Tag Archives: realism

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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Kissinger Redux, Again

27 Apr

Protesting KissingerHenry Kissinger is another of those iconic figures whom I alternately despise and admire.

I have been a close friend of Henry Kissinger’s for some time, but my relationship with him as a historical figure began decades ago. When I was growing up, the received wisdom painted him as the ogre of Vietnam. Later, as I experienced firsthand the stubborn realities of the developing world, and came to understand the task that a liberal polity like the United States faced in protecting its interests, Kissinger took his place among the other political philosophers whose books I consulted to make sense of it all. In the 1980s, when I was traveling through Central Europe and the Balkans, I encountered A World Restored, Kissinger’s first book, published in 1957, about the diplomatic aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars. In that book, he laid out the significance of Austria as a “polyglot Empire [that] could never be part of a structure legitimized by nationalism,” and he offered a telling truth about Greece, where I had been living for most of the decade: whatever attraction the war for Greek independence had held for the literati of the 1820s, it was not born of “a revolution of middle-class origin to achieve political liberty,” he cautioned, “but a national movement with a religious basis.”

When policy makers disparage Kissinger in private, they tend to do so in a manner that reveals how much they measure themselves against him. The former secretary of state turns 90 this month. To mark his legacy, we need to begin in the 19th century.

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