Star Wars, Torture and War

During my morning showers, my mind seems to be turning often to the new Star Wars trilogy. Thankfully, not to Jar Jar Binks, but instead to the oft-repeated moral of the story: anger leads to hate. Hate leas to the Dark Side. (I might be forgetting a step in there, but anyway, don’t get pissed off). When the movie came out, I read a short newspaper article complaining about this morality. The author said something along the lines of, you can’t get pissed off at the Nazis or you become a Nazi yourself. Therefore, according to Lucas, there’s no place for outrage in a moral society. However, I think there’s another reading to this story.

Jedis aren’t regular folks. You don’t run into them at the super market. They wear funny robes and live in a temple. They’re specifically a warrior caste. Therefore, advice given to a warrior caste might specifically relate to their day job. If you’re going to use violence as a means of problem solving, you can’t act out of anger. It’s like spanking kids. People who rationalize that it’s good teaching tool (almost) all agree that you shouldn’t do it when or because you’re pissed off. Being a Jedi is a sort of a parental role in society. Sometimes, they have to administer spankings, so they better not do it when they’re angry.
Many of you, like me, probably think that’s just not a good idea to hit a child. Violence is not really a tool for problem solving. However, this is an action movie. What’s more, it’s an American action movie. Most Americans (especially those watching action movies) beleive that there are circumstances where violence is a tool for problem solving and indeed, there are situations where it is the only tool. (for instance, see Nazis in the first paragraph). Therefore, advice given to a fictional warrior caste might be applicable to the voting public of a democratic war machine.
A newspaper (the Washington Post?) recently ran a profile of three torturers. One was from Israel, one from Northern Ireland, one an American stationed in Iraq. All of them acting as government agents. One of them said, “you can’t fight evil and stay good.” A lot of the debate about torture is whether or not it works, which is morally moot. (It doesn’t work, but that really doesn’t matter.) The point is trying to stay good. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to detainee abuse. Detainee abuse is the dark side.
I’m listing to a CD of Howard Zinn speaking of art in a time or war. In the part about Catch-22 he talked about the Allies – the good guys, doing bombing runs on towns and villages with no military targets. War makes you bad, he said. Even if you start out good, it makes you bad.
Is there a way to fight a war without anger?
Let’s consider again the story of Anniken’s downfall. A very smart, very promising kid has to deal with some very painful blows. He’s got a phyisical, military sort of power and an incredible feeling of entitlement. He wants to do good and to protect what he values. At the same time, he wants to gain power for himself. In so doing, he starts making sacrifices. He sacrifices some of his values towards the greater good of protecting what he values. In the end, power becomes the most important thing for him.
Now, imagine a young-ish country, flush with military power. After a devestating loss, they turn outward to defend themselves and start striking in anger. In order to protect some of their values, they have to sacrifice some of them. They trade civil rights for some increased security. Eventually, the ruling class loses all sense of protecting the people and turns instead to increasing their own power.
Maybe the story of the entilted kid who is well meaning but also greedy is a story that really is logically consistent. The seemingly mututally exclusive motivations represent fractured motivations with himself and the differing motivations of different segments in society. Advice that is silly for individuals could be really useful to that kid, to public leaders and to entire societies. America: don’t get mad!

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Charles Céleste Hutchins

Supercolliding since 2003

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