In October 1940, Americans flocked to movie theaters to see Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, mocking the most powerful tyrant on the globe. In December 2014, movie theaters and then the production company cancelled the release of The Interview because of threats of terror from a tinpot, though totalitarian and evil, tyrant who rules a weak and decrepit nation…

It’s not that there is (unfortunately) no precedent for this: consider the Mohammed cartoons. It’s not that movie theaters don’t have to be attentive to the well-being of those who attend their movies. It’s not that there isn’t something ridiculous about the lack of Western interest in a totalitarian dictatorship’s starving millions of its people, while its attempt to prevent an American movie from being shown makes the front pages.

Still. The surrender to North Korea is a historical moment. It’s far more significant than President Obama’s announcement the same day of his opening toward Cuba. That is merely another sign of an administration’s strategically weak and morally rudderless foreign policy. The capitulation to North Korea could be—unless we reverse course in a fundamental way—a signpost in a collapse of civilizational courage.

It’s a role-reversal that only Hollywood could come up with. In “The Interview” Seth Rogen and James Franco play unlikely assassins; now they’ve become even more unlikely targets. And Confidential has learned that the actors have each been given a “giant” round-the-clock bodyguard to deal with the threat

Rogen and Franco may not be the only ones who find themselves in the crosshairs. Confidential is told that top-level Sony execs held a “small” crisis meeting Saturday to discuss a game plan to handle the disaster and that firing Sony Pictures co-chair Amy Pascal “came up as a possibility.”

The House cybersecurity chairman Thursday raised the specter that nation-state hackers like Iran and North Korea, linked to the attack on Sony Pictures, could hit the nation’s electric grid, Wall Street and even the federal government next

“American businesses, financial networks, government agencies and infrastructure systems like power grids are at continual risk. They’re targeted not just by lone hackers and criminal syndicates, but by well-funded nation-states like North Korea and Iran. A lack of consequences for when nation states carry out cyberattacks has only emboldened these adversaries to do more harm,” he added.

The Sony attacks were routed from command-and-control centers across the world, including a convention center in Singapore and Thammasat University in Thailand, the researchers said. But one of those servers, in Bolivia, had been used in limited cyberattacks on South Korean targets two years ago. That suggested that the same group or individuals might have been behind the Sony attack.

The Sony malware shares remarkable similarities with that used in attacks on South Korean banks and broadcasters last year. Those intrusions, which also destroyed data belonging to their victims, are believed to have been the work of a cybercriminal gang known as Dark Seoul. Some experts say they cannot rule out the possibility that the Sony attack was the work of a Dark Seoul copycat, the security researchers said…

Security experts were never able to track down those hackers, though United States officials have long said they believed the attacks emanated from Iran, using tools that are now on the black market.

Tal Klein, vice president of strategy for the cloud security company Adallom Inc.:

“No [I don’t think North Korea’s behind the Sony hack]. I’m not even wearing my cybersecurity hat when I say that. Too many things don’t fit. When the attack was announced, North Korea denied it. North Korea loves to talk about themselves in these situations. It’s not like Russia or China denying their role in espionage. North Korea would be dancing up and down. It doesn’t fit. And a few days ago, the FBI was asked point blank and said they didn’t think North Korea was behind the attack. That was an actual person willing to go on the record. Compared to that, an anonymous source is very hard to believe. The language in the ransom note is too western — it seems like someone with a Western education trying to sound Korean — and it didn’t mention ‘The Interview.’

“The malware used is likely derivative of something written in North Korea, but that’s likely the extent. There’s no indication from the malware that North Korea made any move to specifically get it to the attackers.”

Scant resources or not, a defector who once worked as a computer expert for the North Korean government says that it has a vast network of hackers devoted to cyberwarfare against perceived enemies of the Stalinist state.

Jang Se-yul, who defected from North Korea seven years ago, told CNN that he thinks there are 1,800 cyberwarriors in the agency stationed around the world. But he says even the agents themselves don’t know how many others work for the secretive group, called Bureau 121, whose mission is to “conduct cyberattacks against overseas and enemy states.”…

Commenting generally on the North Korean government’s hacking arsenal, Jang said he thinks the reclusive East Asian nation’s cyberwarfare is more real and more dangerous than the regime’s ability to launch a nuclear offensive — even if it is the latter that has contributed to expansive sanctions, other penalties and the country’s isolation on the world stage.

Said Jang, “This silent war — the cyberwar — has already begun without a single bullet fired.”

Both the White House and the Pentagon list intellectual property and identity theft as a form of cyber crime.

However, they do not spell out when a cyberattack is serious enough to constitute an act of war.  

The Wall Street Journal’s May 2011 article mentioned that “one idea gaining momentum at the Pentagon is the notion of ‘equivalence.’ If a cyber attack produces the death, damage, destruction or high-level disruption that a traditional military attack would cause, then it would be a candidate for a ‘use of force’ consideration, which could merit retaliation.”  

David Inserra, a research associate for homeland security and cybersecurity at The Heritage Foundation, told Breitbart News that the Sony cyberattack is not disruptive enough to merit an act of war or an act of cyber terrorism label.  

“This is an example of a cyber crime,” he said. “They stole something just as when credit card information was stolen in the Target hack.”  

The most obvious retaliatory tools, imposing economic sanctions or restricting trade and financial dealings, would have no effect on the isolated nation, which the United Nations has sanctioned for its nuclear weapons program.

“We can’t just cut them off economically, because what are we going to cut off,” Syversen said. “This is a very tough problem to solve.”…

The first obstacle to retaliation, the official said, is identifying the source, which is much more difficult than determining with certainty who launched a missile, dropped a bomb, shot someone or even carried out a terrorist attack.

