The Lord of the Rings is Racist – A Counter Argument

By Ciaran Kovach

In honour of the 124th birthday of J.R.R. Tolkien, the creative mind behind The Lord of the Rings, I will be deviating from my preferred medium of film and writing on a series of literature near and dear to my heart. While I cannot claim to be more than a casual Tolkienite, I have been a fan of Tolkien’s universe for many years now and have done a respectable amount of reading around his main stories.

What I will be addressing today is a charge laid against Tolkien’s work that it is racist. In short, the main antagonists on the Tolkienverse, Melkor and later Sauron, have utilized not only evil creatures such as Orcs, trolls, dragons and the like to fight their wars, but also human allies. The most prominent are as follows; Easterlings of Rhun, tribes of men based off of Middle Eastern cultures. The Haradrim, tribes of men based off of African cultures. Finally, the Variags, tribes of men based off of the Mongols or Huns. Many people who have read Tolkien’s books or seen Peter Jackson’s films and having witnessed a story where dark-skinned men march among the ranks of a force of pure darkness against the primarily Caucasian forces of good, came to the not unpredictable but uninformed conclusion that Tolkien was a racist.

In this article I will make the argument that a wider knowledge and appreciation of Tolkien’s work makes it clear that Tolkien was not racist in going about creating his universe.

To start, I will introduce you to very important narrative within Tolkien’s work that will inform you going forward. Tolkien does not portray any race or spiritual being as being pure good and incorruptible. Even the Elves, who at first glance may seem as such, are revealed upon closer inspection of having a tendency towards arrogance and even cruelty on occasion. Of all the races not represented as fundamentally evil in nature, Tolkien portrays humans as being the most flawed. Tolkien describes men as very much corruptible and prone to pettiness, arrogance, mistrustfulness, greed and cruelty. A description which I feel can be applied to humans of the real world as well. Tolkien does not totally condemn humans however, saying that humans, for all their flaws, are capable of great acts of kindness and valour. The dark forces in Tolkien’s world as shown as being high adept at manipulating and bringing out the worst in humanity given the opportunity.

The best example of this are Sauron’s rings of power. Of the 19 original rings of power created by Sauron, a malignant, corruptive force being bound within each one, 9 went to the great kings of men. While the dwarves and Elves were able to resist the influence of their rings, the kings of men were utterly corrupted body and soul by the power granted to them by the rings, eventually becoming the Nazgul, beings of pure evil like their new master Sauron. Sauron’s 20th ring of power, the ring that allowed Sauron to exert his influence over the others and which contained part of Sauron’s spirit, came to be in the hands of Isildur, the King of Gondor, following Sauron’s defeat as the end of the Second Age. Despite the advice of the Elves, the malignant intelligence within the ring corrupted Isildur’s mind, consuming it in greed and promises of power and causing him to refuse to destroy it and Sauron entirely.

The potential for men to overcome and go beyond corruption is best displayed by the character of Boromir, the heroic Captain of Gondor that joins the Fellowship of the Ring in their quest to destroy the One Ring. Boromir, having proven his character with his heroic battle to retake Osgiliath and recognition of his father’s unfair treatment of his brother Faramir, falls under the influence of the ring. It is implied that Boromir considered guiding the Fellowship to Gondor with the purpose of using its power to aid the beleaguered armies of Gondor. The ring exploits his frustration at Gondor’s plight and his desire to please his father, eventually causing him to attack Frodo Baggins, the Ringbearer in a fit of rage and greed. Frodo escapes Boromir and with the presence of the ring removed, Boromir is consumed with regret at his actions. Just after this event, Uruk-Hai attack the Fellowship. Boromir dies protecting Merry and Pippin against impossible odds, riddled with arrows and with a great many dead Uruks around him.

With the susceptibility of humans to corruption as well as righteousness within Tolkien’s world now established for you, I will talk specifically on the human factions and cultures that align with the forces of darkness. Rhun, Khand and Harad are notable in their geographical position as they are within the area that Melkor and his heir Sauron were most influential. Given what has been previously established, it can’t come as a surprise that the men of these lands would align with the darkness. The simple presence of pure evil corrupting their minds and souls over countless generations, combined with the threat of attack by Mordor’s Orc hordes and the manipulative cunning of Sauron (someone who could fool even the wisest Elves) made it so that only the very bravest and most righteous would consider defiance. To the men of the east, very much disconnected with the greater, more benevolent spirit familiar to the peoples of the west, Melkor and Sauron would have been gods upon the earth in their eyes, resulting in fearful worship of these wrathful gods. Even if the fantasy elements such as the mind warping influence of evil were removed, it is easy to imagine the Easterlings, Haradrim and Variags aligning with Sauron out of political common sense. Defiance against the local hegemon is rarely a good idea.

