Unfortunately, we will not be able to watch Kim Jong-un’s assassination on the big screen this Christmas. We will not be able to cheer as the brutal dictator’s helicopter explodes in the air “ while Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’ plays on the soundtrack.” We will not be able to fulfill this Christmas Day fantasy by watching The Interview because the terrorists have won.
The FBI now claims that Kim Jong-un’s government is behind the act of terrorism. In retaliation for the movie, a state-sponsored North Korean cyber-terrorist group called “The Guardians of Peace” hacked into Sony Pictures and leaked sensitive information, including internal emails, future Sony films, and sensitive employee records. “The Guardians of Peace” also threatened movie goers with a “9/11 style attack” on every cinema that shows the movie.
After the threats were made and many theaters decided to pull the film, Sony Pictures canceled the release of The Interview. Sony said in a statement:
Sony Pictures has been the victim of an unprecedented criminal assault against our employees, our customers, and our business. Those who attacked us stole our intellectual property, private emails, and sensitive and proprietary material, and sought to destroy our spirit and morale – all apparently to thwart the release of a movie they did not like. We are deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees, and the American public. We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome.
Washington and Hollywood are also in an uproar:
“Wow. Everyone caved. The hackers won. An utter and complete victory for them,”tweeted Rob Lowe. Jimmy Kimmel claimed that pulling the movie was, “an un-American act of cowardice that validates terrorist actions and sets a terrifying precedent.” Steve Carell said it was a, “Sad day for creative expression.” Sen. John McCain stated “yielding to aggressive cyber-terrorism by North Korea … sets a troubling precedent that will only empower and embolden bad actors to use cyber as an offensive weapon even more aggressively in the future.”
And White House officials are exploring retaliation, saying security leaders “would be mindful of the fact that we need a proportional response.”
The terrorists may have won the battle, but the United States will win the war!
That’s the way the United States is telling this story. I’m sorry. I just can’t go there.
Don’t get me wrong. Despite my unwavering belief in nonviolence, there’s a part of me that wants to blow Kim Jong-un up into a million pieces. Not because I think we’re his victims. Not because we can’t watch a particular movie on Christmas Day. Nor because I think he poses a serious threat to our freedoms. I want to blow him up because he’s a brutal dictator who terrorizes his own people in concentration camps where 10,000 people die every year. North Korea has one of the worst human rights record in the world, which includes public executions, forced prostitution, slave labor, forced abortions, and arbitrary detentions. If anything good comes out of this conflict, it is that we will learn more about the atrocities the North Korean regime inflicts upon its own people. They are Kim Jong-un’s true victims.
But alas, Sony Pictures is claiming to be the victim, and so is North Korea. Here’s my problem: I can’t help but wonder how we would respond if North Korea made a movie about a successful assassination of our president. Would we respond with a sense of humor? “Ahaha!” we might laugh. “What a funny movie! It’s a comedy, so we know they didn’t actually mean anything by blowing our president up into a million little pieces! I mean, hey, that’s just good comedy!”
Somehow, I doubt it. We would be just as offended as North Korea. We would understand it as a veiled threat, an act of propaganda and terrorism, and a sign that those crazy bastards with nukes are out to get us. We would unite as a nation and unite with our national friends against our enemies who mocked us on the big screen.
How do I know? Because that’s how we consistently respond to threats of terrorism. Presently, we are retaliating against North Korea, who retaliated against us for making a movie that they think is, “an undisguised sponsoring of terrorism as well as an act of war.”
Both governments claim the other is sponsoring terrorism and committing acts of war. Each side uses the same language of victimhood and of feeling threatened. There is a difference, of course. If North Korea made such a movie, it would be state sponsored. While Sony isn’t an official mouthpiece of the U.S. government, The Interview does give expression to a dominant theme running throughout our culture – that the world would be better without this brutal dictator who constantly threatens the U.S. with nuclear weapons and the only way to get rid of him is through violence.
We in the U.S. want to emphasize differences between us and them. We claim the mantle of morality because we have freedom of speech and freedom of artistic expression. So what if that freedom leads to the depiction of the death of a brutal dictator? But let’s not kid ourselves. This conflict isn’t simply about freedom of speech or expression. It’s about politics. The Interview asks the question: How should we deal with brutal dictators who pose a nuclear threat in a post-9/11 world?
This conflict is fundamentally about violence. And the truth about violence is that it puts us all on the same level of morality. North Korea and the United States are enslaved to the same logic of violence. Whenever one nation perceives the other as a terror threat, it retaliates with escalating cycles of violence and threats of violence.
The only one who wins in a war of retaliation is the spirit of retaliation. In human relations, and especially in political relations, retaliation is contagious. As Jean-Michel Oughourlian states in his brilliant book, Psychopolitcs, national rivalries and retaliation are always the same. We believe that our enemy is “considered [as] an evil to be eradicated, and of course, the other side’s position is the same, a mirror image.”
In this sense, we are all members of “The Guardians of Peace.” With a sense of tragic irony, we all believe that the best method to eradicate evil and to guard peace is to retaliate with violence.
The tragic irony only continues once we realize that the movie was set to be released on Christmas Day – the day when we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace. We don’t need anymore “Guardians of Peace.” We need more people who will follow the path of the Prince of Peace. This path means that instead of guarding peace with violence, we lay down our weapons. It means that instead of participating in a cultural fantasy of killing our enemies, we pray for our enemies. It means instead of being offended by our enemies, we find creative ways to love them. As Oughourlian claims, it means that, “Instead of spending astronomical sums on arms, let us spend instead on roads, hospitals, schools, houses, businesses to create jobs and so on. Instead of financing war, let us purchase peace.”
Adam Ericksen blogs at the Raven Foundation, where he uses mimetic theory to provide social commentary on religion, politics, and pop culture. Follow Adam on Twitter @adamericksen.