A Zeon worth fighting for.
Well now that work is out of the way and I am currently waiting for orders during Spring Break I am finally able to fully address IKnight’s “War Sucks!” post in a fuller manner. IKnight raises an important distinction between the war sucks theme and the prevalent misnomer that it essentially means that such a work is by nature anti-war. For the most part Gundam is anything but anti-war and with exception to a few animated works such as Waltz with Bashir and Grave of the Fireflies there aren’t many animated works that are at their core anti-war. For the most part Gundam is not anti-war since all mecha is a glorification of violence on some level and not an out right rejection of violence as a means to an end. In most cases those who do writing probably have never fought a war nor have ever served in uniform, even then there is a great deal of difference between a conscript and a volunteer. The only widely read writer that I can think of (note there are many more that may or may not have seen combat) who actually fought in a modern war was George Orwell, given that anime is done almost exclusively by Japanese writers and given that they hardly talk of the full scope of the last war that they fought it is unlikely that they are capable of fully understanding the great big mess that is war. IKinght is largely correct in deducing that opposition to one war does not automatically mean that such a person is anti-war, the notion that there can be a just war is proof enough that there are few true pacifists.
If there were to be an anti-war Gundam the protagonist would have to be a GM pilot, not some invincible kid.
I’ll be honest I don’t think that most civilian can even begin to understand what war is and how it is possible for decent people to irrationally enlist. Even if IKnight says that all the conflicts he hears about were in far off places he does ignore the situation in Northern Ireland or what it would have been known to him as “the Troubles” thereby demonstrating what I think is a fundamental issue with civilians in general and idealists in particular, willful ignorance. War is at its core death on an industrial scale nothing will ever change that, not the Geneva Convention, weapons bans, or the International Court of Justice. The creation of such institutions is simply a mark of the notion of a just war and a clean war which is in my experience rather prevalent in the better off places in the world but by no means universally held even there. What mecha, and in keeping with IKnight’s example, such as Gundam does is vindicate acts of war on the part of the titular heroes, with notable exception to UC. In the case of UC it was the chronicle of a long running war with distinctions between good and evil harder to define as it dragged on since both the Federation and Zeon engaged in atrocities of one sort or another at various times. Most importantly of all is that no matter how great a pilot Amuro, Char, or any one for that matter none of them could put an end to it. For all of the heroism, camaraderie, and nobility none of mattered in the grand scheme of things, it was all in vain. More recent Gundams aren’t anti-war as they amount to little more than power fantasies of the lone teenage hero doing superhuman things on par with curing blindness there by dumbing down the issue of war down to moralistic platitudes of little if any value. Nevertheless ‘War Sucks’ is a universal theme in Gundam, along with all the romanticism associated with war adventure, romance, and heroics, and for good reason, since mecha in Gundam are machines of war and not machines that play basketball.
These days it seems child conscripts are quite fashionable, and as such there will be much tomfoolery and SNAFUs.
‘War Sucks’ is common enough sentiment but because morals differ from place to place making moral judgments on war is largely a futile exercise. The idea that there can be a just war ought to confirm to everyone that war will not be going out of fashion anytime soon. In the case of the Neo-Conservatives the 2003 invasion was justified, not every one agreed and heated and ugly arguments were tossed about across the globe largely over the rather pointless issue of whether or not it was right. Herein lies the crucial divergence of how a soldier and a civilian would think, for the civilian having the moral high ground is important, for the soldier the thing he/she cares about most is victory and how to live to see it. I know for me that once the die was cast there would be no take backs and the only thing that really mattered is and always will be victory, since in all honesty I’d rather deal with the consequences of winning than the consequences of losing and like Patton I’d don’t give two shits for some one who lost and laughed. Even if an indeterminate number of servicemen take issue with the dice being tossed in the first place assigning blame doesn’t help me or anyone else who is in country, but for any civilian that cares about politics (which is pretty much everyone) being right helps them in ways I don’t fully understand. The fixation on moral high ground and moral justification plays a large role in Gundam, sure the side they are on can be wrong, but the hero is always right and largely free of any sort of misbehavior and if there is even the slightest bit of ambiguity there is usually an excuse which is harped upon constantly. In addition the in the recent Gundam series there is a distinct lack of death on the hero faction which automatically removes much of the PTSD factor further making war a mere backdrop for mecha beating each other to pieces.