The tribes of men aligned with Mordor do have their own stories of overcoming their flawed nature and being righteous in action. In the First Age of the Sun, 2 Easterling families stand out, those of Ulfang the Black and that of Bor. Ulfang and his sons betrayed the Elves to Melkor at the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, slaughtering them from behind. During this same war, even in the face their own people switching sides, a Easterling by the name of Bor and his 3 sons remained true to the Elves and all went on to heroically die in battle. It should also be remembered that Tolkien wrote that following the final destruction of Sauron at the end of the Third Age, his hold over his human allies was broken and saw the creation of everlasting peaceful coexistence between them and the new Re-United Kingdom. This is in contrast to Sauron’s other servants, who fled to the darkest corners of Middle Earth, retaining their malice, cruelty and hatred of righteousness, if not their great former power.

My fundamental argument from my reading of Tolkien that the dark-skinned men of Middle Earth’s allegiance to Melkor and Sauron was as a result of the fundamental nature of men, combined with the overwhelming, corrupting influence of darkness they were exposed to by happenstance. I do not feel that Tolkien consciously attempted to represent them as fundamentally deviant or weak compared to lighter-skinned men in any way.

To continue my argument on why Lord of the Rings is not racist, I will specifically address the claim that ‘all the evil humans are dark-skinned’. This statement is totally uninformed. In the Second Age of the Sun there existed the great Kingdom of Numenor and the Numenorean people were Caucasian. Numenor was lost after being corrupted from within by Sauron, their armies destroyed by the Elves and the very land itself being destroyed by the sea. Some Numenoreans survived with nine ships of good-hearted Numenoreans sailing to Middle Earth and founding the Kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor. However, Numenoreans loyal to Sauron also fled it’s destruction and settled in Umbar in the lands of Harad. These ‘Black Numenoreans’ would go on to be Sauron’s most loyal human servants with many of them going to live permanently within the lands of Mordor. It is believed that every single one of them died during the final downfall of Sauron, loyal to the end.

During the Third Age Sauron found another Caucasian human ally in the form of the Dunlendings. The Dunlendings were a tribal people who’s land bordered on that of Rohan. During the War of the Ring, Sauron’s servant Saruman the White, a powerful being possessing great abilities of persuasion brought them under his banner through promises of revenge against the people of Rohan, who had wronged them in the past. They even went as far as allowing Saruman to breed some of them with Uruk-Hai through sorcery to create Half-Orc abominations. The disastrous loss of life they suffered at the Battle of the Hornburg led to them ultimately making peace with Rohan, promising to never rise against them again.

To conclude, I do understand that from the perspective of someone with a casual interest in Tolkien’s most famous works or Peter Jackson’s films, the representation of darker-skinned people can be viewed as racist. However, as a person who has a wider knowledge of Tolkien’s work, I do not believe Tolkien maliciously or subconsciously injected any form of racism into his work. In my mind, Tolkien paints an superb picture of human nature in his work. A picture in which mankind is presented as a people capable of both great righteousness and great malice and where the colour of your skin means nothing when facing the world in which you live.

Political information and implications regarding the ‘First Order’ in ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’

By Ciaran Kovach

CONTAINS SPOILERS

As an avid Star Wars fan, I was extremely excited for and intrigued by ‘Star Wars: The Force Awaken’ leading up to its release. One particularly intriguing area was the nature of the First Order, the evil military junta that acts as the main villain of the film and will be so for the rest of the new trilogy.

I initially assumed that the new trilogy would see the Rebellion or New Republic up against something resembling the ‘Imperial Remnant’ (a loose conglomerate of warlords who took over much of the Empire following the deaths of the Emperor and Darth Vader) from the now null ‘Star Wars Expanded Universe’. However it was established early on that while similar, the First Order was not the Empire of old.

Leading up to the film, the director J.J. Abrams described the First Order as a collection of individuals that idolized the bygone Empire as a model of order, stability, jingoism and human dominance. Abrams also described the First Order as something similar to if the Nazis who fled to South America had organized and tried to recreate Nazi Germany.

Having now seen the ‘Force Awakens’, I have gleaned a deeper insight into the political and social nature of the First Order, which I will now describe.

