Sunday, January 20, 2013

Schoolwork: Military Ethics in Apocalypse Now
Further is definitely not my favorite Chemical Brothers album but it is still a good one. This is a good song and you should like it. I tried to find a song that gave me the right Apocalypse Now feel but it wasn't coming to me so just enjoy good unrelated music.

Hey, finally a post-able essay from this class! So here's the assignment:
We were given a list of movies at the beginning of the class. Each movie had an associated due date, and we all signed up for a movie to do the essay on, with the restriction of each movie having a two-person limit. The most interesting thing is the list of movies: it was actually good. This wasn't a list of stuffy educational films, but a real, feature-length, theater films. Full Metal Jacket, The Hurt Locker, Saving Private Ryan, as well as films not considered top-level filmography but topically related like Troy and 300 (yeah, 300). In fact, a pretty amazing piece on the list is gonna be due on the last couple days of class: Zero Dark Thirty. That only came out here like a couple of days ago! Very topical.
So what'd I do? Apocalypse Now. I picked Apocalypse Now because I enjoyed the movie the first time I watched it a couple years ago and knew I'd have plenty to talk about. It is a heavily troubled movie when it comes to morality. For the record, I've also read Heart of Darkness but don't recall it too well and it wasn't at all relevant to the project, I just thought it was vaguely relevant to mention.

Hey, here's the specific prompt:

This assignment is designed to give you a chance to look at a popular text (namely, a film) and give thoughtful analysis and commentary on one of the ethical issues raised by that film, in light of our discussions of different ethical systems, ideas and perspectives in class. 
You are to write a 1200 - 1500 word paper (please note the word count at the top of the page) in the standard essay format (see below) which should include discussion of ALL of the following in roughly equal proportions:      Introduction: to set up your thesis and the paper. 
What is the one issue that you are focusing the paper around?
What are your going to argue in your paper?  What is your position in Step 2 to be? 
Step 1: exegesis and discussion of one (and only one) of the major ethical issues or ideas explored in the film, which will necessitate some plot summary or explanation of the themes in the movie. 
Step 1: any connections you see between the issues in the film and the issues or theories that we have been discussing in class. (This is similar to analysis in the 4 Step process) 
Step 2:  your assessment and argument concerning the issue you focused on. This is not simply to be a book report on the plot of the film, but a careful analysis and assessment of a major ethical issue presented and your own arguments and ideas regarding that issue. (This should include your thesis with at least 2 supporting arguments, evidence for each point and discussion of what that evidence proves.) 
Conclusion: to summarize what you have proved in your paper and its larger implications for thinking about ethics.
Yeah, I included a pretty long amount of it 'cuz it specified a particular format so you understand.
Anyway, here, enjoy the movie!

