Avatar Is a Blast From Our Military Past
John Ehrenberg and J. Patrice McSherry are Professors of Political Science at Long Island University, Brooklyn Campus. Jose Ramon Sanchez is Associate Professor of Political Science at Long Island University. Caroleen Marji Sayej is Assistant Professor of Government and International Relations at Connecticut College. Together they wrote The Iraq Papers, which offers a compelling documentary narrative and interpretation of this momentous conflict. In the post below, which first appeared here, the authors look at the parallels between Iraq and the blockbuster Avatar.
At one key moment in the movie Avatar, the RDA corporation’s head of security, Colonel Miles Quaritch, launches an all out assault on the Na’vi natives. One of the characters, Max, working against the corporation, wearily described the corporation’s mobilization for the attack as “some kind of shock and awe campaign.“ Many have noted the connections between the RDA’s assault on the Na’vi and the U.S. Government’s invasion of Iraq in 2003. Both employed massive bombardment in a ruthless and brutal plan to quickly demoralize and defeat the opponent’s will. The connections are stronger yet. A 1996 document, “Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance,” written for the U.S. National Defense University, also makes clear that the aim of this military strategy is not just to destroy. The objective is to intimidate and demoralize the civilian population by targeting fundamental civilian values or lives. As that 1996 military document clearly explains, “the aim is to convince the majority that resistance is futile.” That goal could be achieved, according to this “Shock and Awe” strategy by “depriving the enemy, in specific areas, of the ability to communicate, observe, and to interact.” This is exactly what the RDA Corporation tries to do by specifically destroying the Na’vi’s Tree of Voices. It is there that the Na’vi communicate with their ancestors. Since they have no books, telephones, libraries, television, radio, or computer networks, this is the central hub of Na’vi public consciousness.
Later, the RDA security forces launch a preemptive attack on the other major hub of Na’vi religion and culture, the Tree/Well of Souls. This time, the Avatar scientist Norm spells out how such a strike will force the Na’vi to capitulate to RDA. “If he takes out the Well of Souls — it’s over. It’s their main line to Eywa, to their ancestors — it’ll destroy them.” Quaritch and the RDA killed Na’vi warriors. But they were actually more interested in anything that would quickly and easily remove the Na’vi civilian population from the land and the valuable oil-like mineral, Unobtanium, beneath it. They targeted the Well of Souls precisely because they believed that the attack would shock and awe the Na’vi, demoralize them, and wreck their ability to maintain social cohesion. In the end, the Shock and Awe strategy used by the RDA Corporation on the planet Pandora ultimately failed. Everyday, regretfully, the news makes clear that Iraq, on the other hand, has yet to recover from the Shock and Awe the U.S. delivered to that country’s social cohesion, ecological system, and economic prosperity.