With regards to its leadership, the Sith Lord Supreme Leader Snoke is (as his name suggests) the unquestionable leader of the First Order. His exact role is unclear however as little is revealed about him. One would assume that he has the final say in all major decisions regarding domestic and foreign policy, but his activities as a Sith Lord (notably the training of Kylo Ren) may leave him with limited time for actual governance.

J.J. Abrams’ analogy regarding Nazis fleeing to South America implies that there may have been many former Imperial officers, agents and bureaucrats amongst the First Order’s leadership. This would certainly explain how such a formidable military force could appear over the course of 30 years.

With regards to the hierarchy on display in the Force Awakens, apart from Snoke, Kylo Ren appears to occupy a similar position to Darth Vader as military Commander in Chief. General Hux seems to act as at the very least, the military commander of that sector of First Order galactic space. While he does take orders from Kylo Ren, the actual running of the First Order’s forces (most notably Starkiller Base) largely falls to him, with Kylo choosing to give only general strategic commands. At lower levels, Captain Plasma and a number of other unnamed officers and NCOs act as the only representatives of a military command structure below the General level. I feel it would be safe to assume that it resembles a very authoritarian version of a conventional real-world commander structure.

Some clues are also given regarding the nature of the military leadership of the First Order on wider society. The stormtrooper deserter (that becomes known as Finn) states that the name he had been given was FN-2187 and that he was kidnapped at birth to be trained as a stormtrooper. This suggests that rank and file First Order personnel are conscripts that receive Spartan/Mandalorian-style military training and undergo political indoctrination. This shows in the movie with First Order stormtroopers and pilots appearing far more competent than their bygone Imperial counterparts. It is unclear whether high-ranking officers in specialist roles are conscripted/appointed as well, or whether they are volunteers.

Military discipline in the First Order comes across as very strict and hierarchical. Stormtroopers are not even allowed to remove their helmets without permission and at least in the case of Kylo Ren, higher-ranking officers are at liberty to summarily punish those of a lower rank. It is implied that this strict regime is not entirely necessary. First Order personnel come across as highly disciplined and motivated with few exceptions.

First Order strategy and tactics are hinted upon in the movie. There appears to be a heavy reliance on heavy-handed use of shock, awe and annihilation. The one successful firing of the Starkiller Base super weapon kills billions just to make a point. The second attempted firing of the weapon aimed to obliterate the home planet of the Resistance. The attacks on the Jakku settlements and the Takodana bar represented the First Order’s disregard for collateral damage and willingness to kill civilians out of convenience. With the exception of the attack on the village in the opening scene, the First Order ground troops and air support are shown to coordinate well.

First Order technology also seemed to be perfected and advanced versions of Imperial technology. Notable examples being the lightsaber-proof electric melee weapon employed by a stormtrooper on Takodana and the First Order placing their super weapon inside an existing planet rather than having to build a station around it.

The strictly civilian leadership and infrastructure of the First Order is not shown at all. Even if the First Order is a military junta as traditionally understood, the fact that it was able to construct Starkiller Base suggests a huge amount of available state resources from a wider empire. As such there must be a civilian bureaucracy and infrastructure to run the non-military affairs of the First Order. The failure to mention this infrastructure is unsurprising however, as touching on it would have bored the average audience. It is also implied that the events of the film take place on the outer edge of First Order’s area of control, where little civilian infrastructure would be present.

Finally, with regards to political ideology, while Snoke and Kylo Ren seem motivated towards destroying the Jedi and domination of the force and the galaxy in the Sith tradition, there is also a more public First Order ‘secular ideology’. The First Order regards the bygone Empire as the original legitimate authority over the galaxy and themselves as its heir. The Republic, with its apparent greater liberties, is represented as irresponsibly cultivating chaos. The Resistance, the successor organization to the Rebel Alliance, are regarded as traitors by the First Order and by their assistance of The Resistance, The Republic are traitors by extension. The fact that with the possible exception of Snoke, all the shown members of the First Order are human, it is suggested that the First Order shares the late Empire’s belief in human superiority.

To conclude, there is much to still be learned about the First Order as the other films in the trilogy come out and lore materials are released, but the Force Awakens has set the foundation for a very interesting new faction for the Star Wars mythos.

Sicario

By Ciaran Kovach

If the point of a great thriller is to present an audience with an engrossing story, interesting characters and scenes of nail biting tension, ‘Sicario‘ is most definitively a great thriller.

