There's an old John Stewart line from a few years ago, just as the argument for war in Iraq was starting to flare up. It goes something like this: "Everybody keeps talking about how Saddam has these weapons of mass destruction." Stewart gives a quizzical look and then asks, "As opposed to our weapons of love?"
I thought of that line watching the mostly unwatchable but still strangely hypnotic "10.5" miniseries earlier this week, in which a giant earthquake destroys most of Southern California, and topples a series of west coast landmarks along the way. What struck me watching it was that the movie had a central plot twist that has become bizarrely familiar over the past few years: when the rogue seismologist (played by Kim Delaney) realizes that the The Big One is truly upon us, she hatches a scheme to keep the entire Pacific coast from sliding into the ocean: setting off five underground nuclear explosions at crucial points in the fault line, thereby "fusing" the fault together with the tremendous heat of the explosions.
Now, I know there are the obvious objections that 1) this probably wouldn't work in real life, and 2) this is the exact inverse of the plot of Superman 1 -- detonating a nuclear warhead in the San Andreas to keep California from sliding into the sea, instead of making it slide into the sea, as Lex Luthor planned to do. But I think the more important point here is that this is now the fourth big disaster movie in recent years (Deep Impact, The Core, Armageddon) that involves saving the planet through the unlikely means of detonating nuclear weapons. I don't think it's pushing things too far into the realm of ideological critique to say that this is a slightly skewed representation of what nuclear weapons are designed to do. If you knew nothing of the daily headlines or military history, and were simply a viewer of popular entertainment, you might think that the only reason we kept our nukes around was to protect us from some future environmental catastrophe.
Come to think of it, perhaps this explains why we're spending $30 billion over the next four years "modernizing" our nuclear arsenal.