On July 4, 2017, North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile that had serious ramifications for the United States. The ICBM traveled more than 1,700 vertical miles before ultimately landing in the Sea of Japan. Some experts warned that if the missile had been sent on a flatter trajectory, it could have made contact with Alaska.
The Communist regime was finally capable of nuclear destruction stateside.The missile test seemed to be on every front page in mainland America that day. But when the filmmaker David Freid Googled the news from Alaska, almost no headlines surfaced. “I saw barely a mention in the local reporting of what was a big deal to the Lower 48,” Freid told me.
He saw articles about an increase in bear attacks in Anchorage. He saw news that the salmon run wasn’t as strong as in years past. He read an article about rising sea levels in the North, which were forcing an Inuit town to relocate. “These are important things,” Freid said. “But when it came to Kim [Jong Un]’s nukes, there was a surprising lack of local coverage.” In an article published two days following the missile test, The Guardian reported that many Alaskans were more worried about bears than bombs.
Freid decided to find out for himself if the characterization of nonchalance held any water. The filmmaker knew he couldn’t reach a representative sample of the state’s population, but he tried to cast as wide a net as possible. For his short documentary Alaska DGAF, Freid interviewed urban and rural Alaskans, military officials, a scientist, and a nuclear-war specialist. Most people he spoke with were indeed unfazed by the prospect of a nuclear disaster in their home state.
“The one thing Alaskans worry about most is driving home,” says Peter Haussler, a U.S. Geological Survey researcher interviewed in the film. “They’re more scared about the things close to them. The hazards that we see on a daily basis are strong on our minds.”