Starring Emily Blunt as the promising and idealistic FBI agent Kate Macer, ‘Sicario’ tells the story of Macer’s journey to the darkest side of the US ‘War on Drugs’. Caught up in a web of black ops intrigue and constantly under threat from a ruthless cartel, Macer and her partner Reggie (played by Daniel Kaluuya) very much descend into the heart of darkness that is the frontline of ‘The War on Drugs’.

If I were only allowed to say one thing about this film, it would be that the scenes designed as heights of tension are some of the best I have ever seen. An excellent, engaging feeling of tension runs through the film from the very beginning to the very end, but during the scenes of true tension (of which there are many!) the intense acting and excellent use of both picture and sound makes for some truly heart stopping scenes.

With regards to acting, there is excellent acting across the board. Kate Macer’s constantly increasing sense of entrapment and unease as the film progresses comes across as very genuine. Benicio Del Toro (Alejandro) and Josh Brolin’s (Matt Graver) characters play their roles as mysterious plot drivers perfectly, revealing themselves to the audience slowly and smartly, keeping the audience engaged with both their characters and the plot throughout.

The plot of the film itself is very good. The writer (Taylor Sheridan) makes the excellent and rather unexpected decision to add a sub-plot involving a Mexican policeman and his family that runs parallel to the main plot. This sub-plot functions as a way of keeping the audience from becoming so engaged with the intrigue of Kate Macer’s story that they forget the human element of the film’s subject, that of ‘The War on Drugs’. When the plots finally overlap, it has an excellent impact on the audience. The intrigue that dominates the film is excellently written, with numerous great twists and turns. The plot does suffer one or two weak points with regards to Kate Macer herself for much of the film however. For much of the film it feels like she is simply being dragged along by the group of guys who seem to consider her something of a liability despite the fact that it is made plain that her presence is significant.

The film’s respectable number of action scenes are commendable, being punchy and making excellent use of the tension that runs throughout the film. There are no action scenes that can be regarded as highly exciting or spectacular, but this is largely to the film’s benefit as such action scenes would endanger the grounded feeling that the film works hard to cultivate.

Finally, with regards to the setting, ‘Sicario’ succeeds in creating a setting that is both grounded and engaging. The film very quickly establishes the sophistication and brutality of the Mexican drug cartel and imbues the audience with a dread of them that holds throughout the film. The highly militarized and morally questionable fashion through which Kate’s anti-cartel team goes about their work (similar to actual US practises, if exaggerated in some instances for dramatic effect) succeeds in preventing a uninspired good-bad dichotomy. For those aware of the nasty, cynical and unending nature of the US ‘War on Drugs’, the film certainly succeeds in showing it in a stark and disturbing relief.

To conclude, I would say that ‘Sicario’ is a breathtaking crime-thriller. I mean this in a rather literal sense, myself having felt rather breathless leaving the cinema as a result of me holding my breath for much of the film.

Rating: 9/10

Political and Strategic Analysis of Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim

By Ciaran Kovach

Contains spoilers.

Pacific Rim is a film I am very fond of indeed, there is a great deal of simple, straightforward satisfaction and fun to be gleaned from watching a film centred on the premise of giant bipedal mechs punching equally massive Godzilla-style creatures in the face. Pacific Rim not only boasts spectacular ‘dumb’ action however, an excellent cast, a well written story and fabulous music makes it an all-round pleasure to watch.

Aside from the film’s merits I have just mentioned, another reason I enjoy Pacific Rim so much. If one such as I, a student of International Politics takes a minute to read unto the events and story of the film, it paints a picture of a very interesting world both familiar and alien.

In this article I will delve into the strategy, politics and economics which Pacific Rim does not explore in-depth, but provides the politically astute reader with a great many subtle insights. To those who have not seen Pacific Rim, beware spoilers, obviously.

To begin, what is the immediate impact of the commencement of the Human-Kaiju conflict? Kaiju attacks on the coastlines of the nations of the Pacific Rim, particularly pre-Jaeger programme attacks, would cause severe economic damage. The economic costs of massive damage to buildings in affected cities, loss of life and economic disruption would run into hundreds of millions at the very least. As well as the immediate economic costs of such attacks, affected areas would be branded as poor places to invest money in, on account of the possibility of a giant monster stomping on it, resulting in further economic decline. State budgets would also be strained by the costs of rebuilding cities and dealing with floods of refugees.

The fact that the first Kaiju attack was apparently treated as a one-off gives some insight into global perception of the threat at the beginning of the conflict. The Kaiju attack that devastated 3 US cities was treated akin to an act of God and it seems like a conscious decision to bury their heads in the sands was made by the world’s governments. The idea of follow-up attacks being too terrifying a notion to give thought to.

