Breaking the Siege of Gotham: an Operational Analysis of The Dark Knight Rises

I wrote this a few years ago in piece intended for now-sadly-defunct Grand Blog Tarkin. For a few reasons the piece didn’t happen then, but here (for the first time) is my operational and tactical analysis of the Siege of Gotham.

So if Bane and the League of Shadows actually took America’s largest city hostage with a nuclear device, what would happen? Unsurprisingly, the American government has already planned for such a contingency. Presuming that terrorists are political actors, a hostage scenario is one of the more likely methods of nuclear terrorism; detonating a device without warning is likely to result in few political gains and much backlash. As we’ve already demonstrated, not responding to nuclear terrorism is simply not a realistic option for an American president. How might the federal government actually respond to Bane’s attack?

In this scenario, we’ll make a number of assumptions from the Dark Knight Rises:

  • Gotham City is similar to New York in climate, resources, organization, etc., with slightly different geography (see the map).
  • Bane does not release any more information to the government than he does in the movie.
  • Bane’s resources are limited to those depicted in the movie (including those of the wily Talia).
  • The government knows as much about Bane as Batman does after his initial search.
  • The nuclear device has the same radiation profile as a similarly sized fission bomb (the movie doesn’t go in depth on the fusion reactor and how it’s been weaponized.)
  • The government has no initial intelligence on Bane, the League of Shadows, or this specific conspiracy.
  • The bomb is as big as Bane said it was

From these assumptions, we can begin to predict, given real-world policy, how the US government would react to Gotham City being held hostage by nuclear-armed terrorists.

The initial response would in all likelihood be similar to that given in the movie. Fighter jets would scramble for show-of-force and reconnaissance and National Guard units would be activated. Moreover, Homeland Security (DHS), Coast Guard, and local counterterrorism forces would be activated. For simplicity’s sake (and to give Mr. Nolan some artistic license), we’ll assume that, as with the police, Bane’s men are able to capture, kill, or otherwise neutralize Gotham’s first responders, including regional FBI and DHS offices. After Bane’s demands are firmly establish, the President would no doubt address the nation, offering them similar rhetoric of determination, perseverance, and hope. In TDKR, this action is essentially the extent of federal involvement in the Siege of Gotham. In a more realistic scenario, the President’s speech would be merely the beginning of a massive operation rivaling a minor war in its scope and intensity.

As we’ve already shown, the seizure of a major American city, much less THE major American city, would demand a response. No expense would be spared in attempting to reassert American sovereignty and demonstrate to the worldAmerica’s capability to maintain rule of law. Such an operation would not be left to the remnants of a municipal police force (even one as capable as GothamCity’s) but would be supervised at the very highest level by the President,Vice President, and Secretary of Defense, who together constitute the National Command Authority (NCA), which is ultimately responsible for military action and homeland defense.

As implied in TDKR, Bane’s seizure of the city would not go unnoticed. In all likelihood, the first federal authorities to react to the attack on Heinz field would be America’s intelligence and response centers. US Northern Command(USNORTHCOM), the CIA’s Global Response Center, the FBI’s Strategic Information and Response Center, and other similar response groups would quickly alert higher-ups and begin analyzing the situation. The most critical of these centers in this case would be Gotham City’s Emergency Operations Center, which would serve as a hub to coordinate a local, state, and federal response. For the purposes of this exercise, we’ll assume that Bane has taken out this center alongside his other actions against the police. Other fusion centers (set up after 9/11 to coordinate intelligence between agencies) on the East Coast, and especially in Washington, would further facilitate crucial intelligence sharing as the situation progressed. Because Gotham City’s Emergency Operations Center has been neutralized, we would expect a longer lag before the extent of the situation is made clear. In the meanwhile, USNORTHCOM’s scrambling of jets and activation of National Guard Units are certainly not unreasonable. At the same time, America’s premier counterterrorism forces (Tier-One operators including Delta Force, DEVGRU, and others) would be notified of the developing situation;they’ll play an important part later.

Stage One: Finding the Bomb

Federal resources (civilian and military) would quickly be organized into a joint task force, overseen directly by the NCA, under the control of a combatant commander (CCDR), probably from USNORTHCOM, though US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) might be another option. This commander would be responsible for coordinating massive inter-service and inter-agency resources available to break the siege of Gotham. The task force’s primary objective would be to retake Gotham City with minimal civilian loss-of-life. To accomplish this, the task force must find and neutralize Bane’s nuclear weapon.