As for the those who actually volunteer there is much less bitching, though a lot more trash talk.
Within the mecha genre the most glamorous of all soldier subtypes is already chosen, the pilot. There is a great difference between a pilot and infantry, after all a pilot will rarely see the first hand the results of his/her handiwork in the same way a ground pounder would, the fact that pilots do put kill markers on their planes is indicative of how each group has different views on killing. Moreover a pilot is usually an officer with better pay and better facilities than the enlisted. Things are easier for a pilot since IFF is usually good and for the most civilians don’t go off getting in the way in fighters or mobile suits, hence by default a mecha pilot will rarely if ever accidentally kill civilians as opposed to the infantry whose environment is far more confused and IFF is depended sole on a snap judgment measured in milliseconds. For the most part if a pilot does pull off a blue on blue it’s because he/she hit a ground target that was misidentified. So by default Gundam and mecha can’t ever really be anti-war because they deal with a sanitized aspect of war the only more sanitized version would be something about sailors on ships bravely swabbing the deck, not to say that their contribution is unimportant (as the Carrier Battle Group is the primary arm of force projection) but rather that they do have a sanitized environment which they swab on a regular basis. Moreover pilots don’t as a rule have it any where near as bad as the infantry since the idea of digging a hole to shit in with toilet paper being a luxury item is often enough to disabuse anyone with a romantic notion of war.
Damn civilians always getting in the way, this is not a photo op people!
While IKnight is right that every serviceman thinks that war sucks, the important difference is that for the most part those who choose to enlist or accept a commission broadly fall into the following categories the guys with no where else to go, mild misanthropes, guys who want the benefits, the guys who believe in their nation, and any combination there of. The guys who only sign for the benefits are often the first to desert and flee to other places seeking asylum and as a result their thought processes are utterly alien to me. Of the remainder for the most part there is the prevailing belief that while killing is bad letting the Jihad-kuns of the world to go about unopposed is far worse and war being war casualties, even collateral ones, are inevitable since fitting everyone with IFF would be impractical not to mention hard to implement on consenting people given potential overtones of Orwellian Dystopia.
As distasteful as civilian casualties are, it is militarily difficult to solve the problem. First off since the advent of fast moving columns in the post blitzkrieg years armies can move faster than civilians can run (also since civilians have more fat people, children, and senior citizens among them speed is further hampered) and even when they can run some for various reasons choose to stay put or are abandoned, speed being a critical to the success of any campaign seizing the objective is going to take precedence over letting every civilian get a good enough head start. Secondly moving all civilians into camps away from the baddies only sounds good in theory even if they don’t die from bullets they can still die from neglect. Thirdly the Jihad-kuns of the world do like to hide out amongst civilians and since Mao wrote the latest best selling book (to get rich is glorious) on guerrilla warfare every revolution in the making makes a point to get civilians involved in a People’s War. You can make a smart bomb but even then it still relies on a kill radius and there is no guarantee that civilians won’t simply get in the way. Then there is the issue of a huge amount of dumb ordinance that militaries all over the world use, and sadly bullets are very democratic in that they generally don’t give a toss about what they pass through or what they end up in. More often than not any killing of civilians is almost always portrayed as a deliberate act, when the reality is that accidents do occur and a slight shift in the wind can result in unintended consequences.
