Films and Texts Analyzed through Peace and Conflict Lens

The New War Against Terror: Responding to 9/11   Noam Chomsky

The beginning of the article points out how the United States and Europe have committed or supported atrocities against other populations throughout the centuries, though The United States has not suffered the violence of war in its homeland as Europe has. As the article continues, Chomsky contradicts the commonly held notion that terrorism is the weapon of the weak. In his opinion, “terrorism is the weapon of those who are against “us” whoever “us” happens to be,” since it is up to whoever has control of the doctrinal system to decide who is a terrorist. Furthermore, Chomsky states that the definition of terrorism by the United States military is dubious and highlights the blocking, by the United States, of a UN resolution condemning terrorism that would exonerate populations fighting for their freedom. Moreover, the article describes that those responsible for the September 11 attacks were originally funded by the CIA as the mojahedin fighting against the Russia invasion in Afghanistan. Finally, Chomsky observes that, as a Policy Option, the United States should go after the perpetrators and bring them to justice and try to understand their motivations instead of just punishing the whole region where the source of attack came from. Taking advantage of the situation to have open and rich discussion about this subject should also be a priority in Chomsky’s opinion so that we can reduce the level of violence and terror.

Behavioral Study of Obedience   Stanley Milgram

The article describes the results of an experiment on obedience conducted by Stanley Milgram. First, it makes an analysis about how obedience is fundamental for social order. However, Milgram also exemplifies how obedience can be destructive, such as in the case of mass killings caused by soldiers obeying the orders of their superiors (even if they did not agree with these orders) during the Second World War. Then, it describes the experiment, where one subject was told by the researcher that he had to inflict electrical shocks on another subject (just pretending to be shocked) as a punishment for wrong answers in a learning procedure. Ultimately, Milgram found that a higher number of subjects followed the orders of giving strong electrical shocks than expected. This demonstrates the willingness of people to blindly obey orders, even though it is against their moral values, because they did not want to disobey an authority figure (the researcher).

Right of Death and Power Over Life   Michel Foucault

In his article, Foucault describes how power in the past was applied by the sovereign as he had the right of life and of death over his subjects. In other words, he was able to decide whether or not to kill someone. Power then was seen as a “deduction,” or the ability to take things away, such as property, taxes, and life, from the subjects. Today, Foucault stresses that power has changed from a focus of “deduction” to a focus in “life” and how to secure, extend, and improve it. Foucault calls this new power over life “bio-power” and it is where the human body is seen as a productive machine as well as by its reproductive capacity. Furthermore, “bio-power” is perceived as the responsible factor for the rise of capitalism. Finally, the objective of this type of power is to evaluate and understand how we live so that it can be controlled to optimize the conditions of life.

Permission to engage

The documentary is about a leaked military video that shows an incident where American attack helicopters shot at presumed Iraq militias in Bagdad during the American occupation of Iraq in 2007. As the documentary shows, some of the victims were unarmed civilians. From there, an Al Jazeera reporter goes and interviews both the family of some of the victims and an American soldier who was present at the incident. The victims in question were working for the news outlet Reuters in Iraq. First off, both families analyse the video with the reporter, stating that their relatives were innocent and unarmed civilians and the other victims who had weapons were security for a nearby mosque. In the families’ opinion, the American military had no right in shooting at their relatives and should be held accountable for its actions.

At the same time that the documentary shows the interview with the Iraqi families, it alternates in showing an interview with an ex-American soldier who was present during the incident. The soldier also analyses the video and divide it in two parts. The first one, when the helicopters first engage the individuals on foot, including the Reuter’s employees, he believes that the US military’s actions were justified because he thinks that the images were showing one of the men carrying a Rocket Propelled Grenade. However, in the second part of the video, when the helicopters shot at the van, he believes that those acts were classified as war crimes since they had no reason to engage at that point. After participating in the incident, during which he rescued two children, the American soldier changed his view on the war in Iraq. In the end, it shows the soldier writing a letter to the Iraqi families, asking for forgiveness, which they did not accept.


