Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 7, 2011

Fiction as a way to the truth: Making meaning of homeland security

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on October 7, 2011

CONTAGION has already received plenty of kudos in prior Homeland Security Watch posts.   Arnold Bogis and Alan Wolfe who seem to agree on nearly nothing, nonetheless each endorsed the movie.  In his New Yorker review David Denby writes, “The film suggests that, at any moment, our advanced civilization could be close to a breakdown exacerbated by precisely what is most advanced in it. And the movie shows us something else: heroic work by scientists and Homeland Security officials.”

But Contagion  is not the only artifact of popular culture touching on homeland security issues.

HOMELAND a new series from Showtime asks “who’s the hero – who’s the threat? When MIA Marine Sgt. Nicholas Brody returns home to a hero’s welcome after eight years in enemy confinement, brilliant but volatile CIA agent Carrie Mathison isn’t buying his story. She believes that Brody has been turned and is now working for Al Qaeda. What follows is a dangerous game of cat and mouse with nothing short of American national security at stake.”

TAKE SHELTER, a new feature film from Sony, considers the consequences of taking action in response to an encroaching sense of danger. In his New York Times review, A. O. Scott suggests, “It is a quiet, relentless exploration of the latent (and not so latent) terrors that bedevil contemporary American life, a horror movie that will trouble your sleep not with visions of monsters but with a more familiar dread. We like to think that individually and collectively, we have it pretty good, but it is harder and harder to allay the suspicion that a looming disaster — economic or environmental, human or divine — might come along and destroy it all. Normalcy can feel awfully precarious, like a comforting dream blotting out a nightmarish reality.”

THE SUBMISSION is a gorgeously written novel of ideas about America in the wake of September 11. It tackles subjects like identity politics, undocumented immigrants and the stress fractures of democracy,” so writes Maureen Corrigan in her enthusiastic review of the debut novel by Amy Waldman.  Claire Messud in the New York Times is more restrained, but still strongly endorses the book. “Elegantly written and tightly plotted, “The Submission” ultimately remains a novel about the unfolding of a dramatic situation — a historian’s novel — rather than a novel that explores the human condition with any profundity. And yet in these unnerving times, in which Waldman has seen facts take the shape of her fiction, a historian’s novel at once lucid, illuminating and entertaining is a necessary and valuable gift.”

YOU THINK THAT’S BAD, a collection of short stories by Jim Shepard, has given a new sense of context to my professional life. His careful narratives explore disasters large and small.  The specificity of each story exposes humanity’s struggle to minimize pain and maximize pleasure, to be fulfilled selves in relationship with others, to differentiate good from bad (or at least better from worse).  I finished thinking homeland security can be a label slapped on a whole host of widely held yet vaguely understood hopes and fears.

While around quite a bit longer than any of the foregoing, try reading GILGAMESH from a homeland security angle.  The modern challenges tradition, civilizing expectations in tension with primeval urges, male versus female, otherness and strangeness attract and repel while opportunities for reconciliation are engaged and lost and recovered and lost…

The new fiction agrees with the old that reality is difficult to decipher and choosing our way is treacherous.  What matters most are our relationships.  Is this just a classic literary device or something more profound?

Professionally I try to more precisely define the most meaningful role and comparative value of homeland security.  Personally I increasingly wonder if homeland security is a kind of Jungian encounter with the collective shadow.  (You’ll have to check out the link to make sense of that claim, otherwise it would take waaay too long.  You can get a quick notion here.)

Perhaps more simply, certainly more positively:

A young man — not yet 25 — recently wrote me, “The context of my life has been pretty shitty, but my life itself has been pretty good.  The conflicts are real.  The troubles are real.  I have absolutely no confidence regarding the future.  But consider the last century or two or ten. Hasn’t confidence in a specific future always been an illusion? Conflict is perpetual and troubles have been as bad or worse. There is no sense of certainty deluding me.   The way ahead will be tough, but one way or the other I’m going to walk it.  Might as well do it with as much creativity, care, and courage as I can muster.”

The young man points to the Y2K threat, 9/11, fear of terrorism, oppression in Darfur, poverty in Washington DC, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, catastrophe in Haiti, and economic contraction as dominating his perception of the exterior world.

Yet he faces forward and intends to make his way.  What were we saying about resilience as the essential capability?

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Comment by William R. Cumming

October 7, 2011 @ 7:23 am

Well just as Freud and Jung have given way to modern chemistry, the traditional world has largely given way to a modern technological and globalized world. Yet because all sense the fragility of that world system given the reproductive ability of the human race, the traditional world holds appeal still as more stable.

I would argue that given trends the outcome not much in doubt. We (humans) will pollute ourselves to death and perhaps that of the earth as a life support mechanism for oxygen breathing carbon forms, if not through weaponry, through overpopulation, and other environmental disasters.

Yes we better start looking for other habitable planets. That is unless voices of reason are given more power in the current political systems of the earth. 2012 Presidential elections might well be a useful marker for USA from that standpoint. I look at Clean and Green issues as key markers for modern society.

As Jared Diamond in his book “Collapse of Civilizations” writes “what was the person chopping down the very last tree on EASTER ISLAND thinking”?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 7, 2011 @ 8:27 am

Bill, I am not — yet — as pessimistic. Humanity has not yet evolved the skills necessary to effectively prevent and mitigate. But we remain pretty good in a pinch… as we see again and again in the vast majority of most disasters.

Diamond’s examples are especially compelling. He makes a strong case regarding the dangers of physical, social, cultural isolation. Diamond also points to successful long-term survivors: Japan, Tonga, Tikopia, the New Guinea Highlands, and several European cases.

What the survivors seemed to share with the young man who wrote me is a realism regarding context, some meaningful self-awareness, and a readiness to move forward, create, and care for others. My bet is with him.

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 7, 2011 @ 8:59 am

Actually the four “nation-states” you mention have had a rough last few years since Diamond published and remains to be seen if the represent “successful civilizations”! At least IMO.

Is the USA a civilization? Are we fully part of WESTERN civilization? Is there a civilization known as “Christendom”? What are the civilizations that Dr. Samuel Huntingdon spoke of in his book the “Clash of Civilizations”? He certainly was NOT addressing individual NATION STATES! Again IMO! Is Islam a “civilization” why or why not? It is a culture and religion IMO but not a “civilization”!

Comment by The Clarity Of Biblical Scripture....

October 10, 2011 @ 5:44 pm

The future is clearly described by Biblical scripture and maybe it is time the Bible becomes the No#1 best seller….for despite the political and economic empty “rhetoric” it is inevitable that We will face War once again and here on Main Street USA, we need to demand from those we “entrust” to lead that our beloved Republic be ready and We as a Judeo-Christan nation are not….God Bless us all!

Say your prayers for the intel folks and our military personnel and whatever We can do to support them and assure ships, planes and equipment are updated and prepared….

Christopher Tingus
PO Box 1612
Harwich, MA 02645

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