The Kaiju not only have a pronounced impact on built-up coastal areas, but also on the Pacific Ocean’s ecosystem. A phenomenon called ‘Kaiju Blue’ is touched upon. The phenomenon appears to resemble an extremely pervasive oil spill. I feel that it is safe to assume that following a number of Kaiju attacks, Pacific fish stocks would be severely affected and Pacific Rim coastal communities would begin to suffer health problems.

After repeated Kaiju attacks, Trans-Pacific trade is deemed extremely risky and 50% of Pacific shipping lanes are closed. This would surely have a huge impact on global trade and the global economy. Countries with their major trading ports situated long Pacific coastlines such as China and Japan would see their export and import industries suffer hugely. It is logical to assume that this would led to a very pronounced shift in economic power from the Pacific nations to the nations bordering the Indian and Atlantic oceans as companies scramble for alternative, safer shipping routes.

The severe global economic recession brought on by the Kaiju, combined with the apparent inability of state militaries to effective stop Kaiju attacks would cause massive social unrest, particularly along the Pacific Rim. This would further weaken the global economy and in extreme cases, tie down the militaries of states affected by Kaiju attacks, resulting in Kaiju attacks becoming more devastating.

The creation of the Pan Pacific Defense Corps, a coalition of Pacific and non-Pacific nations aimed at countering the Kaiju threat is not a surprise. Faced with the continuing global economic crisis, social unrest at home and a seemingly unrelenting, genocidal enemy, only a truly irrational state would refuse to join such a coalition over political grievances.

The near immediate successes of the PPDC’s Jaeger programme, while extremely expensive, would surely do a great deal in restoring public confidence in their governments and reducing the economic impact of Kaiju attacks.

The increasing public popularity (possibly aided by censorship of exact details of Jaeger operations) and media exposure of the Jaeger programme has a number of political ramifications. It is implied that despite being part of the wider PPDC, the manufacturing of Jaegers and training of pilots are the duties of individual member states. This would likely lead to something of an arms race. The larger member states such as the US, China and Russia would likely compete with one another to have the best Jaegers and pilots for political influence within the PPDC. The smaller member states would politically align themselves with the major member states that can better provide protection for them.

Jaegers would also likely be used for domestic political purposes. Use of imagery of state technological power and heroic, patriotic pilots would stir up a great deal of nationalistic, patriotic sentiment which could be harnessed as a means of pursuing policy. Jaegers would also enforce the authority of state as a thin red line between citizens and horrific monsters, helping silence dissent against unpopular policies.

The steady escalation of the Kaiju assault is extremely significant. Faced with increasingly powerful Kaiju and more frequent attacks, a conclusion would be reached that realistically, one of 2 futures exists for humanity. The first future involves humanity figuring out a way to destroy the breach through which the Kaiju are emerging, something which is deemed impossible until the later events of the film. Alternatively the entirety of human civilisation must begin shifting towards total global warfare to ensure that the PPDC can escalate the Jaeger programme at the same pace as the Kaiju evolution and possibly win a war of attrition, a dark, uncertain and dystopian future nobody wishes to consider.

On the shift away from Jaegers to coastal walls; with the escalation of the Kaiju threat to category 4 and a loss rate of Jaegers that the PPDC considers unsustainable, the PPDC makes the desperate and foolish move of building giant fortifications along affected coastlines as a ‘cheaper’ alternative. This is a fundamentally flawed strategy. Like the Jaegers, the fortifications would have to be escalated at the same pace as the Kaiju threat, resulting in huge long-term expense. There is also the question of how long a Kaiju can live for and how far it can travel. Even if the walls along the Pacific Rim held, there is no guarantee the Kaiju would not simply swim to previously unaffected coastlines and attack them. Thus the only viable application of coastal fortification is if most of the planet’s coastlines were fortified, which would cripple maritime trade and would incur astronomical costs (remember, constant escalation would be needed). Containment within the Pacific by a larger, more advanced Jaeger force is more logical strategically and economically.

The ultimate failure of the Sydney ‘Wall of Life’ and the mothballing of the Jaeger programme results in Pan-Pacific unrest erupting again. Unrest is further exacerbated by the PPDC evacuating important persons and supplies inland, leading to a sense of abandonment.

