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The Geopolitics of Sony's Decision Making

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Industry | December 18, 2014 |

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Industry | December 18, 2014 |

This may come as a surprise to you in the wake of the last few days, but Sony is not an American company. It’s a Japanese one. I know, I know, this should be relatively basic and readily available public information. And the reaction to Sony’s decision to not release the Rogen-Franco The Interview on the basis of non-credible and non-specific threats issued by the alleged North Korean hackers has sparked a firestorm of justifiable outrage. I’ve got a piece in the works about exactly that, but for the moment I wanted to touch base with the geopolitics going on under the hood here.

Sure, when hackers claim they’re going to make a 9/11 style attack on theaters if the film is released, we have the reasonable reaction of well, where are you going to find a movie theater with more than six people in it these days? The threat is at face value silly, and not particularly specific or credible. And Sony gets hammered for backing down to bullies, because the only thing that pisses off Americans more than somebody being bullied out of free speech is the fact that other Americans have different political opinions.

But there’s a deeper problem than a movie on American soil made by Americans and primarily for Americans. There’s the problem of Tokyo and mushroom clouds. See, North Korea blew up their first nuke a few years ago. It was a pissant little thing, barely an eighth the size of Hiroshima. But an eighth of Hiroshima is still somewhere in the ballpark of eight 9/11’s.

The North Koreans have got missiles that can reach California, but experts are pretty sure that they haven’t managed to figure out how to make a nuke small enough to fit on those missiles. Rudimentary nuclear weapons are massive things. We had to specially rig the Enola Gay to carry that first one we dropped. But experts are also pretty sure that they’ve got them miniaturized just enough to go on the medium range missiles that reach Japan, which is only 800 miles away as the missile flies.

And North Korea has made repeated threats over the last several years, threatening that if Japan did one thing or another they didn’t like, that Tokyo would be “consumed in nuclear flames.”

Sony is a Japanese company. When North Korea threatens them, they’re not threatening Burbank on the other side of the world, they’re threatening to turn to atomic ash the capital city of the only country to ever be burned by nuclear fire. While the credibility of threats to attack American theaters is minimal, that’s not the threat that is motivating Sony’s decision-making at the moment.

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Steven Lloyd Wilson is the sci-fi and history editor. You can email him here or follow him on Twitter.