Max / Ego
PHIL224 – Apocalypse Now Essay
Word Count: 1595 (technically this assignment had a 1200-1500 word limit but I overshot by what I feel is a reasonable amount)
            The most important plot arc throughout Apocalypse Now, a 1979 film by Francis Ford Coppola, is Captain Benjamin L. Willard's mission to assassinate the rogue american Colonel Kurtz. However, this mission is absolutely and completely immoral. Willard's own actions through the film are not always immoral, nor are Kurtz's or the crew of the boat Willard travels on, but the assignment of the mission by the American government was wrong. I believe that Willard's mission in Apocalypse Now, as ordered, was immoral based upon Kurtz's illegitimacy as a target and the determination of the mission as an illegitimate tactic.
            The movie is placed in the Vietnam war, focusing upon the story of Captain Willard. Willard was a U.S. Army Captain and later a CIA assassin. Having returned home, he found himself unable to re-acclimate to civilian life and is back in Saigon hoping for a mission when he is approached by intelligence officers. They give him his mission: to sail up the Nung River up into Cambodia and find Colonel Walter E. Kurtz. Kurtz is wanted for murder, and has now leads a tribe of Montagnard natives who worship him as a god. As Lieutenant-General Corman puts it early on, “very obviously, he has gone insane.” The CIA wants Willard to assassinate Kurtz.
            We learn throughout the film of the exact circumstances of Kurtz's crime. Kurtz killed four South Vietnamese people, intelligence agents. He ordered their execution on his belief that they were double agents for the Viet Cong. Trouble is, he had these executions performed without receiving authorization. After that he refused to come in and went up through the country, making hit-and-run raids, performing gruesome acts of violence against the Viet Cong. There was a complication to the charge of murder against Kurtz: he had been correct. After the executions all enemy activity ceased in the region. Until the executions, he'd been a model soldier, dedicated and highly effective.
            There are two things that must be made clear before discussing the morality of the mission. The first is that I'm discussing the morality of the mission as ordered, not as it eventually happened. Atrocities are committed by Kurtz within the span of the movie that, if they'd been known before, would have changed the morality of the mission. The primary example of that is the decapitation of Chef – until then Kurtz was only known to have killed North Vietnamese and Viet Cong and Cambodians. Additionally, we aren't discussing the exact methods used during the execution of the mission by Willard and his crew other than the actions specifically laid out by the mission. To that end, certain actions by Willard don't matter in establishing the morality here, such as shooting the innocent woman in the sampan. Only the actual concept of the mission is being examined for its morality. The second is that I don't plan to discuss the morality of the war as a whole. While McMahan argues that the morality of the war itself cannot be divorced from the morality of the action, to avoid the long discussion of the morality of the Vietnam war (which is not a topic explored in detail through the film) I will assume that the Vietnam war was just – if we were to assume the opposite, the mission, in attempting to contribute to the war's success, could only be judged as unjust.
            Certain philosophers may judge the mission differently based on what belief system they hold. John Stuart Mill, who wrote the text Utilitarianism which clarified the philosophy's conceptual trappings and argued against their critiques. His idea of utilitarianism is that the moral action is the one that creates the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people. If we consider the success of the war to be moral and to create the greatest general happiness, then the mission would actually be counter-productive to these aims. On the whole, Kurtz only targeted the enemy, primarily the Viet Cong. Removing Kurtz would leave more enemy troops alive to impede the success of the war. Additionally, redirecting troops from the front lines of the war to engage in this fruitless mission (which does result in the loss of several of their lives) is a sacrifice of happiness that is not counterbalanced by the increase in happiness that may be caused by completing the mission. By this logic, Mill would consider the mission immoral.
            Immanuel Kant, unlike Mill, doesn't believe that happiness, either of the individual or of the collective, is related to morality. For Kant, morality comes in doing something for itself, from doing an action that can universally be considered right. Kant would not likely be willing to judge the mission as moral – assassination as a means to an end, and an act that cannot be taken with universality. It could be argued though that Kant would consider it a duty to prevent or punish treachery, but assassination would not likely have been his moral solution.
            Neither Mill nor Kant would consider the act moral. However, one faction of philosophy that would consider it moral (or would at least be far more apt to consider its potential morality). This faction is the realists. Believing morality and war to be completely separate issues, that war is an act of political motivation, realists would be more likely to consider the mission as moral. It would remove a disagreeing force, punish a traitor, and produce an example to deter other traitors.
            Personally, I think that Kurtz's illegitimacy as a target and the mission's illegitimacy as a tactic prevent the mission from being moral. There are two separate ways of considering Kurtz's status as a target, and both ways would conclude that he is not legitimate. If taken as an individual, Kurtz violated jus in bello by acting outside his authorization and killing on his suspicions, right though they were. However, once he had stricken out on his own in the jungle, his situation changed. He was part of a hierarchical system (the leader of his tribe), but wielded no weapons and wore no identifying emblems. While the Geneva Conventions' Additional Protocols added (specifically to address guerrilla warfare common to situations like Vietnam) that without an emblem a target may be considered a combatant if he still is known to have a weapon before he is attacked, Kurtz had no weapon. He could not be considered a combatant. While recent developments in military ethics present that culpability in military actions (such as that by a commander-in-chief or a tribal dictator like Kurtz) may indicate a person like Kurtz could be a legitimate target, the combined fact of his indirect contribution to the combat and the fact that his aggression is aimed elsewhere indicates to me that he is not a viable target.
            The other way of thinking of Kurtz's situation is as another warring entity. Kurtz's striking out on his own and establishing his own little hierarchical system may indicate that he and his tribe should be treated as a separate body to go to war against, however small. This would require the mission to comply with jus ad bellum as well, or the case for going to war with Kurtz would not be just. If the seven requirements, we could fairly reason that the US has just cause, a reasonable chance of success, legitimate authority, and last resort (this last one is proven by the attempted peace offering and then the failed mission of Captain Colby).  This leaves three. Right intent cannot be known through the film – it could have been a selfish motivator such as fear or a virtuous attempt to end Kurtz's jus in bello-violating brutality. The remaining two, however, prevent the mission from being a just act of war against Kurtz. There was certainly no public declaration of war – the mission was covert even to the American troops. Proportionality is susceptible to the subjective ways it could be interpreted, but my own interpretation is that the mission is not a proportionate response. Kurtz killed enemy troops who the US was going to kill anyway. His greatest crime is that he did so under his own authority rather than under orders. The US planned to kill him for killing the same people the US planned to, although Kurtz did so in a brutal fashion. Assassination was not the best option, and was more harsh than was necessary. Without these final elements of jus ad bellum, even treating the mission as an initial act of war against a new faction run by Kurtz does not make it just. By all accounts, Kurtz is an illegitimate target. It is by this token as well that the mission becomes an illegitimate tactic – proportionality is also a requirement for a tactic to be legitimate, and as the mission is already established as disproportionate, it cannot be legitimate.
            With the mission being both an illegitimate tactic and the being aimed at an illegitimate target, the mission is immoral. The broader implication of this is that individuals who strike out on their own and form groups cannot be removed by assassination if they are not directly fighting against you. It raises larger questions about the precise morality of vigilantism itself and what to do when someone who is arguably acting immorally is actually aiding your side – do you turn aside the help and turn on them, or do you accept it? It is clear now that simple assassination  is not the answer. In Apocalypse Now, Willard's mission to terminate Kurtz is ultimately immoral.