There exists within the world of Pacific Rim a transnational black market in ‘Kaiju resources’. It is implied that governments and law-abiding corporations found no practicable use for the remains of Kaiju (other than military research). Either that or fears of Kaiju-transmitted diseases and/or ‘Kaiju Blue’ style biological contamination led to prohibitions on civilian exploitation of Kaiju remains. Regardless, the deaths of Kaiju in densely populated areas founded a new criminal enterprise, trade in Kaiju cadavers. The trade appears to be based on the real world poaching of rare animals with Kaiju body parts being used for pseudo-medicine and decoration as well some practicable uses (Kaiju faeces for super-powerful fertilizer). It is implied that the business is extremely profitable, particularly after the head of Jaeger programme struck a deal with one of the major Kaiju resources crime bosses for desperately needed funding in return for leaving fresh Kaiju carcasses unsecured for a long time. The fact that the head of Jaeger programme himself is forced to go to these criminals for funding would suggest that they exercise great influence over local authorities where they operate.

On the alien ‘Masters’ intentions and diplomacy; Dr Newton’s insights through drifting with a Kaiju brain reveals that the Kaiju are bioweapons used by a genocidal alien race who’s method of advancing themselves is to exterminate the populations of planets and strip the planets of their resources. Their extremely advanced technology, vast resources, sophisticated strategy and seeming disregard for sentient life other their own suggests that even in the event of communication being established, the ‘Masters’ would not accept less than total surrender by humanity. There is simply no way that humanity could outlast them.

Finally, I shall touch on the existence of the ‘Kaiju cult’. Hannibal Chau informs Dr Newton of their existence in passing, that they consider the Kaiju to be agents of divine punishment. Given the far-reaching and severe effects of the Human-Kaiju Conflict, it is possible that the Kaiju cult itself is far-reaching and boasts a very large number of adherents. The opulence and centrality of the Hong Kong Kaiju cult temple certainly suggests that. Indeed, it is possible that some of the social unrest throughout the conflict is as a result of agitation or terrorism by cultists outraged by the PPDC’s efforts to oppose the Kaiju.

You see, Pacific Rim isn’t just another ‘dumb action film’ is it?

Review: Doctor Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’

By Ciaran Kovach

Directed by the legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, ‘Doctor Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’ is a masterpiece of Cold War cinema. Released in 1964, at the time when the nuclear annihilation of humanity was a very real possibility, Kubrick created a film, which was and continues to be extremely entertaining, but also very enlightening about the nature of the Cold War.

The film boasts a great number of impressive performances, including but not limited to the crew of a B-52 bomber, who provides a relatable, human face to the film’s plot and a pair of USAF generals that powerfully portray the worst aspects of Cold War leaders and arguably, humanity as a whole. A combination of sublime writing and first-class, highly expressive acting results in not a single weak main character across the board.

The standout performances of the film are delivered by Peter Sellers, who plays three main characters, namely a hapless RAF officer, the US President and a Nazi scientist working for the US by the name of Strangelove. While Seller’s delivers an excellent performance in all three different roles, his third role stands out in particular. While Doctor Strangelove enjoys little screen time, Seller’s electric acting in the role and his masterful dialogue allows Strangelove to surpass every other character in the film. By the end of the film, you will be in no doubt why his name is in the title.

‘Doctor Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’, is at its heart, a black comedy. The satirical, absurdist edge that permeates the film remains constant throughout and the film boasts more than its fair share of hilarious lines and gags. Just below the surface of the humour however, is a collection of very powerful themes and questions.

Kubrick uses the medium of humour to explore the absurd, cold and terrifying nature of Cold War politics and nuclear strategy first and foremost. The attitudes and ideas of the Cold War agitators are laid simply in front of the audience, delivered contextually, eloquently, in detail and in such a way as to not be confusing to the average viewer. I would go as far as to say that the film should be near essential viewing for anyone wishing to gain an understanding of the Cold War. Ideas and concepts that may seem completely absurd on first mention become quickly understandable and even logical to the audience. Also, beyond themes relating to the Cold War, Kubrick explores others themes, such as masculinity and the base morality of humanity.

Kubrick’s narrative is not only entertaining and thought provoking, but he also succeeds in weaving a web of genuine tension throughout the film, resulting in some truly nail-biting scenes near the end of the movie. All in all, it is difficult to find a film that boasts better acting and writing.

With regards to cinematography, while the visuals, audio and special effects will obviously feel dated to a modern audience, the film never feels ‘fake’ and Kubrick’s excellent camera work compliments the acting talent to display. Kubrick also deliberately makes little use of music during the film. This to the film’s credit as it increases the level of immersion and shows that the film simply does not require music as a crutch to support scenes that would otherwise feel awkward.

