Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Thoughtful Discussion of Justice and the Film "Zero Dark Thirty"

My good friend, Jack Richardson, was kind enough to make me aware of a very well thought through response to the controversial film, "Zero Dark Thirty."   The article is written by Paul D. Miller, who serves as assistant professor of International Security Affairs at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C.  The link below will connect you to the full article as it appears in the Blog "Books & Culture - a Christian Review."

"Justice at Zero Dark Thirty" by Paul D. Miller

The article does an excellent job of cataloguing and analyzing many of the thoughts, questions and feelings that I experienced as I watched this film.  The article is relevant on several fronts.  Paul Miller confronts his response to the film and the events that it portrays from a variety of perspectives.  He is an expert in issues of security, he served both in the Army and in the CIA.  One of the CIA officers killed in the suicide bombing that is depicted in the film was a friend of his.  He has a strong Christian faith, and he looks at issues of violence and justice through the lens of that faith and of his own personal experience as a philosopher and warrior.

You may not agree with his perspective, but he lays out the reasons for his thoughts and feelings with great clarity.  I quote here from the end of his article.  I commend to you the article in its entirety, and look forward to enlightened, respectful and civil discourse about these important issues.

"Every soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, and spy—and a good swath of the American population—woke up on May 2, 2011, heard the news, and wished they had been there in Abbottabad. Zero Dark Thirty gives us the vicarious experience of having been there. Bigelow wisely underplays the climactic moment—even refusing to show bin Laden on camera—lest it degenerate into a Tarantino revenge fantasy. Even so, I confess it was gratifying. The finale offers a national catharsis after a decade of frustration.

I recognize how bloodthirsty that sounds. But I don't think bloodlust is the only danger, or even the biggest danger, in relishing the climax of Zero Dark Thirty. Read the Psalms again and note how often David rejoices over his enemies' defeat. We spiritualize too much if we think these Psalms only apply to the "enemy" of temptation, or sin, or the devil. Sometimes we have actual human enemies who want to kill us, and defeating them is good. No man's death is occasion for a party—the celebrations on the National Mall were unseemly—but as I told my students the next morning, justice is good, and sobering.

No, a bigger danger, perhaps, is in cheapening the sacrifice, risk, and work of those who were actually, not vicariously, involved in the hunt. Some viewers will enjoy a fleeting and shallow sense of pride and pleasure before moving on with life. It may feel gratifying to watch it happen on screen, but take a moment to recognize that you didn't really do anything to make it happen. Watch and enjoy Zero Dark Thirty—it is a very good movie—but don't treat it like a cheap thrill.

How? And where do we want to go from here? These questions, implicitly raised by the closing scene and the film's brilliant final line, leave us to consider, once again, how to respond. In the closing months of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln called on the nation in his Second Inaugural 'to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan.' Here's an idea for a responsible approach to Zero Dark Thirty. Watch the movie, then donate the equivalent of your movie ticket, if not more, to the CIA Officer's Memorial Foundation. The Foundation provides educational support to the children of CIA officers killed in the line of duty. My friend left behind three of them."

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