While TDKR is not as science illiterate as most other superhero movies,it’s not perfect. When Bane displays the nuke to the world after the attack on the football stadium, the movie depicts a radiation spike at an anonymous military monitoring site. While the government does indeed maintain an early warning system for nuclear detonations, it’s not nearly sensitive enough to sniff out a single un-activated device. Provided that the converted fusion reactor is low-radiation or well-shielded enough to not give those escorting it radiation sickness, it remains well below the threshold for satellite threat detection. Even UAVs or surveillance flights would have trouble picking up the fusion device over the background radiation noise.

Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance(ISR) efforts would focus on information gathering about the nuke (including detailed technical characteristics) the nature of Bane’s trigger, and the location (s) of the nuke. Moving the reactor outside is a foolish choice by Bane; American geospatial intelligence satellites retasked to provide intel on the developing Gotham City situation would sooner or later (probably sooner)identify the convoys carrying the nuke. This would be supplemented by on-the-ground intel. In reality, a satellite is unlikely to pick up the radiation from this fusion weapon, ‘lead-lined roof’ or not. However, Gotham City, after 9/11, may have followed several other major cities (including NYC)and installed a citywide radiation monitoring system designed to find ‘suitcase nukes’ and dirty bombs. Accessing this system would be an early priority for American forces.

Increased ISR (including reconnaissance overflights) would be followed shortly by the insertion of special operations forces to further map the battlefield and prepare for a decisive conflict. Why would the president risk a nuclear attack to insert troops? It would essentially be his only option, and the odds of triggering the attack are relatively slim. Since Bane has made it clear that he won’t negotiate, the NCA would quickly move to counterforce options. Special operations forces are trained to operate stealthily in hostile environments with limited lines of communications; operating in an American city would be far easier for them than missions they’ve had in far-away lands across the world. In the movie, a small SOF team is inserted via a supply truck. Of the three entry possibilities(Land, Sea, Air), this may be the least likely; its reasonable to believe that the limited land points of entry would be closely monitored by Bane. While airborne assault (parachute operations) is also an option, the simplest and stealthiest entry would be via submarine. Many SOF units (including the Navy Seals and Marine Force Recon) are trained for submarine entry. As a quick look at a map of Gotham illustrates, there are numerous approaches for a SOF amphibious assault. Gotham City would quickly find itself home to a few hundred or even thousand new residents; in a city of 12 million (especially one in chaos), they would blend right in.

These units would quickly establish urban hides – concealed hideouts from which to observe Bane’s forces and conduct operations. Given the chaos the movie reveals, these teams would have relative freedom of action. These soldiers’ first priority is a natural offshoot of the primary military objective; they must gather as much intelligence as possible on the nuclear device and its inner workings. Without a high level of certainty as to how the bomb works, the NCA will not order an escalation of the conflict and risk killing millions of people.

Intelligence gathering would revolve around answering several specific questions. How exactly does the bomb work? How is it protected? How is it triggered? What backup systems are in place? Gaining solid answers to these questions will permit the creation of an operational plan (OPLAN) – specifying the resources, timing, and directionality of the inevitable US attack on Gotham. While I can’t speak to specific reconnaissance tactics, I’ve no doubt that these operators would have little difficulty silently and effectively gathering intelligence. Besides locating the bomb (with the benefit of persistent surveillance, teams throughout the city, and other tech wizardry, not such a big problem), special operations forces will need to discover the exact trigger mechanism Bane intends to employ. While the movie shows a pretty standard trigger (pushing the trigger button sends a radio signal to detonate the bomb), there’s no way for the American forces to know that; in particular, given that Bane should be at least planning for some interference, he could very well elect for a dead-man switch. Knowing how the trigger works is absolutely critical- jamming a regular trigger would be a crucial part of the final operation, but jamming a dead-man switch would actually set the bomb off.What sort of device the teams discover (and what level of certainty they achieve) will substantially influence the OPLAN.

Figuring out the nuclear mechanism should be simpler than discerning how it’s triggered. Every nuclear reactor must register with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; even if Wayne Enterprise’s reactor hadn’t been activated, the mere fact that it is ready to be turned on means that it has already been subject to a regulatory process. Nuclear experts (many of whom are already employed by the US government through the DOE national labs system) would be called in to elucidate how the fusion reactor could be weaponized. They would be assisted in this by the article that Bane’s Russian physicist published on the topic, lending an additional degree of certainty to US intelligence on the fusion reactor.