Immanuel Kant's "Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals"
- Used for referencing Kant's viewpoint on morality.
John Stuart Mill's "Utilitarianism and the 1868 Speech on Capital Punishment" (2nd Edition, edited by George Sher)
- Used for referencing the tenets of Utilitarianism and Mill's particular brand of the philosophy.
Helen Frowe's "The Ethics of War and Peace: An Introduction"
- Used for helping to define the specifics of jus ad bellum and jus in bello. Frowe helped define the exact specifics of "Legitimate Target" and "Legitimate Tactic" which form the crux of the argument used in the piece.

I really want to make it clear that this argument is actually INCOMPLETE. This is not everything I generated. This is, I think, my single best argument (that Kurtz was not a legitimate target) combined with fusing that argument together into my second-best argument (about the tactic's legitimacy - this argument could also be much further fleshed out but was held back by the word count limit). The tactic argument also has an unwritten explanation of how the other aspect of legitimacy (there are two main parts of it - proportionality and military necessity, the former of which I, well, I pretty much pay it lip service I guess, but the argument is there). The necessity side would focus around the complete lack of need to hunt down Kurtz. Once again, he wasn't at all a threat to the US and was technically an asset. If the Viet Cong had been the ones to hunt him down it would be an entirely legitimate tactic - he had slaughtered huge numbers of North Vietnamese and posed a substantial military threat. But the Americans had no reason to spend military (or intelligence, as it were) assets to hunt down what was technically a helping force until after they had finished in Vietnam (at which point he would need to be captured and tried as a war criminal). Another argument I have against the morality is the unapproved violation of border integrity, launching a minor invasion into Cambodia. Since Cambodia was a neutral territory technically, the danger of sparking another conflict with them as well outweighed the benefits of catching a man who is killing your enemy for you.
Those are the additional things I would have most liked to have added if I'd had more room in the paper.

To mention, there are other things I'd have liked to explore in the film to do with ethics that had nothing to do with the mission (and thus couldn't be included in this paper). I'd have liked to have talked more about the generalized version of what this view of morality implies, that vigilantism can be tolerated as long as the target remains a threat. A man who takes the law into his own hands to kill a murderer can be punished - the threat he intends to remove is gone. A man like, say, Batman would actually be an illegitimate target to pursue and kill - he's acting on your side and you should take advantage of the help while you can. Guess what? That's basically the story of Batman and Jim Gordon. Anyway, I'd like to talk more at length about the dangers of this approach (I didn't really have much room for counter-points and refutation here). Kurtz, by the end, is revealed to have taken his extremism to the point that he believed the best course of action to be to "Drop The Bomb, Kill Them All," something clearly intolerable by the US (I'd argue that, if Kurtz was armed and disposed to actually pull that off, at that point the overkill and collateral damage would mark the mission as  both necessary and proportionate tactic and that Kurtz is a proportionate and the States's vocal and consistent threat to all potential users of nukes would probably count as a public declaration).
Another thing I struggled against was the morality of the fact that some soldiers seemed to enjoy their job a little more than seems healthy. This applies to a couple of guys, though not anyone on the boat that I can think of, but more than anything to Bill Kigore. Kilgore, on the one hand, seems unhealthily fond of his job - he musically assaults them to cause fear, he commands mercilessly, he seems nonchalant about enemy deaths (death cards), and of course the nostalgia he feels about napalming a whole hill to ash. And he seems to treat the war as almost a game at times - he orders them into worse territory just for surfing. But at the same time, he's actually somewhat honorable. He cares deeply for his men and their well-being, and when presented with a civilian whose been wounded mortally he shows respect for the courage and tenacity of him, though it takes him all of thirty seconds to forget him entirely for the young celebrity surfer on Willard's team. I kinda feel like no soldier should feel good about the individual actions they're taking against the enemy, though they should feel good about the war making progress on a higher level. Morally though, I don't think they should derive satisfaction from the actual killing of the enemy other than the simple relaxation of having one less foe trying to kill them. Kilgore is, to me, a freakin' mystery.

So yeah, now that I've typed you all up an extra little mini-essay here I'm gonna sign off for the night. Hope you enjoy it! As usual, if you're interested you can ask questions or tell me things I don't know/was wrong about or wrote poorly about. I love help, or learning new stuff!

End Recording,

No comments :

Post a Comment