It’s Christmas and with that comes a traditional re-watch of Gundam 0080. I think much has been said of how Gundam 0080 is a great OVA series that does deal very well in many aspects about the sadness of war. From Chris turning Bernie in to hamburger and the end of Al’s childhood (and every mecha fan who watched saw themselves in Al), it was a beautiful thing to behold, and maybe next year I’ll find the words to describe how special all of that was. This year I want to talk about failure, for any time you watch Gundam 0080 you will remember that Zeon loses and in a most tragic fashion, a totally unnecessary last stand by Bernie.
I am sure that many people who follow Gundam would point out that the Cyclops team was one Bernie mistake away from taking out Alex, but for me though the story of the Cyclops Team was one of Zeon as a whole, wasted potential, wasted effort. The thing that strikes me about the depiction of Zeon is that they always rack up a superior kill count on screen with their numerous Aces who lay waste to Federation regulars part of it is because they believe themselves to be Nietzsche’s Ubermensch, and much of the depiction of newtypes is also builds upon the idea of the next step in human evolution. That said the newtypes weren’t supermen nor did they amount to much more than weapons primarily for Zeon in a losing effort to the point that they started artificially creating them. While not every Zeke could claim to be a newtype, they all fell prey to notion of them being a “martial race.”
While the term may have been coined during the British Empire’s height, there are plenty of instances where one side starts a war because they think it an easy endeavor, that they are smarter, tougher, and just plain better than the people they will be fighting. One could argue that they idea within Western Civilization starts back when the Spartans were kicking Persian butt at Thermopylae and for our purposes Japan did for a long time view themselves as a warrior culture, and as such the concept does make its way into Gundam. Every time you see Zeon going on the offensive for the most part they are killing lots of Feddies, the average viewer who knows nothing of war would extrapolate that because of the amazing body count that the Zekes amass that they should by all rights win the war. The average anime viewer would also likely know nothing of sports and even less about sabermetrics and stats. Fact is kill count affects our perception of who is winning, but this is a mistake.
The Spartans may have been exposing their inferior babies and having their wives sleep with better warriors, but they didn’t conquer Greece. In fact they did lose to shopkeepers and lesser soldiers when they faced the Thebans who simply started stacking their flanks and breaking with convention by having their best troops line up opposite the Spartans instead of going with their traditional battle line which would have meant that their worst troops would be fighting the Spartans. Fact is the movie 300 isn’t historically accurate and for all the Spartan training they did to weed out their weak it was argued and is likely that much of the Spartan myth was in no small part to them fattening up their stats against an enemy’s least experienced and most ill-equipped. For all the talk of not needing walls aside from their Spartan men in the end they sorely missed them when the Thebans rolled over them and liberated their Helot slaves and forever ruined the Spartan economy and destroyed Sparta as a major power in Greece. Man for man they might have been the best but in war the best man doesn’t win the war, the side that best sets themselves up to win and takes every advantage they can get wins.
For UC Gundam in particular and for war anime in general (excluding most AU Gundams) the number of casualties really don’t matter and aren’t indicative of superior martial prowess. In Gundam 0080 and UC Gundam, kills are like yards in gridiron football and hits in baseball. It tells part of the story but not the whole story and by itself offers no insight into the bigger picture. You can throw for 300 plus yards in a football game but if you throw only interceptions you have a problem. You can have 3000 hits in a baseball season but it doesn’t mean much if those hits don’t bring in runs and you never get on base. Ditto with Cyclops Team that does amass an impressive kill count, but they still end up with a 0 in the mission accomplished stat. It didn’t matter how many people they killed because at the end of the series they accomplished nothing. In fact when we first saw them we should have known that Cyclops Team was not a good Special Forces outfit especially since the recruiting process did not involve a harsh training regimen.
