Sunday, December 07, 2008

PBS: Avoiding Armageddon: Our Future, Our Choice: Turning the Tide


The PBS Series “Avoiding Armageddon: Our Future, Our Choice” continues in DVD 4 with “Confronting Terrorism: Turning the Tide”. Again, Walter Cronkite narrates. Bill Clinton appears frequently with extra comments.

The thrust of this film (90 min) is that failed states in the developing world breed unrest and encourage resentment against the West, often based superficially on religious ideology, especially among young men. To preserve our way of life, we have to maintain eternal diligence to avoid an instant of horror. We have to get it right all the time; the enemy needs to score only once.

The film points out early that there is not real control of international shipping or tracking what is on it reliably. That seems to contrast with how freight railroads work in western countries.

The film showed a computer simulation of what might happen with an anthrax could over Seattle, by the National Atmospheric Release Advisory Center (NARAC) of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories, where a friend of mine in San Francisco worked in the 1980s.

It also showed attractive young adults with smallpox, and interviewed Michael Osterholm from the Minnesota Health Department (link).

There was some attention to a typical family’s preparing itself to survive a long time without government after an attack.

The film goes on to investigate the three most critical states (outside of Iraq, that is).

First, it reviews Afghanistan, which, before 9/11, was one of the most obscure places on earth. I did a geography paper on it in ninth grade, and the general education teacher said, she just knew I would pick that country. How prescient!

The film points out that the Taliban had an ideological reason to keep its population illiterate, and to keep women subservient and hidden from society. This seems to fit into what seems like an odd psychology of marriage and family and how it fits self-concept in the world of radical Islam. The film shows the squalor and lack of infrastructure and utilities in Afghan villages. Most do not have phone service or electricity.

The second dangerous country is Iran, about which I’ve written recently The film briefly covers the 444 day hostage crisis at the end of the Carter administration, and Carter appears. However, the film (made in 2004) precedes the influence of the bellicose Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the controversy over its nuclear program.

The third area of instability risk is most of sub-Saharan Africa, because of the AIDS epidemic as starting in the 1980s. The film focuses on Uganda. The prevalence of AIDS among adults has dropped from 20% in 1992 to 6% today. Castro in Cuba found that many African soldiers were HIV infected when they came to Cuba for training in the 1980s. The disorder in Somalia and the Sudan, where Osama bin Laden hid out, and the attacks in Africa in 1998 may be related to instability caused by AIDS. The disease appears to be spread by heterosexual contact during rapid urbanization, and is probably exacerbated by other sexually transmitted diseases.

The film concludes with panel discussions and some remarks, as by Madeleine Allbright.

The range of material covered in the film shows how, in a globalized economy, problems tend to interact and cause social and economic tensions previously unknown. The film mentions that the Internet has provided an effective asymmetric tool among extremists un recruiting others to their ideology.

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