In this essay, I will be focusing on the existence of an international society with idealism’s assumptions and link it with the 1996 movie Independence Day, directed and co-written by Roland Emmerich. Firstly, I will discuss idealism briefly. After a short summary of the movie, I will move on with the links between idealist theory and the movie.
Liberal political thinking goes back to the ideas of John Locke and created a new way of defining the relation between the ruling and ruled classes. Idealism, inspired by President Woodrow Wilson’s ideas, shaped the emerging International Relations theory in the first half of the 20th century. His beliefs were implemented with the international organizations later established between the two World Wars. Although later in the century after a more catastrophic war, realism became the eminent theory in the field; however, the unforeseeable events happening at the end of the Cold War distorted the dominance of realist IR theory. The extension of democracy with increasing emphasis on human rights and humanitarian intervention, disarmament and cooperation agreements between the former rival states caught realists off guard.
Idealists believe in human rationality, progress and goodness within people. This belief in human rationale is seen in the state level as well — states will behave rationally and cooperate instead of resort in war. Because, cooperation will benefit everyone and states should be focusing on total gains rather than relative gains.
Idealism’s first myth according to Charles Kegley is that an international society exists. He does not question the presence of it and that’s why we call this a myth — we just simply assume its existence. Idealists hope to overthrow international anarchy or at least lessen the aspects by transforming the conflict ridden nature of international politics to a cooperative manner without even needing to transform the system to a hierarchical one. Idealists argues that world government is not the only way to overcome anarchy and proposes an alternative: international society with common rules, values and institutions. If international society is organized properly — like in the state level with sanctions and capability — the anarchy that causes the war can be eliminated. War is an outdated mean of settling disputes and can be evitable. International problems require international collective action. Moreover, human nature is not inherently bad as the realists argue, but rather corrupted by the “evil institutions”. These corrupt organizations can be found in the level of state and society. The welfare of others and promotion makes progress possible. In addition to these Wilsonian ideals, Kegley argues: “This goal [of reorganizing international society so that it can eliminate the anarchy that makes problems such as war likely] is realistic because history suggests that global change and cooperation are not only possible but empirically pervasive.” (Kegley, 1995)
The following events after the fall of Berlin Wall confused mainstream realist International Relations scholars, many assumed that the competition and the conflict in the bipolar system would continue. Therefore, the change that the end of Cold War had brought to the international system began the dividing debate between the scholars. Charles Kegley, being one of them argues, the realist explanation that made sense in the Cold War era is insufficient now.
Realism could explain the conflictual activities among sovereign nation states such as lust for power, appetite for imperial expansion, struggle for hegemony, super power arms race and obsession with national security. However, realism cannot explain post-cold war realities of cooperation among sovereign nation states like march of democracy, increase in liberal free trade agreements, renewed role of the United Nations, proliferation of arms control agreements and international humanitarianism. But why do states cooperate? Obviously not because there is a world government rather since the international organization of states has changed in the post-cold war period. It is not a bipolar world system fueled by rivalry anymore. Idealists accept that the relations among states is not flawless but states are taking collective action for cooperative interests rather than waging war at each other.
Idealism assumes a domestic analogy in international level. If there is a society within states, the there is a society among states as well. States have different traits like individuals, some are war-prone and some are peaceful. Even though the the identity of states are different, they share certain values and rules. Moreover, domestic analogy refers to the connection of liberal ideas within liberal states to the international arena.
One important question is how does moral progress occur in the domestic society and how this morally progressive society is transferred to international level? According to idealists, the nation state is a political as well as a social space. Moral progress is possible if the state is organized as democratically. Democracy is the least restrictive way of governing and encourages freedom of expression. As I had mentioned earlier, idealists believe the good will of people and are free enough to express themselves openly, their individual actions will have effects on the state level as well. Therefore, good people lead to good government (C.Weber, 2001)
Not all states are democratic. These autocratic states are disturbing the balance and causing conflict internationally. If we make the world a safer place for democracies Wilson argues, then the transformation from domestic to international society is possible. All the individual state level societies constitute one big international society.
The very first scene of the movie is the US flag on the moon, followed by a sign that says “we came in peace for all mankind”. The image then vibrates and a shadow —apparently an alien spaceship, casts over the world. This is our first impression of the alien presence. Next scene is in the “Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute” on July 2. Nothing surprising seems to be happening, one man is playing mini golf. After a signal that is nothing but weird beeping to the audience, we see that it might be a signal from another world. Their first expression is questioning it might be a doing of Russian spies, a remark to the Cold War. But the movie sets in place in a post-Cold War time and we can tell it by the song playing in the beginning that says it is the end of the world as we know it.