Sure they look magnificent, but we all know how tough they really are…
Then there are the mild misanthropes like me who consider the entire concept of innocent civilian to be a farce, it’s not so much that the civilian label is disagreeable but the notion that humans are in any way innocent is something I for one consider blatantly disingenuous. In Gundam and most series dealing with war there are plenty innocent civilians to be killed by the forces of evil they are little more that objects to be killed and then mourned for so that the forces of evil can be made all the more abhorrent and ultimately easier to kill while remaining “noble” and “just.” Truth is in war civilians will screw each other over to get what they need, crime doesn’t stop, theft goes up during duress, misdemeanors are committed, felonies continue, and for the most part a declaration of war does not put an end to the petty squabbles and crimes of non-combatants. Profiteering also occurs, so I fail to see how every civilian can be considered innocent when you can have Ann Coulters, Al Frankens, Bernard Madoffs, Charles Mansons, and Josef Fritzls amongst the civilian population. You also have the Janjaweed Rifle Association and the Hamas Rocket Society under the aegis of civilian organization, even then even if captured the members of such associations can’t be shot as spies without some controversy. Lastly I am sure most if not all of you have bought stuff with the Made in China sticker and even with Made in USA the truth is perhaps it too was made in a sweatshop, so if you think about it the ubiquitous presence of Chinese goods means that most of us have taken advantage of sweatshop labor at some point. Given the complexity of the civilian label and the general treatment of most civilians as innocent civilians, most shows dumb it down any anti-war message is already compromised.
Freedom means different things to different people.
While the average mecha protagonist in the recent Gundams is an idealist, the prevalent cynicism within most formal all volunteer militaries, is absent. (I’d imagine that it be much worse for a conscript, but I wouldn’t know) It’s fairly easy to become a misanthrope, I used to believe in human decency and the notion of innocent civilian, but 9/11 changed everything (doesn’t it always). I remember clearly, I woke up at about 0630 local time heard about he attack over 106.1 FM, thought it was bullshit, turned on the news to see the second plane go right into the tower, went to school, attended my advanced algebra class, and then the announcement at about 0830 is made to go home. To my shock and surprise I hear the loud cheers of high school students at the early dismissal, only one girl was crying in that class showing any hint of grief her name oddly enough was Mary (who I am sure was a virgin at the time, the Virgin Mary), and it was then I came to the conclusion that humans are savages.
War ages people in unexpected ways.
It’s my belief that decency was only possible when people were given the chance to be decent and if that loud cheer I heard was indicative of anything it was that not all of us even choose to be decent when given the choice. After that I had no doubt in my mind what I was going to do after high school and in 2003 I started the enlistment process. Having venerated Prussians and reading books about war, and now that a war was inevitable, I answered the call that I had felt for most of my life. The question of whether or not I could live with myself after having participated in so cruel (and uniquely human) an endeavor that might harm innocent civilians was answered with a thunderous cheer, which resulted in a general loss of faith in the human species. I think that is something no one else can understand and as a result most character development from civilian to ace is, to me, fanciful. Fundamentally my reasons for enlisting were irrational, and perhaps that is the thing that is glossed over, humans are irrational. While everyone wants peace the caveat is that we all want it on our terms, and that’s the point of violent disagreement across the globe. It’s easy to say you will die to protect your countrymen, but if given the choice to take a bullet for David Duke…I’d rudely decline. Moreover no one ever won a war by dying for his country, he won it by making the other poor bastard die for his, as such the issue is not whether one is willing to die to protect people, but if they are willing to kill to ensure their safety.
Pretty much sums up Pumpkin Scissors, the setting is depressing, but her antics are odd to say the least.
While Gundam and mecha are not anti-war, what does come to mind when I think of anti-war themes is Pumpkin Scissors, though admittedly not the best series in the world, it nonetheless went to a place few anti-war themed works go, the post war period. It’s a romantic notion that once the guns fall silent that the worst is over, on the contrary, the widespread destruction of infrastructure, displaced persons, the break down of order, botched demobilizations, and in the case of the defeated nations that signed a mildly Carthaginian peace, occupation or reparations. Most worryingly of all is the emotional ill will and anger of the populace after a war, if it is long perhaps the feeling of relief will allay the worst of it, but in a short war hatreds persist because the sacrifices more often than not were simply minimal. Unless of course the victor was waging war in someone else’s backyard in which case the post war period needn’t be painful at all. Even if it was not handled superbly Pumpkin Scissors at least covered many aspects of the shitty post war period, wide spread unemployment, loss of infrastructure, meager harvests, continued rationing, banditry, women turning to prostitution, a generation of women who may not even find a husband, disease, illicit drugs, organized crime, etc. Had it been GRIMDARK it certainly could have succeeded in that regard, but a bubbly happy overtone makes it more digestible since the any overly serious treatment of it might have been to depressing to slog through for 24 episodes.
Tl;dr C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre. C’est de la folie.