Monday, February 16, 2009

History Imitates Fiction, More Or Less

Patlabor II packs terrorism-related political punch

Patlabor I was a film about the perils posed by technology, and the risks global civilization accepts by embracing new and untested technologies in the name of convenience.

Patlabor II is a film about an altogether different subject.

The film opens with a scene set on an unnamed 1999 battleground. Lieutenant Colonel Yukihito Tsuge, a Japanese commander leading a UN peacekeeping unit through an unnamed battleground.

Upon encountering hostile forces on the ground Tsuge calls his superiors for permission to open fire. They deny him permission to do so, telling him he may not fire until fired upon.

With complete operational freedom, the hostiles neutralize the UN labors' censors before opening fire on them with cluster munitions. Tsuge's unit is wiped out nearly to the last man. Tsuge is the sole survivor of the attack.

The film then jumps three years into the future, to the year 2002. It's also three years after the events of the first film. The Babel project is officially dead, being unable to survive the destruction of the Ark, essentially a massive labor garage that, upon being struck by hurricane force winds, would produce a sound resonance that would have set every labor in the city of Japan upon a rampage.

Many members of the Mobile Police division that averted the disaster by destroying the Ark have moved on to different things.

But they're abruptly brought back together when a mysterious fighter jet destroys a bridge in downtown Tokyo. Shigeki Arakawa, an intelligence officer with the Japanese Self Defense Force, alleges a conspiracy by an organization calling themselves the National Security Family to use the spectre of terrorism to subvert civilian rule of Japan is alleged. Tsuge is fingered as the central figure in that conspiracy.

Among other things, Arakawa relates a post-Cold War story about a Soviet fighter plane slipping into Japanese airspace unchallenged. The incident set off panic in the Japanese Self Defense Force, and led to demands for improvements of Japan's security infrastructure.

Arakawa insists that the National Security Family staged a repeat of the incident in order to set off another panic in government. Clearly, the motive of the plot is scaring the government into spending additional funds on the JSDF -- conditions under which the National Defense Family would profit handsomely.

Police commanders take advantage of the faint spectre of a military plot in order to increase its own power.

The military responds by destroying the headquarters of the mobile police and taking control of Tokyo under de facto martial law conditions. A civil war ensues, and the only hope to avert it without bloodshed is for Captain Kiichi Goto and Captain Shinobu Nagumo to track down Tsuge and put him under arrest.

In real life, Japan is among the world's top military spenders. It ranks sixth among individual countries.

Any such attack could only be described as a form of institutional terrorism -- a terrorist act aimed to either terrify the government into meeting one's demands without them ever being publicly made, or perpetrated by a government itself to justify a course of action it's already decided to take.

Interestingly, this is the notion that the 9/11 "truth" movement uses to push its bizarre conspiracy theory plaing the United States at the centre of a false flag terrorist act. It's incredibly prophetic that a film that made predictions about the future that were simultaneously far off (with giant mecha robots used both to enforce the law and to fight wars) and so short (with VHS tapes used in place of DVDs) could so effectively replicate the intrigue of the modern war on terror in a fictional film with terrorism at its root.

The film broadly relfects many of the security anxieties that plague modern security planners. An attack in which Japanese fighter jets are disguised as foreign jets is accomplished via sophisticated hacking techniques. Blimps are used to jam communications in Tokyo. Both are hallmarks of cyberwarfare, which is becoming more and more important to the national security of any country.

Tsuge's central role in the conspiracy also serves as a reminder of two things.

First, it's important to remember that the nature of modern peacekeeping has changed. Modern conditions have condemned the Pearsonian model of peacekeeping to obselescence. Modern peacekeeping missions are very much combat missions that demand an appropriate approach.

Second, it's important to take proper care of soldiers who become casualties of war. Not all casualties of war die or return home with physically debilitating wounds. Many of them -- like Canadian General Romeo Dallaire -- return home with psychological afflictions. Many remain embittered about their experiences.

While the threat of embittered soldiers hatching terrorist plots to effectively teach their country a lesson as Yukihito Tsuge does is both hyperbolic and remote, it doesn't make it any less important to take care of those who are harmed in the service of their country.

Patlabor II certainly has even deeper messages for those more familiar with Japanese politics. But as it pertains to the modern state of the world vis a vis terrorism, the film should be considered must-watch material for anyone interested in the wider implications of terrorism and the military industrial complex's role in the war on terror.


  1. While I do believe that 9/11 was indeed caused by a group of suicidal religious fanatics, I do think that the US gov't had milked the situation to give them even more control over ay dissenting voice within their country.

    Case in point: The Patriot Act, and Homeland Security.

    Regarding Patlabor II, I recall a similar incident here in Manila: The Glorietta bombing, and the Rizal Day train station bombings.

    A large portion of the populace were convinced that both incidents were created by the Philippine Military, given that both occurred at the height of massive scandals regarding the Arroyo administration.

    The theory was that pres. Gloria would use these incidents as an excuse to declare martial law, ensuring her absolute control of the administration.

    A ploy popularized by the late Ferdinand Marcos, who used the red scare as well as a mock assasination attempt against one member of his administration back in the late 60s.

    A similar plot was layed out for Stand Alone Complex: 2nd Gig, where Pro-American sympathizers in the Japanese Gov't were creating a fictional terrorist threat to discredit the existing administration. The situation was set up so that as it spun out of control, the US would "heroically" intervene, re-establishing is stagnated sovereignty in the storyline.

  2. It isn't foreign terrorists we should be worry about when domestice terrorism - done in the name of the people and the state - happens right under our very nose.

  3. I think international terrorism is a very big threat, but not nearly as large a threat as domestic and state terrorism.

    It all needs to be taken seriously.


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