In order to better understand the nuclear device, some daring and creative intelligence gathering will be called for. In order to peek inside the truck carrying Bane’s device, SOF will need to set up a cargo-scanning system(using any number of X-ray technologies employed for that purpose at harbors and other points of entry). This may in fact be the most difficult and crucial stage of the operation; assuming that the trucks carrying the device use randomized routes through the city, it will be difficult to set up this large equipment in place to scan the trucks. Nonetheless, I’m confident that, one way or another, SOF would accomplish this task, gathering critical intel and enabling more confident operational planning.

 

Stage Two: Battlefield Shaping and Operational Preparation

Concurrently with their intelligence mission, SOF within Gotham City will be tasked with battlefield shaping, preparing for the eventual assault on Gotham by prepositioning supplies, harassing Bane’s lines of supply, sabotaging his forces and otherwise laying the groundwork for a larger operation. As part of this stage, they may organize an insurgency of Gothamites; because training opportunities would be extremely limited due to the timeframe and hostile environment, US forces would focus on recruiting veterans and law enforcement who had gone into hiding. It’s not clear whether immediately rescuing Gotham’s imprisoned police officers would be a part of the plan; certainly, the US military would not need them in the same way Batman does.

This stage of the operation is particular fraught with concern about operational security. ISR is observational and does little/nothing to telegraph your wider designs to your opponent. Battlefield shaping, on the other hand, inherently involves actively laying the groundwork for a more or less specific operation – if your opponent can ‘read’ how you are shaping the battlespace,he’ll gain insight into your OPLAN. That said, the teams operating within Gotham are world-class surreptitious actors – while Bane’s forces may notice that their capabilities are being acted against, there’s no indication that they’re organized enough to detect this threat, much less counteract it.

At the same time that SOF are performing ISR and battlefield shaping operations, the Pentagon’s expert operational planners are preparing to break the siege of Gotham. Because of the location and strategic importance of this operation, lines of communication and oversight will be very short; the operational-level joint force commander will be in close communication with the CCDR and the NCA. These operational planners will decide the order of battle and prepare for the logistical effort of getting these forces in place to carry out the operation. As D-Day approaches, troops, supplies, and transport will be staged across the river from Gotham City to await the operation.

In the buildup to operational execution, US forces will take measures to disguise the timing and intentions of their mission. 24-hour, irregularly-timed fixed-wing and helicopter river patrols or flybys will acclimate Gothamites and Bane’s forces to the sights and sounds of US military operations at all times of the day. Unit deployments will be conducted as quietly as possible, and a media blackout imposed.

Stage Three: Execution

The hard work of several weeks will result in a multiple-stage assault on Gotham. Following from the commander’s intent (retaking Gotham with minimal civilian loss of life), three obvious phases are neutralizing the nuclear weapon; eliminatingBane’s forces; and re-establishing rule of law throughout the city.

Phase I: The Bomb

There’s a wide margin for creativity in planning to neutralize Bane’s nuclear weapon,and, in all likelihood, several neutralization methods will be prepared in sync. The stakes are far too high to allow a single point of failure.

Potential Attack Vectors

After intelligence confirms that the trigger is not in-fact a dead man’s switch, all of these attacks will occur with electronic warfare (EW) support in the form of radio frequency jamming. These attacks will most likely occur in the middle of the night, when SOF will have a greater tactical advantage, response times are likely to be slower, and the triggerman may be asleep.

  • Air-dropped bomb on the nuclear device. Pro: Instantly neutralizes the threat. Con: Scatters radioactive debris into the surrounding area (a post at Lawyers, Guns, and Money indicated this line of thinking, although a Tomahawk missile is an unlikely option, as its navigation system and angle of attack don’t lend themselves to urban, mobile targets)
    On-the-ground neutralization: SOF troops, with the help of members of the Nuclear Emergency Support Team (NEST) attempt to disarm the device on the spot before moving it to a secure location. Pro: the quietest of these options,allows for quick, expert confirmation. Con: Leaves the device, at least temporarily, on the battlefield. If the device has been extremely modified or booby-trapped, could result in full or partial detonation.
  • “The Batman”- Victory through superior firepower. Can’t figure out how the trigger mechanism works? Running out of time? Screw ‘em. Special ops forces use IEDs or HEAT rounds (or, better yet, act as JTACs calling in some precision air support) to destroy the cabin of the bomb truck as well as its escorts. SOF then harness the trailer holding the bomb and let a Chinook carry it off to sea at a five klicks a minute. They could either carry it to a secure location to be disarmed or drop it in the sea and pick it up later. Pros: fast, without the debris of the first option. Very American, probably unexpected. Cons: Lots of moving parts means much can go wrong, not as quiet as a solely ground-based option.

