Channing Tatum’s “White House Down” is entirely lacking in realism with one very important exception—the climax. How so? Towards the end of the movie, the new President (Speaker of the House) orders an air strike on the White House to kill those who have hacked into the US nuclear arsenal (and maybe for other reasons). As the planes are about to drop their ordnance on the White House, a girl (the hero’s daughter) waves a (presidential) flag on the White House lawn, causing the lead pilot to abort the mission.
How is this realistic? Pretty much every pilot (at least among the democracies) holds a virtual red card (it is actually called that--a red card) that empowers him or her to make the final decision. They don’t need additional authority or orders to abort—they are pre-delegated that authority. The question at the heart of my new bookwith David Auerswald (official pub date of Jan 5th, but already in Dave's hands) is not when pilots have such authority and how they use it, but mostly how much discretion ground commanders have, the oversight they face, and the incentives they have. Among the countries operating in Afghanistan, that authority varied quite a bit. In the skies over Libya, much less so, as again pilots have the authority to say no when they see that the risk of collateral damage is too high or otherwise where the circumstances have changed from the plan (but do read chapter eight of our book on the variation among NATO countries in what missions they were willing to do near and over Libya).
So, as I watched this utterly ridiculous movie, there was an a-ha moment where I saw a very realistic outcome—pilot sees girl, pilot refuses to drop. Red card, ahoy!
Anyhow, tis a silly movie but a pretty fun with a very, very modest dose of reality at the end. Usually, movies tend to lose their grasp of reality to finesse the plot, but strangely enough, this movie grasped reality to finesse its ending. Woot! And yes another shameless plug.