The Assassination of a President: The Hunger Games Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015)

The-Hunger-Games-Mockingjay-Part-2-Poster-MovieAssassination is the “killing of a prominent person for political or ideological reasons.”1 In Francis Lawrence’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015) Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) plans to assassinate President Snow (Donald Sutherland). The film suggests that assassinating a political leader who intentionally kills civilians is a justifiable act.

According to International Humanitarian Law, the first rule of war is that “attacks must not be directed against civilians.”2 President Snow routinely violates the first rule of war. In addition to overseeing the Hunger Games that results in the deaths of 23 citizens each year, he bombed District 12, killing thousands of innocent people. To stop Snow from killing more civilians, Katniss plans to assassinate him.

Snow, however, is not the only person who kills civilians. President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) ordered that bombs be dropped on the Capitol in order to frame Snow for killing refugees. This caused Snow’s own soldiers to turn against him and brought an end to the civil war. Coin also intends to continue the Hunger Games in order to prevent the citizens of the Capitol from seeking vengeance. For both Snow and Coin, killing civilians is justified in certain circumstances.

In the climax of the film, Katniss assassinates President Coin for her bombing of the refugees. (Killing Coin is also an act of revenge for Katniss because her sister died in the bombing.) After killing the President, she shows no regret or remorse, and is later pardoned for her crime. This signals to the viewer that if someone assassinates a President who kills civilians, it is both moral and just. What the film suggests about assassination—that in certain cases it can be justified to prevent future crimes—is relevant to events in the world today.

In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad is not unlike President Snow or President Coin. According to Amnesty International, attacks using barrel bombs have killed more than 11,000 civilians since 2012.3 Since the war began in 2011, more than 200,000 Syrians have died.4 In August 2013, two Syrian rebel groups tried to assassinate Assad, but they failed in their attempt.5

If the United States assassinated President Assad, it could bring an end to the Syrian Civil War, and save the lives of countless civilians; however, directly targeting a political leader for assassination is illegal. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan issued Executive Order 12333: “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.”6

Although direct assassination attempts are illegal, a political leader can be assassinated indirectly through airstrikes. In 1986, in response to a terrorist attack plotted by Libya at a Berlin nightclub, President Reagan ordered airstrikes on “the home and headquarters of Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Qadhafi.”7 The President justified the attack because “America was exercising its right to self defence as defined by Article 51 of the UN charter.”8 Although Qadhafi was not killed, the bombing of his home was not illegal. As Nathan Canestaro points out, “the laws of war permit attacks upon valid military targets at any time or place.”9 President Reagan could not directly target Qadhafi for assassination, but if he were killed during the bombing of a valid military target, this would not violate the rules of war.

In Mockingjay Part 2, Katniss’s assassination of President Coin must be seen for what it is: first-degree murder. An assassination is an execution without a court trial. In some cases, it might achieve the same outcome as a court trial—a death sentence—but it could also result in the death of a person who is innocent of any crime. For this reason, assassination is and always should be illegal. To achieve justice, Coin should have stood trial for her war crime, and, if found guilty, been sentenced to death like Snow.

Notes

  1. U.S. Legal, s.v. “Assassination, accessed November 28, 2015, http://definitions.uslegal.com/a/assassination/
  2. J. M. Henckaerts, “Study on customary international humanitarian law,” International Committee of the Red Cross, https://www.icrc.org/eng/assets/files/other/customary-law-rules.pdf
  3. “Syria’s ‘Circle of hell’: Barrel bombs in Aleppo bring terror and bloodshed forcing civilians underground,” Amnesty International, May 5, 2015, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2015/05/syrias-circle-of-hell-barrel-bombs-in-aleppo/
  4. Ian Bremmer, “These 5 Facts Explain Bashar Assad’s Hold in Syria,” Time, September 22, 2015, http://time.com/4039940/these-5-facts-explain-bashar-assads-hold-in-syria/
  5. Ruth Sherlock and Damien McElroy, “Assad prays after assassination claims,” The Telegraph, August 8, 2013, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10231978/Assad-prays-after-assassination-claims.html
  6. “Executive Order 12333 — United States Intelligence Activities,” May 4, 1981, http://news.findlaw.com/hdocs/docs/terrorism/execorder12333.html#2.11
  7. Nathan Canestaro, “American Law and Policy on Assassinations of Foreign Leaders: The Practicality of Maintaining the Status Quo,” Boston College International & Comparative Law Review 26, no. 1 (Winter 2003): 24, https://www.bc.edu/content/dam/files/schools/law/lawreviews/journals/bciclr/26_1/01_FMS.htm
  8. “1986: US launches air strikes on Libya,” BBC, accessed November 29, 2015, http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/april/15/newsid_3975000/3975455.stm
  9. Canestaro, “American Law and Policy on Assassinations of Foreign Leaders,” 8.

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

hunger_games_mockingjay__part_one_high-definition-mockingjay1-posterIn 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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