I’m sure there are lots of other creative ways to take out the bomb; if you have any ideas, post them in the comments section.

Phase II: The Siege

As soon as the special operations forces responsible for neutralizing the bomb report their success, the real fun begins. Thousands of US soldier and Marines will descend via air assault (helicopters) and airborne assault (parachute) on landing zones secured by special operations forces (different teams, obviously,from those who neutralized the bomb). Their primary targets will be Bane’s command-and-control (C2) as well as Bane himself (and any other high-value targets). While Bane’s men may have proved a challenge for a frontal assault by Gotham City PD, they would prove no match for America’s finest, equipped with a wide arsenal and air superiority. Within minutes, Bane’s forces would find themselves disorganized, disoriented, and surrounded.

Phase III: Rule of Law

Once Bane’s forces have been defeated, the work of putting Gotham back together will begin. Federal relief agencies, NGOs, and the like will bring much-needed supplies and services into Gotham, which will be patrolled by policemen and National Guard units until law and order can be firmly established. And, at the end of the day, the president will make a feel-good speech extolling heroes, patriotism, and American resolve, a speech he’d never be able to give in the movie Nolan has given us.

Conclusion: Deconflicting the Batman

Batman is, of course, absent in this entire narrative. It should be clear from what I’ve laid out that there is no obvious place for him within it. Suppose that Batman escaped from the pit-prison in time to participate in liberating Gotham. Given his lone-wolf M.O. and moral qualms about firearms, he wouldn’t make a natural match for any of the military options I’ve outline here. It seems more likely he’d get in the way. Nolan’s Batman is partial to the theatrical and symbolic; from lighting a giant bat signal on the bridge to insisting on a one on one confrontation with Bane, Batman places the message above the mission time and time again.

This, I think, points to a broader theme Nolan addresses in his trilogy. Hanging about Batman’s heroics is the question of megalomania. How much of Batman’s decisions can be attributed to sheer neediness: the desire to have the city need you and call for your help. Batman is a masterful tactician but is terrible at operations. In TDKR, he time and again loses sight of the primary goal of saving lives; instead, he pursues his personal vendettas at the cost of operational effectiveness. The problem with working with Batman is that he forgets that others are not as skilled, fit, or efficient as he is. Thus, he tasks those working with him with well-nigh impossible tasks. Gordon’s difficulty in attaching the jammer to the bomb puts a comic twist on a task with which Batman surely would have had no trouble. Not so humorously, Batman has the wherewithal to confront hundreds of crooks at dawn. The police officers to whom he assigns this suicide mission do not. Batman’s skills (physical and operational) are well-suited for handling lone lunatics with mad ideas. For nuclear terrorism, however, even Batman should call in the cavalry.

Further reading

http://www.fas.org/irp/doddir/dod/jp3_0.pdf 

http://www.carlisle.army.mil/usawc/parameters/Articles/1995/sieminsk.htm

All Hail the Great “Moh Dun”

Assiduous sacrifice at the altar of the Moh Dun gods gives our society the power to believe we are alternatively “masters of our fate”(totally free subjects) and the slaves of natural and societal forces that overwhelm the individual.

