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Bigelow’s Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty: Virtue Ethics and the War on Terror.

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Presentation on theme: "Bigelow’s Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty: Virtue Ethics and the War on Terror."— Presentation transcript:

1 Bigelow’s Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty: Virtue Ethics and the War on Terror

2 Zero Dark Thirty: The Controversy ZDT was criticized by many for seeming to portray “enhanced interrogation” as crucial to the killing of Bin Laden A factual question A moral question Glenn Greenwald: Premise A: The killing of Bin Laden was “sacred,” cannot be questioned Premise B: According to the film, torture was necessary to eventually kill Bin Laden Conclusion: Therefore, the film glorifies torture

3 Reasons for Doubt “I think that it's a deeply moral movie that questions the use of force. It questions what was done in the name of finding bin Laden.“ – Kathryn Bigelow Criticisms of ZDT hinge on a number of Hollywood clichés There are clear good guys and bad guys The good guys (almost) always do the right thing If the good guys do the wrong thing, it messes things up and they see the errors of their ways The good guys win in the end ““Bigelow's movies don't work that way.” – Jessica Winter and Lily Rothman, Time

4 Quandary Ethics vs. Virtue Ethics QUANDARY ETHICS (DEONTOLOGICAL, CONSEQUENTIALIST) VIRTUE ETHICS DecisionsCharacter Difficult SituationsEveryday Life The Single Moment (Pointillism)Narrative ConscienceCommunity “An ethic of virtue seeks to focus not only on such moments of great anxiety and uncertainty in life but also on the continuities, the habits of behavior which make us the persons we are.” – Gilbert Meilander

5 Key Concepts of Virtue Ethics (Alasdair MacIntyre) Practice: Internal goods vs. external goods (enjoying chess vs. playing for a reward) A standard of excellence More than technical skill or technique (a good cook vs. following a recipe) Virtue: Excellence in life as a whole, integrating many practices A practice can be unvirtuous if it detracts from an integrated life Virtue includes right relationships with others engaged in practices Narrative: My actions take place within the larger narrative of my life My actions also take place within the narrative of the communities to which I belong, large and small Institutions Institutions are established to foster practices and the external goods necessary to maintain them (e.g., a hospital) Institutions can become overly focused on external goods (money, power, status) in the absence of virtue Community Sets the context in which practices and virtues either flourish or wither

6 Practitioners SFC William James and Maya Lambert are practitioners “James is something else, someone we recognize instantly even if we have never seen anyone quite like him before. He is a connoisseur, a genius, an artist.” – A.O. Scott, New York Times “One hundred percent, he’s there. Okay fine, ninety-five percent, because I know certainty freaks you guys out; but it’s a hundred!” James and Lambert are contrasted with their peers “You think I got what it takes to put on the suit?” “Hell, no.” “Pre-9/11 behavior”

7 Family Both films explore the tension between professional excellence and family Both characters are pathetic, evoking pity, because they lack virtue Maya has “no existence outside of war.” – Hannah Rosin, New Republic In HL, James’s excellence as a soldier is linked to his failure as a husband and father “The older you get, the fewer things you really love. By the time you get to my age, maybe it’s only one or two things. With me, I think it’s one.” Family life contributes to a lack of excellence as a soldier “I’m done. I want a son. I want a little boy, Will.” – Sgt. Sanborn James’s attachment to Beckham leads to his erratic behavior In ZDT work substitutes for friends and family for Lambert “So no boyfriend. You got any friends at all?” “Look, I know Abu Ahmed is your baby, but it's time to cut the umbilical cord.”

8 Career ZDT also focuses on the tension between excellence and careerism Jessica, a CIA agent, fails because of her excessive focus on success “The Director is in the loop. And I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't update the President.” “Facilitators come and go, but one thing you can count on in life is that everyone wants money.” CIA officials in Washington hesitate because of political fear for their careers They want immediate action but hesitate to act “I think she’s fucking smart.” “We’re all smart, Jeremy.”

9 The Army as an Institution In the HL the Army clearly fulfills the two roles of an institution outlined by MacIntyre It enables a practitioner like James to flourish “Well that’s just hot shit. You’re a wild man, you know that?” The film portrays stewardship as often hindering excellence Risk avoidance leads to failure and death, risk taking leads to success Lt. Col. Cambridge is ineffective

10 The American Context Only now can we look at the ethical issues in the films If James and Lambert are the ones America needs to fight the War on Terror, can the war be just? How and why has our own society failed James and Lambert? Does civilian society’s everyday concerns (family, career) tragically lead our nation to war? “A really good bad guy hides out in the dark, right?”

11 Why Look for Ethics in Film? Film is well-suited to explore issues of character We make sense of our own lives through story A film does not provide us answers, it spurs discussion and the telling of stories

12 Key Questions for the Army Profession HL and ZDT, through narrative, point out tensions in the Army ethic What tensions exist between developing military experts (practitioners) and an integrated life? (e.g., risk, single-minded focus) What tensions exist between promoting institutional stewardship and professional competence? How does the Army maintain its ethic and character when civilian authorities decide its ultimate objectives? “I believe that was Kathryn's intention when she made the film — to open a conversation. She ends it with an unanswered question, Where do you want to go? She's asking the audience, Where have we been, and where do we go from here?” – Jessica Chastain

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