A second and perhaps greater obstacle, the official said, is the danger of a retaliatory attack escalating into an uncontrollable cyberwar that some have suggested could threaten the U.S. economy and financial system

“It’s a little like unleashing the Air Force on the Islamic State,” Healey said. “If the bad guys only have pickup trucks, there is only so much damage you can do.”

There are innumerable ways in which copycat hostage takers can emulate North Korea, since everything today can be done from the shadows.

An academic conference on Chinese suppression of Tibet or Xinjiang separatists? Threaten to blow up the auditorium. A book exposing Vladimir Putin’s Mafioso approach to government? Blackmail the publisher with pictures of his children. What about a university that offers classes on North Korea? Take down its computers, destroy its academic records. A chain that opens up stores in an enemy of Iran? Sabotage its logistics, threaten to poison its products…

Would Theo van Gogh, shot by an Islamist several years ago for his work, have told the truth if he knew what lay ahead? Knowing what his fate was? Let’s hope he would have. 

Yet how many voices will be silenced by that fear: You know what? It’s really just not that worth it.

This film is not an act of courage. It is not a stand against totalitarianism, concentration camps, mass starvation, or state-sponsored terror. It is, based on what we know of the movie so far, simply a comedy, made by a group of talented actors, writers, and directors, and intended, like most comedies, to make money and earn laughs. The movie would perhaps have been better off with a fictitious dictator and regime; instead, it appears to serve up the latest in a long line of cheap and sometimes racism-tinged jokes, stretching from Team America: World Police to ongoing sketches on Saturday Night Live…

What’s more, crowding the North Korea “story” with anecdotes of nutty behavior and amusing delusions may ironically benefit those in charge in Pyongyang. It serves to buffer and obscure the sheer evil of a regime that enslaves children and sentences entire families to death for crimes of thought, while building ski resorts, dolphinariums, and other luxury escapes for elites with funds that could feed its malnourished people for several years. How many people would have watched The Interview and concluded that they should do something to help change this odious regime and bring about human rights for North Koreans?…

North Korea is not funny. It is hard to imagine a comparable comedy emerging about quirky Islamic State slavers or amusing and “complicated” genocidaires in the Central African Republic.

North Korea’s apparent victory over this film is but a coming attraction of things to come. If hacking and threats can shut down a poorly reviewed comedy, they can also shut down newspapers, magazines, television stations, and other media. This then was the Pearl Harbor of a war that is just beginning.

Like all wars, there were preludes. The prelude for this one came in an unlikely location: Yale University. Several years ago, the Yale University Press published a book on the controversy surrounding the cartoons of Mohammad that had appeared in several Scandinavian newspapers and provoked violent responses. Naturally, the book, as submitted, included the cartoons that were at the center of the dispute. But Yale University Press decided to censor these cartoons out of fear that their inclusion might endanger the lives of Yale students and faculty. Yale’s understandable decision set an unfortunate precedent that has now been followed by Sony and by the theaters that pressured Sony into canceling The Interview.

There is no simple solution to this dilemma

When Islamic extremists directed threats were made against Salman Rushdie, the author of The Satanic Verses, several leading publishing companies agreed to publish the book jointly in a show of solidarity against censorial threats. Although Rushdie had to live in hiding for several years, as the result fatwa issued against him by Iran’s supreme leader, freedom of speech prevailed and his book was published and widely read. In the Sony case, there was no such collective support. Nor did Sony itself do everything it could to strike a proper balance between caution and artistic freedom. It should have offered the film free on the Internet so that millions of people around the world could choose to see what North Korea didn’t want them to see. They can still do this, thus showing the North Korean’s leaders that private companies have ways to fight back. Such an action would not eliminate all risks, but it would remove movie theaters in malls as soft and highly visible targets.

Sony is a for-profit entity, and not even an American one, that effectively has important influence over American culture. We don’t entrust for-profit entities with the common defense. And recognizing that the threat to a Sony picture is actually a threat to the freedom of American culture ought to lead us to a public rather than a private solution.

The federal government should take financial responsibility. Either Washington should guarantee Sony’s financial liability in the event of an attack, or it should directly reimburse the studio’s projected losses so it can release the movie online for free. The latter solution has the attractive benefit of ensuring a far wider audience for the film than it would otherwise have attracted.

The fiscal cost of backstopping Sony, against the backdrop of the federal budget, would be insignificant. There is also precedent for government reimbursement for private businesses affected by terrorist attacks — Washington bailed out the airlines, who were only indirect victims of the September 11 attacks — not to mention innumerable businesses harmed by natural disasters.

It’s seems doubtful that the goal of The Interview was to illuminate what drives Kim Jong-un or to dissect the society that created him. More likely, there was, in the development of The Interview, at least one conversation in which someone asked Seth Rogen and James Franco, “Why does it have to be the real guy?” and they said, “Because it’s funnier!” In fact, Rogen recently recounted just such a conversation: “There was a moment where they were like: ‘They’ve threatened war over the movie. You kill him [Kim Jong-un]. Would you consider not killing him?’ And we were like, ‘Nope.’” This kind of edginess—the kind that puts Saddam Hussein in bed with Satan—is actually the safest kind because, really, what are the possible repercussions? Or, at least, that’s the way it used to be.

So if you’re worried about anything disappearing, worry about that—the desire to push something just a little farther for the sake of being funnier. Because there is absolutely no way that anyone anytime soon will get through the door of anywhere with anything resembling a script about a real-life figure who has the capacity to inflict the kind of damage that these hackers inflicted on Sony, or forced Sony to inflict on itself. The argument, “Because it’s funnier!” is just not going to carry much weight anymore, especially now that people can invoke this Sony fiasco as a counter-argument