“The light-skinned peoples living in the northern reaches of the Atlantic are said to have a peculiar way of worshipping the gods. They go on expeditions to other nations, seize statues of their gods, and destroy them in huge bonfires, insulting them with cries of ‘Fetish! Fetish!’ – a word that in their barbaric language seems to mean ‘forgery, nonsense, lie.’ Though they insist that they have no fetishes, and that it was their own idea to free other nations from such things, they seem to have very powerful gods. Indeed, their expeditions frighten and fill with dread the peoples who are attacked in this way by rival gods, who these peoples call ‘Moh Dun,’ and whose power appears as mysterious as it is invincible. It seems that in their own lands they have built many temples, and the way they worship inside them is as strange, frightening, and barbaric as it is outside. During great ceremonies repeated from generation to generation, they smash their idols with hammers. They seem to benefit significantly from these ceremonies, for once they have freed themselves from their gods they can do whatever they please. They can mingle the forces of the Four Elements with those of the Six Kingdoms and the Thirty-Six hells, without feeling at all responsible for the violence they unleash. Once these orgies have ended, these people are said to fall into deep despair. At the feet of their shattered statues they cannot help but hold themselves responsible for everything that happens, which they call ‘human’ or ‘free-will subject’ – or else they believe, on the contrary, that they are responsible for nothing at all, and that they are entirely produced by what they call ‘nature’ or ‘causal objects’ (the terms are hard to translate into our language). Then, as if terrified by their own daring, and in order to put an end to their despair, they repair the Moh Dun gods they have just broken, making countless offerings and sacrifices; they put their gods back up at the crossroads, holding them together by iron hooping as we do for barrel staves. They are also said to have created a god in their own image – in other words, one just like themselves, sometimes absolute master of all he does, and sometimes completely nonexistent. These barbaric peoples do not seem to understand what it means ‘to act.'”

  • Reported by Counselor De-Bru-Osh, emissary to China from the Korean Royal Court in the mid-eighteenth Century

(From Bruno Latour’s On the Modern Cult of the Factish Gods)

Alasdair MacIntyre on the Trump Phenomenon

As with most things in life, Alasdair MacIntyre cuts right through the noise to the heart of things (in this case, what public support for Donald Trump might mean. From the first chapter of Whose Justice, Which Rationality:

Partly it [the Teflon-like ability of some to resist the charge of “irrationality” or “extremism”] is a matter of a general cynicism in our culture about the power or even the relevance of rational argument to matters sufficiently fundamental. Fideism has a large, not always articulate, body of adherents, and not only among the members of those Protestant churches and movements which openly proclaim it; there are plenty of secular fideists. And partly it is because of a strong and sometimes justified suspicion by those against whom the charge is leveled that those who level it do so, not so much because they themselves are genuinely moved by rational argument, as by appealing to argument they are able to exercise a kind of power which favors their own interests and privileges, the interests and privileges of a class which has arrogated the rhetorically effective use of argument to itself for its own purposes.

Arguments, that is to say, have come to be understood in some circles not as expressions of rationality, but as weapons, the techniques for deploying which furnish a key part of the professional skills of lawyers, academics, economists, and journalists who thereby dominate the dialectically unfluent and inarticulate. There is thus a remarkable concordance in the way in which apparently very different types of social and cultural groups envisage each other’s commitments. To the readership of the New York Times, or at least that part of it which shares the presuppositions of those who write that parish magazine of affluent and self-congratulatory liberal enlightenment, the congregations of evangelical fundamentalism appear unfashionably unenlightened. But to the members of those congregations that readership appears to be just as much a community of pre-rational faith as they themselves are but one whose members, unlike themselves, fail to recognize themselves for what they are, and hence are in no position to  level charges of irrationality at them or anyone else.

If you believed (with evidence) that there was a conspiracy of “reason” that made the kinds of arguments, beliefs, or reasons you held about a topic to be prima facie inadmissible in public discourse, don’t you think you would glom on to the first person or persons who “told it like it is” or “said what you were thinking”? It is in this way that (in the US, as well as Europe) it is the conspiracy of the “reasonable” biens pensants in the political and media elite to narrow legitimate political discourse that ultimately creates the vacuum into which far right populism enters.

Magic Kingdom: It’s a Small Civilization After All

I’m finally getting around to publishing my Disney posts- you can expect three more after this.

Magic Kingdom’s “It’s a Small World After All” (hereafter IASW) probably won the award for “Ride Experienced Most Differently As an Adult” (though Epcot’s “The American Adventure” was a close second- more on that in my next post). That’s mostly because Eddie Keane’s “Makings of the Modern International System” seminar has had my brain firing hard-core on the complicated politics of globalization and the links amongst geopolitics (or imperialism), civilization, economic ties, and cultural change in the 19th and 20th centuries.

For those of you unfamiliar, IASW is a fixed boat-track “tour of the world” throughout various rooms filled with animatronic puppets representing different countries/cultures/ethnicities all singing the eponymous ear worm of a song. Premiering at the famous 1964 World’s Fair in New York, it proved extremely popular, and later became a Disney World stalwart.

