One, known as "soylent green," was advertised as containing high-energy plankton. But when a senior executive of the product's manufacturing company is killed, a police investigation has the hero running for his life after discovering its real contents. At movie's end, the dying hero urges the secret be told: soylent green is made from human remains.
Interestingly, 40 years after "Soylent Green," many environmental and social issues it raised have come home to roost.
The movie was based on a 1966 novel by popular science fiction writer Harry Harrison, who died last August. One wonders if writers like Harrison -- and H.G. Wells before him -- enjoyed a sixth sense enabling them to envision worlds the rest of us grasp only after that world arrives. Wells, for example, wrote a novel -- almost 70 years before such an event became reality -- about man's journey to the moon.
Some fiction writers, sensitive to present threats growing into even greater future ones, seek to educate a naive public through the use of satire. George Orwell, seeing the Soviet threat under Josef Stalin for what it really was, became concerned during World War II that many fellow Britons held the dictator in high esteem due to his status as an ally.
The public's naivete about the Soviet threat was evident as Orwell's work "Animal Farm" was initially rejected by publishers, only becoming a commercial success when the Cold War evolved in World War II's aftermath. Time magazine later recognized his book as one of the 100 best English-language novels.
Against this background, factual events transpiring today in Iran and North Korea sadly give rise to such futuristic satire.
Capital punishment is used by some countries to silence opposition. Although China holds the execution record, Iran is very competitive at No. 2.
In February, Tehran executed 45 people within a 5-day period, mostly to suppress potential disturbances to its upcoming June presidential election. The executions were public to instill fear among the people. While hangings are the prominent means of execution, Iran's recent criminal code still permits the medieval practice of stoning as well.
Not wishing to draw attention to public executions in the run up to the election, Tehran slowed its pace. However, during the first week of July, it executed 48 prisoners in one week. Awaiting execution is an 18-year-old, arrested as an 8-year-old boy and kept in jail. By the time this article is read, his execution will have added to Iran's July tally. He will have "enjoyed" three additional years of life as Shariah law permits the execution of boys at 15 and girls at 9.
Turning to North Korea, U.S. citizen Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American visiting there, was sentenced to 15 years for crimes against the state last November. The crime he committed is simply taking pictures of starving children.
Under the brutal rule of the Kim dynasty, North Koreans have suffered through several famines since the 1990s.
One would think otherwise based on the country's high-profile, and obviously well-fed, leader Kim Jong Un but close observation shows him towering over those around him -- a telltale sign of generational food shortages.
The impact today is such that North Korean conscripts on average are well under 5 feet tall, more than a foot shorter than their South Korean counterparts.
The Hermit Kingdom has suffered both macro- and micro-famines that have driven some to do the unthinkable -- consume human flesh. Reports have emerged from North Korea of people killing their children or digging up the dead to sustain their burning hunger.
Such reports have periodically surfaced over the years. But a copy of a 2009 North Korean police training manual gives credibility to more recent reports, citing several examples of cannibalism.
Apparently of more concern to Pyongyang than feeding its people is teaching police how to identify cannibalistic activity -- attaching importance to whether the deceased was killed for food or died first, the remains later scavenged. In some cases, such human flesh has been sold on the market as mutton.
Pyongyang and Tehran are more than "Axis of Evil" members. They are allies in a violent effort to disrupt the world order. This provides an opportunity for a sci-fi writer to further tie their relationship together with a macabre storyline -- the two countries assisting each other with individual supply-and-demand needs. The plot would involve Iran, with its "bumper crop" of executed prisoners meeting the endless demand of North Korea's starving population, shipping its product to Pyongyang packaged as "soylent green."
For Iran -- a leadership lacking respect for human life -- such a scenario accurately portrays its mindset toward its own citizenry. (Iran may opt to retain some remains for its own consumption as Shariah does permit eating the flesh of apostates.)
For North Korea -- a leadership unable to feed its own people and known to exaggerate everything from outside threats to missile capabilities -- such a scenario enables it to claim it imports food to feed them.
Like books by Harrison and Wells, only future generations of readers will know whether such satire becomes non-fiction.
(A retired U.S. Marine, Lt. Col. James Zumwalt served in the Vietnam War, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Gulf War. He has written "Bare Feet, Iron Will -- Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam's Battlefields," "Living the Juche Lie: North Korea's Kim Dynasty" and "Doomsday: Iran -- The Clock is Ticking.")
(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)