Tag Archives: international relations

Into Darkness With Humility

6 Jun

Peter Weller Joins ST2Star Trek Into Darkness redeemed a franchise. After 9/11 and the 2007 bank and mortgage crisis I naively thought searing reforms would put the United States and the world back on course. Trek was a certain important reason why I joined the Army, but I never did find my family. After a decade reconsidering that, I realize now I can have the fantasy, but also accept the world as it is. It took a space opera fairy tale to convince me I was misguided. What’s necessary, but unlikely, not even moral, and definitely not legal is to excise the cancer, as Spock does when he eliminates Admiral Marcus, played by Peter Weller. Yes, Weller plays the bad guy, not that John Harrison, a.k.a. Khan Noonien Singh, is a good guy. Marcus is the testosterone junkie, the disease within the organization who we trust but who violates the license we give him to avenge us against our enemy. He’s the least redeemable character in the story with the most unfavorable traits. Khan, he’s just a tool, and that’s makes his character pathetic, even if Benedict Cumberbatch out acts the entire cast. For once, William Shatner no longer in the chair, that really means something.

I wanted to hate this movie. I do hope that any future installment can pass on the whole alternative timelines addiction. Leonard Nimoy deserves a chance to have a career beyond Spock. I hoped J.J. Abrams fell on his ass, and crippled his directorial momentum going into the Star Wars sequels. I wanted the franchise to die respectfully, or for the chair to stay in the family. But, Star Trek has returned to the past and done what the original series couldn’t, that is, put the technical side, the acting, and the writing together, all in a politically relevant, entertaining package.

The new Star Trek explored the origins of Kirk and Spock in a way that had become a sure fire Hollywood formula for success with the emergence in the new millennium of several highly profitable superhero origins movies like Spiderman, Batman, the X-Men, and Iron Man.  In keeping with the times, the emphasis in both the first Star Trek reboot and the new movie, Star Trek Into Darkness, has been on rogue terrorist groups rather than on nation states or empires thus reflecting the changing times in the international system.  In the first movie Nero, a survivor of the explosion that destroys Romulus, wages a war with a small group of renegades against the Federation.  In Into Darkness, J.J. Abrams resurrects Khan from classic Trek as a product of Eugenics and makes him into a first class terrorist.  The twist in the tale being that once again the seamy side of the Federation is revealed because it is not an innocent victim of terror but instead at least partly responsible for making Khan into a terrorist.  Internal factors drive foreign policy actions.

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Book Review #7

30 May

George F. KennanReading John Lewis GaddisGeorge F. Kennan: An American Life was a depressing experience for a number of reasons. Reading biography has a singular drawback, that plumbing the depths of an individual whose work or experience prompted admiration would reveal some noxious secret that ultimately undermines the original cause for exploring a life. It’s not so much that I don’t admire George F. Kennan now, but that his long, eventful life casts his perspective on realism and containment in less favorable terms. It’s very difficult to read about an idol.

As an undergraduate two people distracted me from language study: my adviser and George F, Kennan. Bo doubt I had a crush on my adviser from the first day of a section of the Introduction to Political Science class he taught. I had already taken two classes on Congress and another introduction, but now I was wedded to International Relations. I abandoned any fantasy about interning for a senator. Kennan also frequently got sidetracked by women. Discussions in class were electric and fluid, not really lectures but just as insightful. Here was a teacher – for she wasn’t promoted to her position yet – who let students speak and still could maintain discipline and cover a topic. Nothing anyone said was not useful to her. Unlike Kennan in his later incarnation as a lecturer at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, she rarely spoke for more than a few minutes at a stretch, confining herself to offering introducing concepts and fielding questions. One of the first assignments was Kennan’s 1946 “Long Telegram”, offered in the form of his 1947 Foreign Affairs article, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct“, signed as “X”. Admittedly, the relationship between the two eluded me then, but Gaddis delivered me from that confusion. The first iteration was brilliant; the “X’ article was a political error.

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Kenneth Waltz, IR Theorist, RIP

14 May

Kenneth WaltzKenneth Waltz, a giant among the pantheon of grand theorists in political science and an exponent of structural realism, was an undergrad poli sci major’s best friend. His amazingly-constructed arguments exemplify for me how science is communicated, because they were easy to encapsulate for exams and discussions. Only, in the middle of writing those capsule summaries, those same pithy words often worked themselves into my brain and sparked reflection at the wrong time. But the resulting torrent of paragraphs filled entire exam booklets and essays with borrowed profundity. Here’s an example:

Waltz-Letter

For all the reasons I love this argument, Waltz’s contention that nuclear proliferation promotes stability provokes admiration as well as outrage.

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