The lazy accusation to make of IASW is that it trucks in mildly racist stereotypes. Which is sort of true, but not very interesting (besides, every people group on the ride is presented rather stereotypically). Much more interesting is actually the way the ride is organized. The world is presented in this order:

First Room: Europe

  • Scandinavia
  • Germany
  • France
  • UK
  • Holland
  • Italy
  • Spain
  • (Classical) Greece (at the doorway to room 2)

Second Room: Asia

  • Hasidic/Shtetl Jews
  • (Modern) Greece
  • Russia
  • China
  • Bali/Indonesia
  • India
  • Japan
  • Korea
  • Thailand

Third Room: Africa

  • Egypt/Arabia
  • “Africa” (jungle, savannah, lots of “tribal” dancers/musicians, various African animals)

Fourth Room: South America

  • Argentina,
  • Chile
  • Mexico
  • “Rain Forest”

Fifth Room: South Pacific

  • Hawaii
  • Australia
  • Polynesia
  • New Guinea

Sixth Room: Finale

 

smallworld2

Less imaginative commentators have pointed out that IASW doesn’t exactly provide a geographically coherent view of the world. Besides organizing rooms into various “continents”, there isn’t much organization, and the order of continents (or of countries within continents) doesn’t make much sense. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a coherent organizational logic behind the ride. I submit that the organizational logic at work here is the “Standard of Civilization” and the remnants of a Euro-centric Enlightenment view of history that still had currency in the early 60s, with a unique American twist which I’ll explain.

The timing sort of makes sense. When Walt Disney was working on the ride in 1963, the colonial wars were still raging, and every major European colonial power was still heavily involved in its former colonies, if not still the formal sovereign. While it is hard to see this in retrospect, a lot of the discourse defending these colonial holdings was of the civilizational variety; “liberal imperialism” (a la JS Mill) was the only acceptable kind – involvement in the colonies allowed the European states to continue the work of “educating” and uplifting colonial peoples to the refinement, manners, knowledge, “civilization” of the West. Lest we see this as purely one-sided, in each colonial nation there was a significant fraction of the populace (usually the educated, often elite section) that more or less agreed with this proposition (Graham Greene documents this in subtle and compelling ways in his novel The Quiet American). At the same time, following WW1, another civilizational discourse had taken ahold in the world, one emphasizing the plurality of civilizations and their (relative) equality. Propelled forward by a curious mix of historically minded Europeans (like Toynbee), new kinds of nationalism, and educated elites from “non-civilized” countries, the civilizations discourse was opposed to and deconstructive of the “Standard of Civilization”, holding that, as opposed to all of humanity moving together (at varying speeds) towards one common standard of progress, science, reason, etc., many cultures and peoples were advancing along their own ideals, standards of progress, and developmental trajectories. These two conceptions (civilization and civilizations) are interlinked in complex ways- societies on the margins of the West like the Ottoman Empire/Turkey, Japan, and Russia often pursued “civilization” before turning to a “civilizations” discourse and their own developmental trajectory after being rebuffed by Europe. And a belief in a planet of multiple civilizations did not prevent a belief in a competition amongst civilizations (a la Huntington) or in the local supremacy of one civilization and the construction of a local “Standard of Civilization” (a la the Soviets in Central Asia or Japanese imperialism in the 1930s-40s).

So what does this have to do with IASW? On one hand, there is clearly a “civilizations” discourse going on here – there is no overt hierarchy of nations, and each society is presented in a positive light with its “traditional culture” at the fore (even though many of those “traditional cultures”, like that of the Scottish, only came into being in light of 19th century nationalism and civilizational discourse). On the other hand, the old Standard of Civilization looms large. The journey starts in the “heart” of the civilized world – Northern and Western Europe, before taking you right down the spectrum into slightly less civilized/enlightened/productive/scientific Southern Europe (Spain, Italy) into even less civilized Eastern Europe and the Balkans (the most “barbaric” parts of Europe) and into the “Barbaric” countries which had real culture and law, but not the individualism and advancement of Europe, such as Japan, Korea, India, and China. IASW showcases the “culture” of these countries (traditional buildings, dress, etc) but none of the modern technology found in the Europe room. After that comes the “Savage” territories of Africa and the New World – “discovered” late by Europeans, and after the Great Divergence was well underway. While lacking in culture and law to European standards, they had the benefit of a “natural” lifestyle, a kind of Rousseauian primitivism. On IASW, only Egypt (the “civilized” part of Africa) and the Aztec ruins of Mexico contain any human architecture – the rest of Africa, South America, and Polynesia is a mixture of wild nature and “tribal” society (with the implied “wildness” of human society in these places front and center).

