Too Easy: How the West Was LostPosted: December 19, 2014
A few days ago, the first reviews began to trickle in for the comedy The Interview, which depicts a shambolic attempt to assassinate the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.
Unfortunately, they were less than enthusiastic. One critic called it a ‘non-stop sledgehammer … bereft of satiric zing’, while the Hollywood industry paper Variety called it an ‘alleged satire that’s about as funny as a communist food shortage’.
“Trains could crash, pipelines explode, the financial markets risk going into meltdown, the National Grid might crash, hospitals could fall dark, cash dispensers might go dead and ordinary life might come grinding to a halt. Last year, the People’s Liberation Army’s Shanghai-based cyber unit was caught hacking into major American corporations such as the nuclear power company Westinghouse Electric and the United States Steel Corporation.”
Even the film’s makers probably imagined that having earned back its budget from its target audience of American teenagers, their picture would soon disappear into well-deserved obscurity.
Climb-down: Randall Park as North Korean tyrant Kim Jong-un in The Interview, which has been pulled from release after Sony Pictures was hacked and confidential material leaked across the Internet
Terrorists:Kim Jong-un and his wife Ri Sol-ju remembered the three year anniversary of the death of Kim Jong-il. If North Korea was to launch a cyber attack it could bring the West to its knees in 15 minutes
How wrong they were. For it now seems certain that The Interview will go down in history not as an indictment of Hollywood’s obsession with the lowest common denominator, but as a chilling symbol of the future of international conflict.
When, two days ago, the film’s parent company Sony announced it was cancelling its Christmas Day release, the decision was widely seen as an abject surrender to foreign pressure.
All week, North Korean hackers have been leaking secrets found in Sony’s emails, from insider gossip about the star Angelina Jolie to the script of the next James Bond film.
In an attempt to shore up wavering cinema chains who were uncertain as to whether to screen the film, Barack Obama recommended that ‘people go to the movies’.
But as pressure mounted, it became clear Sony’s American bosses lacked the courage to stand up to Kim Jong-un’s cyber bullies. And when the hackers issued a terrifying warning to American audiences, telling them to ‘remember September 11, 2001’, Sony simply lost its nerve.
Thus, The Interview has vanished from the schedules, and it seems unlikely it will ever return.
In the meantime, Hollywood figures have been queuing up to denounce Sony’s decision as an awful setback for free speech. ‘Today, the U.S. succumbed to an unprecedented attack on our most cherished bedrock principle,’ said the director Judd Apatow.
The actor Rob Lowe went further: If Sony had been in charge of the Allied war effort in World War II, he said, then the Nazis would have won.
In many ways the story could hardly be a better metaphor for American foreign policy in the past few years.
After almost a decade of reckless, ham-fisted over-stretch under George W. Bush — typified by this month’s appalling revelations about the CIA’s torture programme — the U.S. has turned inwards.
Obama’s policy in Syria and Ukraine has been a shambles, his attitude to Russia is dithering and pusillanimous, and he seems entirely bereft of ideas about how to fight back against the jihadists of Islamic State.
In this context, therefore, Sony’s surrender to the North Koreans merely looks like more of the same.
But I think there is another dimension to this story — one that should frighten every man, woman and child in the Western world.
For years, military experts have been warning that our expectations of warfare are dangerously outmoded. We still think of war as something that happens on a foreign battlefield, fought out between professional armies with tanks and guns.
But for more than a century, the front line has been moving closer and closer to the ordinary British household. From the horrors of the Blitz to the pub bombings of the IRA, our illusions of living in an island fortress have been brutally dispelled.
Cyber warfare is merely the latest frightening development in the history of human conflict — a threat to British society that could have potentially devastating consequences for millions of families.
We cannot say, though, that we were not warned.
As long ago as the spring of 2010, the former White House counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke, who worked for the Reagan, Clinton and Bush administrations, published a book warning that the West might have lost the new cyber war before it had even officially started.
As Mr Clarke pointed out, the Russians, the Chinese and the North Koreans had already recruited legions of hackers, while Iran even boasts of having the world’s largest cyber army…(read more)