When Cyclops Team assaults the Artic Base things do go well as do all commando raids where total surprise is achieved, but as the fight drags on as do Federation casualties something that most commandos dread does happen. Andy’s death was tragic, but even worse was that Cyclops Team did not meet their mission objectives, their target escaped to space and to make it worse it could have been prevented. Garcia is going to be my favorite whipping boy because not only is he a Hollywood commando he isn’t a team player. Had Garcia been more concerned about his primary objective instead of fattening up his kill count, he might have gotten to the shuttle. In the end he was being a sadist and joyously crushing infantry while Andy made a fatal mistake and the shuttle took off. Yes, Garcia killed plenty of Feddies, but their deaths were not in vain while Andy’s was. The Arctic Base could be rebuilt because Cyclops Team would wither under a full scale assault (as would any commando outfit), and Federation losses while tragic could be replaced. More importantly for the Federation Alex did make it out safely to Libot while Cyclops Team could add a failed mission and Andy’s corpse to their honor roll.
It wouldn’t be the first time that Cyclops Team would fail, even when they got to Libot and killed plenty of Federation and Colony Troops they failed in destroying Alex when they were at full strength. Garcia was too busy enjoying his kills to stop Bernie from making a fatal mistake, Kaminsky went into a fight drunk and wasted most of his heavy weapons on mass production suits, and Hardie lacked the leadership skills to correct Garcia and Kaminsky’s faults as well as employing Bernie on tasks that Bernie was not all that good at. While for some their deaths are tragic for me it was largely preventable, Kaminsky should have had his liquor confiscated, Garcia should have been kept on a short leash instead of being allowed to run wild and get distracted, and Bernie should not have been given more responsibilities than he was ready for. The failure of the mission lies largely with Hardie despite his good points his job should have been to accomplish the mission no matter the cost, instead he was too timid with his men and let them give lesser efforts.
Kaminsky should have held off the fire water during the mission and not drink himself stupid in a Mission Accomplished party before the shooting was done. Moreover he should have conserved his heavy weapons for the primary target and not waste all of it taking out the guards. Garcia probably should have just moved on after knifing the guards instead of admiring his kills and getting a boner because if he did Bernie’s screw up might have been averted. More importantly while making kills while shooting a pistol from the hip looks cool and fits with his gangsta persona going to the Gundam via stairs was a bonehead move. Anyone who knows anything about urban combat knows that stairs are death traps, but apparently Garcia didn’t know that and paid with his life. It is human to make mistakes, but in this case they were fatal and stupid mistakes, moreover it undercuts the myth of ubermensch that the Zekes created for themselves. When I look at the Cyclops team I see a commando team that is made up of underachieving louts, they could be better but they don’t put in the work, they don’t critically evaluate their failures they gloss over them and make the same mistake when they get to Libot. I still giggle a little every time I see Garcia get nailed in the dome because he was a little diva and really did deserve what was coming given how lackadaisical he was about getting the job done. It’s the story of Zeon for all their bluster, newtype talent, and “superiority” they always end up on the losing side, and this is what adds to my enjoyment of UC Gundam that Zeon always manages to find new and innovative ways lose.
On a more personal level Bernie sure did shoot himself in the foot by telling Al all those lies about being a kill away from being an Ace. The Bernie and Chris thing will always be bittersweet but I still get a good laugh when Bernie is so dead set on lying about his military experience in and effort to show off to some young kid. I kind wished that Bernie had a little more time with Chris just to see what kind of tall tales he would concoct to try and impress her. Still like Al Bernie wasn’t exactly winning against the girls, Chris was the one beaning him with a bat and the one who would ultimately take him out. On the other side of it Al was not getting the better of Dorthy who was able to embarrass him and get him into trouble. Still I loved how that Ace lie came back to bite Bernie in the ass, ditto with Al’s lie to the police.
There is an important lesson to be learned here as well, there are many ways to measure achievement but how we measure it is important. All the talent in the world means nothing if you can’t use it towards something. To slack off is to invite peril and in the end no matter how much progress we think we are making, the bottom line is and always will be how we have affected the bigger picture.