This leaves an interesting question – where is the United States represented in this world? It seems to me that the Finale room, while not explicitly American, represents a kind of classic American critique/embrace of the Standard of Civilizations. Here, representatives of all different races/ethnicities meet in a kind of “melting pot”, united by the progress of science and technology (exemplified by bright electrical lights, Ferris wheels, hot air balloons, etc), made equal by the experience of migration, assimilation, and integration into American society, which is a kind of prototype of a new possibility in world society. It’s telling that there is an ambiguity between whether this is a depiction of America or the world – this kind of cultivated both/and structure I found to be characteristic of Disney World as a whole (which I’ll explain in my future posts). The Finale room is an insight into how Walt Disney saw the 1964 Worlds Fair – as presenting an image of what the American World Order meant. All of the elements of IASW – the simultaneous embrace of “traditional” culture and technological progress, the earnest belief that the United States offers an alternative to a European way of making sense of world society, the tight link between government, society, and business in the service of this broader democratic vision (IASW was sponsored by Pepsi) – are found today at Disney World, in spades. IASW is a glimpse of the politics of Disney World in miniature; it is, perhaps, also a peephole into a deeper, even subconscious, part of the American mentality towards international politics and the purpose of American society.

 

My next post will be on the politics of Disney World.

 

The Happiest Place on Earth

Last week Laura and I went to Disney World as Laura’s birthday gift from my parents and had an absolute blast.

The part that’s always fascinated me about Disney World is Walt Disney’s vision for the place and the way that’s been protected and carried on by the corporation. It’s this vision, I think, that helps Disney World feel different from any other theme park- it has a real ethos apart from providing easy entertainment and making money (though they’re really good at those too).

What is Disney’s vision? Walt Disney saw himself as a myth maker and storyteller for the Modern Age, doing for the imagination what Henry Ford had done for transportation or Ray Kroc had done for food. By remaking classic European myths in the American image and making them fit for mass consumption, Disney was making a democratic and New World statement of the kind Jefferson or Whitman would have understood and appreciated. Disney believed in intentionally cultivating and furthering what he saw as American distinctives like enterprise, ingenuity, ruggedness, innovation, self-reliance, etc (it’s easy to forget that Disney was a major and eager participant in American anti-fascist and anti-communist propaganda campaigns). It was possible that this ethos could have been lost post Sexual Revolution, post-Cold War, but it wasn’t.  The following posts will explain why I think this was and why that matters.

To anyone reading who worries that I’m overthinking Disney and I should have been focused on having fun- this is my idea of fun! Plus, and we’ll see, Disney World is a fun and entertaining place with a pretty serious purpose.

Blog post 1.0

Laura and I are starting to blog. Partly, this is just to keep in better communication with friends and family and provide more of a picture into our life abroad. But part of this, too, is motivated by the value of writing things down, making them plain in the written word. As someone who spends a lot of time (both professionally and by inclination) learning, researching, thinking, and reflecting, the importance of writing things down, and in doing so in a structured way, is increasingly obvious to me. I find that, in general, my best ideas come during conversations with other people or when I’m walking around (there has been some interesting recent cognitive research to support the latter activity as paramount to thinking – there’s a reason Kant, Heidegger, and Tolkien, among others, made walking central to their thinking practices).     The great dangers of this mode of thinking are two. The first is, simply, that you will forget what you have thought, or at least not remember it in its entirety. It is the great conceit of those of an intellectual persuasion that great thoughts endure. They do not. Even the most striking insights have a tendency to slip away, and anything less than a flash of pure brilliance is sure to exit one’s memory before too long. The second, related to the first, is that one’s ideas in conversation or in one’s own head can be unstructured or have serious flaws that are not immediately apparent; the process of writing forces ideas into structure and argumentation and makes it easier to refine them. 

     My writing here will focus on whatever I’m working on or thinking about – you can expect stuff on the far-reaching economic, cultural, political and maybe even metaphysical effects of our rapidly evolving information and communications infrastructure, changes in the contemporary international system of states (and in those states themselves), Russia (of course), and other (hopefully interesting) tidbits. I hope it brings some profit to you – if it does, join the conversation!