Though rare, letters sent to prisoners of war are usually scrubbed clean of any potentially helpful information and sterilized, so to speak, prior to being delivered to the captive soldiers. A useful message may make it through if it is targeted to just the right people and disguised or coded well enough to evade detection.
Many of our men and women in the armed forces are stuck doing a job that they know to be morally deficient and an unjust expense of American treasure, blood and goodwill. They are, however, bound by their oath and service commitment to continue to follow the orders of their superiors - to see the mission through. In many cases, their superiors are stuck in the same position - having to execute a mission that they have no faith in and see as a betrayal of conscience. They are all in effect Prisoners of War.
I am one of them.
If you pay close attention to JJ Abrams newest Star Trek film you will note that he dedicates it to the men and women who have fought and sacrificed in the armed services since 9/11. Not to the victims of the attacks - to the soldiers who have carried out the response. You see Star Trek Into Darkness is a film that contains encoded messages telling these captive men and women of conscience that there is a path to redemption.
The most visible example is the discussion between Kirk and Spock on a shuttle en route to board the Enterprise. They had just been sent on a secret mission to kill a terrorist who just executed an attack on the Federation headquarters. In the distorted morality field of hollywood cinema I didn’t even recognize the problem until Spock pointed it out. Captain Pike, Kirks mentor, had been killed in the attack. Many innocent civilians were dead. They knew where the perpetrator was and they had the means to destroy him - movie logic dictates that they proceed to do just that. Spock, however, jars the audience back to reality by pointing out that execution of a criminal without trail is a betrayal of justice. Furthermore, the violation of the sovereign space of the Klingon home-world that would be required in such a mission was itself unjust and risked igniting a full blown conflict with the Klingons. Spock is emphatic and direct - to follow the orders they have been given would be wrong, immoral, unjust and places humanity in even greater danger.
Question your mission. Look at the broader picture. Apply the principles that you hold dear to the execution of your mission. Trust your conscience and be true to your convictions. These are the messages encoded into the scene. They are not the things that our military wants our soldiers to be doing.
Wow. I knew JJ Abrams was liberal, but we haven’t heard from the anti-war hollywood liberal camp in a while and it is refreshing to see them back in action. I had assumed they were all sucking on the teat of the Department of Defenses public relations program that grants exclusive access if you promote the right message of American exceptionalism, hubris and intervention (I am looking at you Kathryn Bigelow). It appears that if your movie doesn’t require the use of contemporary military sets, equipment or personell with which the military can tempt you then you can say what you really want to.
A second powerful moment is perhaps the scene which has the potential to have the greatest impact of all for service members. Chief Engineer Scotty has refused to sign receipt for weapons on board the Enterprise about which he does not know the makeup, purpose or potential. He protests to Captain Kirk and explains his rationale - that he would risk the lives of the entire crew if the weapons were to interfere with the reactor. Kirk does not share his concern and at a tense moment directly order Scotty to sign the receipt. Pause. This tiff over a seemingly innocuous bit of paperwork is, to me, the most important scene of the film. Scotty has the option here of simply signing the forms and absolving his own conscience. He could simply state that he was ordered to sign the form and so the consequences that may follow would be upon the head of his Captain - not on his own. That is what I expected Scotty to do. That is what we ask our soldiers to do - perform the mission and let the higherups worry about whether it is justified or moral. Brilliantly, Scotty does not just follow the order - After a short pause he states that rather than obey a direct order from his Captain against his judgement he would resign his post. There is an awkward stop where Kirk has to take a moment to consider the fact that his Engineer feels such strong conviction about the matter that he is willing to sacrifice his career for it. Kirk starts to convince Scotty that the issue is not worth resigning over - but Scotty interrupts and reaffirms - “Do you accept my resignation or not?” It was all that I could do not to stand up and cheer in the theater. Kirk reluctantly accepts the resignation - but it is clear that the exchange has taken him by surprise.
You have the power to act on your conscience. You have the power to say no. The armed services are not a collective following the directives of a single commander in chief. It is composed of individuals who each have a spark of humanity and a spirit of conscience which informs them of right and wrong. What ever contract you have signed, whatever obligation you owe - when faced with an order that violates what you know to be right - you can choose not to be the weapon in the hand of the oppressor. There is no way the military would approve of a scene like this in one of it’s sponsored propaganda pieces.
Finally the message that the movie closes with really drives home the point of the film. In a speech at the opening of a new federation headquarters Kirk says something the effect of: “Despite the anger and outrage that we feel when attacked - by abandoning all of our principles, our morality and our conscience in pursuit of the enemy, we risk becoming the very monster that we despise.” This is one of the last lines of the films and you are hit with the dedication to our servicemen and women just a few moments later. The close proximity of this message and that dedication are no accident. This film is meant for the military - for the prisoners of war.
There is much more to analyze about the film and it’s message to the troops. The transformation that Kirk undergoes as he acknowledges the revenge and hatred that was his motivation and listens to his conscience (Spock), his own decision to disobey orders and take a morally sound path to fulfilling his mission and his willingness to confront his superiors when he knows their actions to be wrong all carry powerful signals to those who are accustomed to command structure and the impulse to follow order without question or introspection.
After the Anti-war film Oblivion and this latest Star Trek offering with a message of conviction and conscience I am eagerly hopeful that the liberal peace loving Hollywood has returned. Before discovering the philosophy of liberty I never thought that I woud be a peace loving hippy. Though I find myself in the armed services now (despite my best efforts to get out) I proudly wear that title.