The Sum of All Fears in real life (the book, not the movie)

To add to a couple of nuke-related threads started by others in Great Debates, I wanted to discuss how *The Sum of All Fears *might play out in real life (the book, not the movie, because the movie goes into all sorts of unrealistic Hollywood things).

In the book, Islamic terrorists fabricate a thermonuclear weapon and set it off at the Super Bowl in Denver, hoping to spark a nuclear exchange between the USA and Russia. The device was capable of a massive yield but helium contamination caused it to be far weaker and only go off with 11 kilotons instead.

If we go with a more “conventional” POTUS such as Tim Kaine or Mike Pence (rather than Trump, because Trump is a wildly unpredictable person,) how might this play out?

  1. Nuclear weapon of unknown origin goes off at a Super Bowl host city (doesn’t have to be Denver);

  2. Islamic terrorism today is a much bigger issue to the American public than it was in the year 1991, when the novel was published, so surely fingers would be pointing immediately at al-Qaeda or ISIS, thus making a nuclear exchange between the USA and Russia *less *likely;

  3. In the novel, the USA was able to deduce that the nuke used fissile material provided by the US to Israel, but in real life it might be much more of a mystery.

  4. Suppose that such a nuclear mystery was never solved and the culprit never identified. What might be the ramifications - political, societal, etc.?
    Finally, the novel’s “justice” is very anticlimactic; it simply ends with the two Islamic terrorists being beheaded. Would that be considered far too meager justice in real life and the American public would demand a large-scale war of some kind to avenge 250,000 nuked-American-dead?

I suspect this. Whichever country/countries we suspected the most would be getting wrecked.

To judge our response, can you think of other times that hostile actors killed thousands of American non-combatants? How did we react then? Now magnify that x100.

I think even Clancy realized he had screwed that one up. In his later books, which were all supposedly set in the same world, he had characters treating the 9/11 attacks as the defining terrorist attack in American history. The nuclear explosion in Denver was virtually ignored.

As a sports fan I wanna know:

  1. If a Super Bowl was nuked, and so could not be completed, would the NFL re-use the number of the unfinished Super Bowl the following year?

  2. Also, why did Clancy call the stadium in Denver the “Skydome”?

I would suspect no, in the same way that airlines often retire the airline flight numbers of airplane crashes (i.e., no more UA 93 or MH370.) I suspect that the NFL would move on to the next Roman numeral.

And in fact in the event of such a catastrophic attack on America, equivalent to a hundred 9/11s, it’s quite possible that there wouldn’t be NFL football for a few years to come.

“Domes” were the thing back then, in 1991. Astrodome, Silverdome, Metrodome, Superdome, etc.

I get that, but Toronto had famously built a Skydome, which Clancy, an Orioles fan, would surely have known about. Denver wouldn’t use the same name.

I would bet everything I had against that. The NFL - who still wanna make money, after all - would start right up next year, just as pro sports went barrelling along during World War II. It would practically be seen as a patriotic duty to keep on holding football games.

Ah, I see. Yeah that’s not good. And Clancy was such a detail person, too.

We’re still in a country that wasn’t responsible for 9/11, just harbored those who were. And when we violated a completely different country’s sovereignty to get at one of the people responsible. And that’s after only 3,000 people died. Oh, and we invaded Iraq.

If we’re talking nuclear weapons we’re leveling someone.

Only a semi-serious comment:
Attacking the NFL is right up there with attacking Mom & Apple pie.

Whatever response the US might make for an attack on a random day in a random city, multiply it by at least 10x if it involves the Super Bowl.

They’d hold a replacement Super Bowl using the AFC & NFC second place finishers within a month after the blown up one. Just to show the terrorists the [del]NFL[/del] USA won’t be stopped. The event will be so flag-draped the stadium will groan under the weight.

To be fair, all the other perpetrators were already dead. And I think that the ending as written is better than having the US obliterate a country or two. They were executed as common murderers, not terrorist martyrs.

No NFL? Promise? Denver might be a fair exchange for a world without NFL. :wink:

I wasn’t aware the beheading was one of the execution options in Colorado. Or were they convicted by a federal court? Hmmm, what are the Federal execution methods?

They were executed in the Middle East - Saudi Arabia IIRC.

Unlike 2001, there will be little public support in other countries for punitive actions against a whole nation state, no matter what the sympathies to the US that may be there.

Emptying out Minuteman silos onto whatever territory the perps identified are on won’t be a realistic option. People have seen what happens when the USG loses its collective wits.

Just came in to say The Sum of All Fears was a very good book!

Great username / post combo. Got any other “hot” book tips for us? :slight_smile:

The USG didn’t lose their collective wits until they decided to stay in Iraq.

The Sum of All Fears relies on a huge set of contrivances to get the US and Russia this close to war:

The President and his National Security Advisor hate Jack Ryan and want him gone. Ryan thinks they’re idiots.

As a result of that (and because of a sneaky Russian’s double-dealing) good information gets mixed with bad information and the POTUS decides he can’t trust Ryan (who somehow functions as the entirety of the CIA even though he’s not in charge of it). So there might be a military coup involving missing nukes or there might not be but either way once they’ve decided Ryan is lying to them they stop listening to him.

There’s also an overly ambitious boomer Captain who is quite an asshole and wants to impress his bosses by being aggressive rather than playing “chicken of the sea”. So he’s bird-dogging Russian subs but one of Ramius’ proteges is the only Russian captain skilled enough and smart enough to track a normally invisible Ohio-class. Plus some big-ass logs fell in the ocean months ago and pop up at the end just in time to smash the boomer and make it noisy.

There’s also bad weather in DC resulting in the top Pentagon guy getting into a car accident, leaving the NMCC in the hands of a Captain who is way out of his depth. And since it’s a snow day the President feels as though it’s safe to drink strong German beer while watching the Superbowl so he’s half in the bag when the crisis unfolds. Combining this with the thought of a Russian military coup has the President stepping on his dick big time when he gets on the hotline to Moscow.

The bad guys are also able to waltz into a tank lager in Germany, steal a tank and start shooting around the same time the bomb is going off. A US carrier group in the Med shoots down a Russian who was training some Libyan pilots.

Last but not least, although the bomb is a fizzle, the blanket of snow plus the material of the parking lot makes the nuclear blast look a lot bigger than it actually was. So although the question of terrorism is asked the answer of “no way could terrorists build a nuke like that!” becomes the prevailing story. Also the nuke only fizzles because the bad guys executed their scientist before he could filter out the helium-3.

The point of the story was that building a nuke, even a sophisticated one is only a challenge in the sense that the nuclear materials are hard to obtain. But the technology necessary to machine the parts is trivial, the computer power nowadays is exponentially more powerful than the slide rules used back in the day and the plans for old but functional nuclear bombs are out there if you know where to look.

I think the scenario does illustrate that with WMDs, it is now possible for terrorists to achieve mayhem on such a level that even if everyone single person who was a perpetrator were executed, they would have still “cheated justice” somehow due to the lopsided kill ratio.

A handful of guys build a nuke, the nuke kills 250,000, such that even their executions are meager and leave the victim nation feeling hollow and justice-cheated.