Right after this unknown alien sign and a rushing moment in the White House, our heroes are introduced one by one. First one is President Bill Whitmore, a veteran pilot from the Gulf War. He is young, liberal, honest and moral. He represents the incorruptibility of pure communication as underlined by his wife, when she told him to stick to the truth since he is bad at lying. Our second hero is David, a genius MIT graduate. He is a good son and used to be a good husband to his ex wife Connie, the assistant of president whitmore. He is still wearing his ring even though Connie left him years ago. He is committed to the environment as well, scolding his co-workers and riding a bike. He creates a great contrast; with his bike in the NYC traffic and working as a computer technician despite being a genius. He will be the one decoding the alien signals and discover their evil invasion plan and come up with the plan to thwart them. Russell, the third hero is an unlikely one. A Vietnam veteran but a drunken farmer now, Russell is ridiculed by his fellow townspeople because he constantly claims to have been abducted by aliens ten years ago. However, he selflessly sacrifices his life for all those whom previously doubted and mocked him. Our last hero is Steve, military fighter pilot. He is brave and brash, hoping to fly the NASA space shuttle one day. He came close to his dream by flying the alien spaceship into the heart of the mothership to inject the computer virus designed by David.
Just as the idealist theory, the movie suggests that we are surrounded with morally good humans who understand each other through good communication. All characters in Independence Day are all morally goo —even Russell that do not seem like it, are just simply misunderstood. This is partly because they live in a sovereign democratic country,governed by good people and have all the freedom they can ask for. Therefore, the idealist assumption that good people lead to good government is emphasized in the movie.
Just as it would be expected from such a idealist movie, the aliens are not expected to be evil without a question. Steve assumes they would not come 90 billion light years all the way to earth to fight. In his speech in the TV, President Whitmore says: “The question of whether or not we are alone in the universe has been answered. Although it’s understandable that many of us feel a sense of hesitation or even fear, we must attempt to reserve judgment.” We should not be expecting the worst but hope for the best until there is further information about their goals. President is a supporter of peaceful means, he urges the people not to be afraid and resorting to violence. He is also against his advisors suggestions to attack the alien ships and sends a Welcome Wagon as an effort to communicate. However, the Welcome Wagon is attacked and David finally tells the real intention of the aliens. The decoded signal is found to be a countdown for simultaneous attacks on earth. Communication impaired (they did not listen David) and bad things followed (aliens attacked the welcoming humans). (C. Weber, 2001)
Aliens started destroying the world and president bill whitmore ordered an counter attack; but, he is still hesitant in making a full force attacking. He still has hope that the aliens are not inherently evil and the conflict is because of the lack of pure communication. Although Secretary of Defense Nimzicki is very insistent to use nuclear weapons on the aggressive aliens, President Whitmore denies for now. Later, we learn that this is not the first time the US has encountered aliens. In fact, Nimzicki confesses that in Area 51, the US government has been conducting secret experiments on aliens for the previous few decades.
Meanwhile, the alien attacks were devastating sites across the world. There was not a coordinated response to the alien assault, only individual ones. Steve, who was busy fighting the aliens, managed to capture one and brought it to Area 51. The President, being a true idealist, tries to communicate with the captured alien. We learn that the aliens are very much like us except the way we communicate. They do not have vocal cords, use telepathy or capture other bodies to talk. The alien regains consciousness and takes control of Dr. Okun’s mind and vocal cords to speak. The president tries to find a middle ground between humankind and aliens,find ways to co-exist peacefully. However, the alien tells the president there’s “NO PEACE” and wants every human to “DIE”. Then it attacks the President’s mind and he finally sees their real nature and intentions. They travel around the universe, kill every living being to exploit all the resources available. They are morally corrupt and therefore not progressive. This gives a just cause to the President to order the nuclear attack finally. There is no way of conducting pure communication or negotiate a peace deal. He also orders a united worldwide counterattack however, the Secretary of Defense objects this plan. We see the pessimism of realism in his position and Whitmore’s reaction is to fire him.
After the nuclear assault had failed, David came up with a plan to infect the alien mothership with a computer virus. Steve volunteered to use the alien ship in Area 51 to infiltrate to the alien base with David. As they transfer the virus, Russell sacrifices his life and flies into the mothership with the nuke stuck in his plane. This cooperative behaviour is seen in all levels of the society as Cynthia Weber adds. People on the destroyed streets help each other without hesitation. We see Steve’s wife Jasmine trying to help a religious lunatic. The good will of humankind is observed everywhere, extending to the international arena as well.
As I demonstrated with the examples above, Independence Day is a typical romanticized Hollywood fart factory. All the countries seem content and excited to get in line behind American leadership. The aliens are presented as the common enemy and depicted as anti-human as possible — they even lack the ability to speak. This common enemy can only be defeated with joined forces internationally. However Kegley’s presumptions about the existence of the international society is debatable. Did all the states unite because that is the moral thing to do? Does international society really exist? After the victory of humankind, President made his speech, underlining how the US is part of a greater community — the international society as Kegley and idealists argue. The coordinated effort of the states will benefit all. But is that always the case? Do we have to create a common enemy all the time for this system to continue working or will mankind will unite for other causes as well? In Independence Day, people united against the aliens because they feared extinction. Also, without the leadership of US, all the other states seem to be lost. Yes, united action was needed but could it be any other country than the US? So, maybe the US hegemony is needed to trigger this international community to function. The inability to unite is replaced with a hegemon in this story comes as no surprise, is the US thanks to Hollywood cheesiness.
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