Sunday, August 16, 2009

Keep the Arms Industry Away From District 9

Warning: the following post contains significant spoilers about the movie District 9. Those still interested in seeing this film should consider themselves forewarned.

Sci-fi film presents terrifying view of Arms Industry

Films as deep and uniquely thoughtful as District 9 come along very rarely.

District 9 is such a deep film that it's difficult to decide where, precisely, to begin with it. The film, essentially a Harry Turtledove-esque alternate history of South African Apartheid in which an alien spacecraft appeared in the sky over Johannesburg in approximately 1981 -- at the height of the international controversy over Apartheid.

The aliens, referred to by the derogatory epithet "prawns", were eventually segregated into a slum outside of the city. The government is now planning to forcibly move the aliens -- who seem listless and purposeless in the wake of the apparent death of their leadership -- to a refugee camp 200 miles away from the city.

Multi-National United (MNU) is the corporation that eventually wins a contract from the South African government to manage alien affairs. MNU employee Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is put in charge of the operation, and immediately puts his pencil-pushing skills to work, much to the infuriating chagrin of the mercenaries MNU employs to forcibly move the aliens.

But an opportunity quickly presents itself to MNU -- one of the world's foremost weapons manufacturers -- in the form of the bumbling Wikus.

When Wikus manages to expose himself to a chemical that begins to alter his DNA -- replacing it with alien DNA -- he suddenly becomes the missing link in the company's efforts to unlock the secret of the alien weaponry. The alien weapons, it turns out, can only be fired by the aliens. They feature a sort of DNA trigger lock.

When it's discovered that the transformation Wikus is undergoing has enabled him to fire these weapons, the MNU science division -- which has been undertaking some rather horrific experiments on the aliens -- quickly decides to remove Wikus' organs while he's still alive in order to find out how human and alien DNA can be combined.

Wikus' father in law himself hands down the decision without so much as the first hint of moral difficulty.

Sadly, history is full of examples that show us how quickly scientific ethics can break down once scientists commit themselves to developing new methods of destroying life.

The shocking history of medical experimentation in Nazi Germany shows how quickly science's ethical rules can be discarded -- especially if one has subjects that are deemed to be not human or less than fully human to experiment on.

The sheer power of the alien weaponry in District 9 only adds to the terrifying dilemmas that emerge once science is committed to creating weapons.

Greed and ruthlessness have rarely combined well in human history, especially not when the arms industry is involved. The black market trade in weapons has enabled many civil and ethnic conflicts to continue unabated. In many cases, arms manufacturers have used black market dealers to keep these activities at an arm's length.

If MNU successfully unlocked the secret of using the alien weaponry in District 9, one would imagine they wouldn't hesitate to sell those secrets to the Nigerian gangs hiding out in the alien slum -- some of whom have resorted to eating alien body parts in an effort to gain their powers and use their weapons.

District 9 reminds us of why the arms industry has to be monitored and regulated very closely. Even those who favour minimal levels of government regulation of anything must admit that giving this industry a free hand to develop and sell arms is a terrible, terrible idea.


  1. Just saw the film today. One other aspect the film focuses on is of course the dehumanizing and demoralizing consequences of living in a refugee camp for an extended period.

    In the real world, these kinds of camps gave rise to the Taliban, who grew up in them following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan -- and who have ever since tried to impose the miserable reality of those infernal places on entire nations.

  2. Like I said, man, it's a deep film.

    There's a lot to talk about in it.

    If you're interested, you should stay tuned. Victor tells me he's going to address the human condition angle of the film later in the week.


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