's not enough that we make a single book -- Hiroshima -- required reading, and never go beyond that. There should be a whole canon that people study progressively, year by year, to grasp and retain the horror of this."

(See FIRE AND BLAST: A Curriculum that Confronts Nuclear Danger?)