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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 9780195398595University. 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.

Recent Comments

  1. Ino Martin

    Another liberal garbage!
    White guilt in full display!That’s why as i black man i sometime laugh at them!
    No mention of saddam Hussien,9/11,or their internal conflict tat led to them open to attack!America is always at fault!
    Cameron is making another movie on Hiroshima,I bet he wouldn’t mention Japanese attrocitie’s or the fact that they attack first!America’s bomb and the destruction to their environment is what would make the entire movie!
    No country with the power that America has would be as generous as they are!
    God Bless America and screw you all!

  2. rjpdh

    The 1996 document, “Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance” is a speculative and ulitmately marginal document that has no real authority within US military thinking. It’s a thought piece more than anything else, and is certainly not official in the sense this article suggests. It is common for academics critical of US foreign policy to assume “shock and awe” has doctrinal status within US military thinking but it does not. It is equally common for such critics to suggest, “[the US] employed massive bombardment in a ruthless and brutal plan to quickly demoralize and defeat the opponent’s will” in Iraq. The US use of aerial bombardment in Iraq was measured and precise and even leaned on the ill-fated “decapitation” attempt to kill Saddam. The infrastructure damage to Iraq was largely a product of more than a decade of sanctions, though it is common for the ill-informed to attribute the damage to US “carpet” bombing, which in itself is an archaic WWII concept.

    One of the authors of the Shock and Awe document, Harlan Ullman, is on record stating his criticism that the US failed to use his “Shock and Awe” concept in the invasion of Iraq.

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