When War is Justified: The Hunger Games Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014)

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In Francis Lawrence’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014) Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is unwilling to become the Mockingjay: the symbol for the rebellion. An important theme in the film is the morality of war. When a government murders and enslaves its own citizens, armed rebellion against that government is morally justified.

Katniss does not want to be the symbol for the rebellion for two reasons: She is angry that the rebels did not rescue Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), and there is nothing personally at stake for her in the fight. Her mother and sister are safe; she does not know if Peeta is dead or alive; and she appears to be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. Katniss has neither the emotional strength nor the desire to be the Mockingjay.

Unless we are emotionally moved by other people’s suffering, we are unlikely to take action to help them. Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) understands this when he tells President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) that Katniss needs to “see what the Capitol did to 12.” Plutarch wants Katniss to witness the aftermath of the bombing because he knows the emotional impact it will have on her. She agrees to go to District 12 and is shocked by the death and destruction, falling to the ground in anguish. After seeing the human remains of thousands of innocent civilians, her heart is changed.

Katniss’s motivation to fight against President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is strengthened further when she learns that Peeta is alive. On a television talk show, Peeta calls for a cease fire, but Katniss understands that peace with Snow is not possible: “There can’t be a cease fire, not after everything Snow has done.” After negotiating with Coin for Peeta’s rescue and pardon, Katniss agrees to become the Mockingjay. She now has something personally at stake in the fight against the Capitol: saving Peeta’s life.

The rebellion against Snow is justified because he is killing and enslaving the people of Panem. When he bombs a hospital, Katniss realizes the nature of his evil: “He’s never going to stop.” The nature of evil is that it will not stop unless it is resisted. After the hospital is destroyed, Katness addresses Snow and the Capitol in a video: “If we burn, you burn with us.” The evil committed by Snow motivates Katniss to become more than a symbol; she actively joins the fight.

What Mockingjay Part 1 says about war is relevant to events in the world today. The rebellion against the Capitol parallels the current war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). With Snow, there are only two options: submit to his rule or be destroyed. Similarly, ISIS leaves its victims with only two options: convert to their version of Islam or be killed. According to a UN report, “over 24,000 Iraqi civilians have been injured or killed by ISIS in the first eight months of 2014.”1 However, the limited military response—a campaign of air strikes—will not be enough to defeat the terrorist organization. Unfortunately, there is no political will among the American-led coalition to send soldiers to fight ISIS. Western leaders are emotionally impacted by the deaths of innocent civilians in Iraq and Syria, but there is nothing personally at stake for them in the fight.

Mockingjay – Part 1 has an important message for pacifists: There is a time when war is justified. Peaceful protests are unlikely to lead to freedom in a country ruled by an oppressive dictatorship. If a dictator is killing unarmed civilians, it may take more than international outrage and economic sanctions to stop him. When diplomacy fails, war is sometimes the only way to achieve a lasting peace.

Notes

  1. Samuel Smith, ” UN Report on ISIS: 24,000 Killed, Injured by Islamic State; Children Used as Soldiers, Women Sold as Sex Slaves,” Christian Post, October 9, 2014, http://www.christianpost.com/news/un-report-on-isis-24000-killed-injured-by-islamic-state-children-used-as-soldiers-women-sold-as-sex-slaves-127761/
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