Given how excellent the film is, it is extremely difficult to find anything to criticize without nitpicking from a modern film standpoint. As such the only real criticism I can make is that Kubrick could have given more attention to the Soviet Union during the film, but given that Kubrick clearly had an American audience in mind for the film, his focus on the US side of the Cold War is understandable.

To conclude, ‘Doctor Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’ is in my mind one of the best films of all time, both from an entertainment and intellectual standpoint. It is a fitting monument for both, the late Stanley Kubrick and the late Peter Sellers.

Rating: 10/10

The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and Nuclear Disarmament

By Elizabeth Cartwright

Originally published in June 2013

Jose Saramago, the Portuguese author and poet, once relayed a dream that in his lifetime a strike would take place in a weapons factory. He called it, “my one pathetic hope, that humanity might yet be capable of changing its path, its direction, its destiny.”

Rajiv Gandhi, addressing the U.N General Assembly in 1988, appealed, “Nuclear war will not mean the death of a hundred million people. Or even a thousand million. It will mean the extinction of four thousand million, the end of life as we know it on our planet earth…We seek your support to put a stop to this madness.”

In 2013, Saramago’s dream has not been realised and the threat of Gandhi’s holocaust is still a spectre in the wings. The high hopes of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty seem to be just that, high hopes and hot air. In simple terms the CTBT has at its core, the aim of eliminating all nuclear test explosions in both the civil and military purpose. It opened for signatures in 1996…but as yet it is still not in force.

The superpowers of the USSR and the United States under General Secretary Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan aspired at Reykjavik twenty years ago, to the elimination of all nuclear weapons. Shocking as it was, it was what the world needed to see and hear, and still needs to see and hear in our new age. The most powerful nation’s leaders, with the largest arsenal of nuclear weapons were envisioning a nuclear free future.

The impact on non-ratification should not be underestimated now, more than at any other time; this is a treaty that was deemed, “the hardest sought, hardest fought prize in arms control history”, by signatory and former US President Bill Clinton. So why then are the United States among those who have still to ratify? Hopes were raised and voiced when Obama gave the famous Prague speech,

“The existence of thousands of nuclear weapons is the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War…so today, I state clearly and with conviction Americas commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons”.

Since Obama gave this speech however, the US approach to nuclear disarmament has been mixed. The Senate and leading Republicans are not making it easy by a long stretch for President Obama, even so far as announcing they will work to thwart any plan to reduce the arsenal further.

What will it take to rekindle the vision of a world without nuclear weapons? The nuclear strategy needs to be seen as anything other than a strategy. The term strategy is defined as a,’ plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim’, nuclear could only achieve devastation. Anything that endangers world security deserves the full implementation of the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty, even as far as a complete and much more drastic overhaul of the treaty itself.

Cynics cite that there is no formal enforcement and therefore it is a tool with no teeth, but in what way could there be an enforcement of a weapon so extraordinary that nothing compares in potential damage infliction? Maybe we have to see it in its own right, acknowledge that it cannot be enforced because we have nothing more powerful, there is no beyond game. The rhetoric needs adjustment to one of complete disarmament of all states.

Out of 183 States, the treaty has been ratified by 159. Of those remaining to ratify we have China, the DPR of Korea, Egypt, India, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Israel, Pakistan and the USA. In 2015, when the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty review conference takes place, the ratification of the treaty by the outstanding states has to be prioritised. On top of this a renewed commitment to nuclear disarmament should commence. As the leading superpower, the US must be prepared to stand by the convictions it wishes the rest of the world to live by. The US is not however stand alone, the other possessors of nuclear must be treated the same.

The fundamental flaw of the CTBT is that it is not in favour of nuclear disarmament but rather preserving the status quo. This flaw is twofold. Firstly the ratification does not necessarily mean that a nuclear free future is assured. Second, in a way the CTBT concerns not only the states that already possess nuclear weapons or those that have ratified the treaty even when they do not themselves possess them – but other countries aspiring to become nuclear, such as Iran, which represent a special category of states. In fact, counter-intuitively, the CTBT may provide an incentive to those states to seek nuclear weapons by perceiving the hypocrisy of nuclear states and the CTBT itself. The CTBT prevents these countries from testing nuclear weapons – hence developing them – but on the other hand allows nuclear states to retain them. Nuclear states do not need to perform tests anyway because they already possess them.

