Friday, January 22, 2010

Cold War Mentalities Demand Weapons That Can be Watched

As tends to be the trend more than ever, the Watchmen director's cut incorporates additional footage into the film.

While the bulk of the new scenes actually deal with the character of Rorschach, the additional scenes also expand greatly on the character of Dr Manhattan, and shed interesting light on his relationship with the Comedian.

The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Dr Manhattan (Billy Crudup) form something of an odd couple in the Watchmen. The Comedian is nihilistic and sociopathic, while Manhattan seems largely indifferent to the plight of humanity. In their own way, each is fundamentally disconnected from their central humanity.

The two are shown together fighting in Vietnam, a conflict won in the alternate timeline of the film because of Manhattan's involvement. Yet it quickly becomes apparent that Manhattan has no idea why he's exploding Viet Cong guerillas so effortlessly. He could just as easily be exploding Muslim mujahideen on behalf of the Soviet Union.

Meanwhile, the Comedian is skullduggery embodied. In the film's opening credits he's even depicted assassinating John F Kennedy.

While Dr Manhattan clearly represents the sheer mass intimidation of the nuclear deterrent, the Comedian represents the activities of the world's intelligence services, spy agencies, and covert "black ops" forces.

In time, Dr Manhattan becomes a figure greater than the United States' entire nuclear arsenal, and in time greater than the United States itself. Meanwhile, the Comedian slips into obscurity, his exploits the subject of state secrets.

Dr Manhattan, in the eyes of the US government, is a weapon too overwhelming to be kept secret, and controlling him is considered to be of paramount importance. The government even attempts to force Laurie Jupiter, aka the Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman) to devote hersef to keeping him satisfied and compliant with the government's wishes.

The far-less-powerful Comedian, meanwhile, is effectively discarded after use, and slips into the kind of obscurity that powerful states reserve for their ugliest secrets.

This has become the state of affairs in the post-Cold War world: with the exception the ongoing tensions between India and Pakistan, nuclear weapons are being sought not as a means of protecting themselves against an imminent threat, but as a means of keeping one's enemies in line.

Iran, for example, is seeking nuclear weapons not as a means of defending itself against an imminent threat -- as the United States' and Israel's primary antagonisms with Iran revolve around the country's nuclear weapons program -- but rather as a means of intimidating the world into giving in to its demands.

With an individual like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad holding the Presidency of Iran, Iran is as likely to use nuclear weapons to intimidate the world's smaller states than they are to reserve them as a defensive weapon against the US or Israel.

Just like the fictional United States of The Watchmen, they won't keep those weapons secret. It's what they do in the dark -- often to their own people -- that they'll keep secret.

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