The film takes place in the future, the 22nd century, when humans are mining a precious mineral called Unobtanium on a planet called Pandora. This planet is inhabited by the Navi, a blue humanoid who lives in harmony with nature and who worships a mother goddess represented by nature itself.

The expansion of a mining company looking for Unobtanium threatens the existence of the local Navi population since their gathering place, a giant tree called Hometree, is inconveniently located on top of the richest deposit of in the area.

Jake Sully, a paraplegic former marine, is employed by the mining company’s private security force to use an Avatar (a genetically engineered Navi body with the mind of a human located elsewhere) to go into the forest and integrate with the Navi to gather intelligence and to try to negotiate about the mineral deposit. There, he meets a female Navi, falls in love with her, learns about their society, and ends up sympathizing with the Navis.

Colonel Miles Quaritch, the head of the mining company’s private security force, learns that the Navis will never abandon their tree and decides to attack it with the intent of destroying it and accessing the minerals. In response, Jake tells the Navis to gather all of the clans together to battle against the mining company security forces. Furthermore, he has the help of certain humans who sympathize with the natives and do not follow the military orders from their superiors at the mining company.

Eventually, with the help of all living species of the planet, the Navi wins the battle. All humans are expelled from Pandora and sent back to Earth, after which Jake is transferred forever into his avatar with the aid of the Hometree.

Analysis and Comparison

Power is seen as the main subject in both the movies and all three articles. In all of the content it is clear a dichotomy between the authority (whether legitimate or illegitimate) and the subjected group.

In Avatar, the dichotomy is between the mining company and its security force and the peaceful local tribe, the Navi, and in Permission to Engage it is between the American military and the Iraqi civilians. The focus of power in both movies can be evaluated through the lens of all three articles. In the case of “Behavioural Study of Obedience” by Stanley Milgram, the focus of power is in the obedience of the authority by the subjects. In Avatar, however, since the Navi did not actually recognize the authority of the humans, they did not follow their orders and instead chose to rebel against them. However, the blind obedience as described in Milgram’s article can be seen by most of the Earth soldiers who obey their orders to attack the Navi, although some refused, as in Milgram’s study. In Permission to Engage, we do not necessarily see any form of obedience by the Iraqis because they were shot before being given any orders to obey. However, we do once again see blind obedience by the helicopter pilots to shoot and kill according to what they were taught by their military superiors.

In “Right of Death and Power Over Life” by Michel Foucault, power is seen as the ability to control life and death and this can be seen in both movies. In Avatar, the mining company security force has the military capability to decide which Navis live and which Navis die in order to fulfil its desire for minerals. In Permission to Engage, the American Military, specifically the helicopter pilots, do not have the direct authority to decide who lives and dies because of international rules of war. However, they were trained to trick the system and manage to embellish details in a way that gave them this power of life and death as they were able to kill the Iraqi civilians.

The final article, “The New War Against Terror: Responding to 9/11” by Noam Chomsky is perhaps the most applicable to the two films. In his article, Chomsky highlights that terrorism is not only a weapon of the weak but can be also a tool from the stronger against the weaker to further an agenda. In the case of Avatar, it could be argued that what the mining company and its security forces do to the Navi is terrorism as they violently work to further their own agenda. In the case of Permission to Engage, the shooting of the Iraqi civilians can also be considered terrorism on the part of The United States as they shot without true, just cause. Furthermore, although both the Navi and some Iraqi civilians were seen as a menace of almost terrorist proportions, they were actually only the the local population struggling for their right for a homeland and freedom. This is something that Chomsky mentions when describing the veto of a UN resolution, by The United States, which argued that local freedom fighters should not be seen as terrorists.

Altogether, both movies and the three articles deal with power and have a clear dichotomy of a strong group and of a weak group. While both movies can be analysed through the three articles, it is Chomsky’s article that allows us to describe the acts of the movies as terrorism while the other two offer ideas that could lead up to this.


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