In way of illustration I would like to draw on a post-colonial perspective. In the Brussels Treaty of 1890, the sale of breechloaders to Africans was prohibited between the 20th Parallel North and the 22nd Parallel South. The way in which this was accomplished geographically allowed white regimes from the colonial powers to be equipped with weapons which were denied to Africans during the crucial period of the delineation and colonization of Africa. This is not meant to be a history lesson, of which we could find many. Rather it highlights political subjectivity within the CTBT where few international regimes can “monopolise the means of violence against the many who must be denied those means domestically (for national security) or internationally (in the national interest)” (Grovogui 2006)

What does it say when the countries who advocate nuclear disarmament are the very countries that possess it and refuse to give it up? What does it say when a President of a democratic country cannot garner the support of his country folk? Not only is this a ready excuse for other countries when pushed to disarm, but it makes a mockery of the scale of nuclear war, as a reality which could all too easily be realised at our peril.

A firm commitment to plant the seed of Gandhi’s dream into the twenty first century is needed. Nuclear disarmament is the biggest, bravest challenge of our time, and needs to take centre stage once again. In the Prague speech, Obama also said, “I’m not naïve. This goal will not be reached quickly – perhaps not in my lifetime. But now, we too, must ignore the voices who tell us that the world cannot change. We have to insist, ‘yes we can”. It is not utopian, nor madness; rather it is the sanest path to a peaceful future.

Refugee Crisis Roundtable (28/09/15)

By Ben Brotherwood

The Department of International Politics kicked off their events for the academic year with a roundtable chaired by Dr Sergey Radchenko. The topic of discussion was the Refugee Crisis, a serious and ongoing situation effecting both the Middle East and Europe heavily. The four speakers for the event were: Dr Ayla Gӧl, Dr Alistair Shepherd, Professor Richard Beardsworth and Dr Kamilla Stullerova.

I will begin by describing Professor Beardsworth’s contribution to the roundtable. He chose a different approach to his fellow speakers by presenting a Cosmopolitan viewpoint on the crisis. He did a very good job at putting the situation into perspective by pointing out that Europe has faced far worse refugee situations during the Balkans conflict. He also stated that the current crisis is serving as a catalyst for intensifying the political debate in Europe regarding the policy of free movement. He views the crisis as a chance for Europe to set comprehensive laws regarding its external borders and handling refugee’s in non-ideal situations.

Dr Shepherd meanwhile focused heavily on the relation between the European nations. He paints the Realist view upon the situation, using Greece and Germany as examples of relation break downs, with both nations making accusations about the others’ conduct. He claims the result of this is the undermining of asylum rights as countries become concerned with perceived control of their borders.

Dr Stullerova on the other hand spoke from a much wider perspective, examining the moral aspects of the situation. The most relevant part of her argument, I found, was her analysis on the increasingly blurred lines between the defining characteristics of an asylum seeker and a migrant in the public’s eyes. Dr Stullerova also discussed the right of hospitality, claiming nations are operating with a ‘sense of guilt and never again sentiment’ due to the failure of many neighbouring states of Germany to provide adequate hospitality to the Jewish people.

Regrettably I missed Dr Gӧl’s viewpoint on the situation on the day. Instead I will describe some of the questions asked by the Audience.

One audience member asked what the speakers felt about the UK aiming to remove people from the refugee camps near the borders of Syria. Dr Shepherd responded, stating that fundamentally it was a sound strategy, however with the ongoing political disunity in Europe, it could be perceived as being a rude gesture towards the EU. The UK should be helping both in Europe and in the refugee camps. Dr Stullerova also commented by saying she approved of the policy as it removed the need for people to make the dangerous journey into the EU.

An especially interesting question tied in with Dr Stullerova’s look at the moral aspects of the crisis; stating that the moral duty to take in refugees is a symptom of the wider situation, and asking whether there is also a wider moral duty to act militarily. Professor Beardsworth responded by using the aftermath of the Libya conflict as an example of how military intervention would be the wrong move to make. It would only serve to be a short-term solution.

The final question of the night discussed if it was compassionate to not accept refugees into countries where much of the population is hostile. Using Germany as an example, both Dr Shepherd and Professor Beardsworth described a lack of strong political leadership to enforce moral duties and that there is a need for a successful civilisation to cultivate compassion for it to survive.

Overall the event was very well attended and gave the audience a solid range of views on the situation. However, I think many people left with the feeling that the crisis is going to be worsening in the up and coming months or even years, with an almost certain increase in its complexity.

 

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Photo: Richard Beardsworth, Alistair Shepherd, Ayla Göl, Kamilla Stullerova and Sergey Radchenko
Source: InterPolAber