The International Writers Magazine: When Aliens Land in Washington
- Will Bush Kill them?
Barada Nikto: The Way Bush Stands Still
other day I bought the DVD of one of my favorite all-time films:
The Day The Earth Stood Still. In watching it I was struck by how
relevant this sci-fi classic from over 50 years ago is to todays
political milieu. In brief, a flying saucer lands in Washington,
D.C. Its occupant is a creature that looks human enough, named Klaatu
(Michael Rennie). He is injured by fearful humans as the military
surrounds the spacecraft. He is rescued by an all-powerful robot
named Gort, who vaporizes the military machinery.
Klaatu decides to
infiltrate human society under the pseudonym Carpenter and takes up
residence at a local boarding house, where he meets a widow named Helen
Benson (Patricia Neal) who has a 10 year old son Bobby (Billy Gray of
later Father Knows Best fame). In short, Klaatu is hunted down and killed
by the military, then resurrected by Gort, who is aided by Helen, who
knows the phrase that can control Gort: Klaatu Barada Nikto. Upon leaving
Earth Klaatu issues an edict: either humans can change their ways or
they will be exterminated if they spread their nuclear terror to the
stars. Klaatu has only been an emissary from an organization called
the United Planets. Gort is merely one of many all-powerful robots that
police the UP registry and battle warring instinct with extermination-
a policy all UP members submit to. With this knowledge Klaatu and Gort
leave Earth to ponder its fate.
Of course, the film has provoked many philosophical, ethical, and political
salvos through the years. Made during the early years of the Cold War
its symbolism was obvious, and its message later became
standard fare for much of the early real UFO lore, depicted
by the Contactees of that era. But, its message still resonates
today, in the post-Cold War restiveness of dying religious Fundamentalisms
death throes. Especially since Rennie plays a near-Christ-like character.
It has also been vociferously attacked as liberal propaganda.
Many Leftists of the day saw the film as a plea against the insanity
of the nuclear arms race, which was insane- not because of the arms
race mentality, but because total annihilation could occur by error,
and not intent. Rightists pointed out that the peace offered
by Klaatu, Gort, and the UP comes only if humanity is either content
to remain earthbound, or submit to the tyranny of the Gortian robocops.
Counterarguments span range from the social compact gambit- i.e.- that
while Earth is our home and we can do what we like the universal society
at large has every right to set up its own laws and penalties. After
all, we are free to parade around naked in our own homes, but not in
public- to the sanity defense- that any society advanced enough to discover
interstellar travel will likely create weaponry capable of planet destruction,
therefore only a preemptive ban and enforcement can work.
Yet, there does seem something amiss with Klaatus UP. Klaatu shows
he has the power to utterly immobilize human machinery (hence the films
title) yet it is oblivion or else- no degrees of shading, such as well
take away all your nuclear toys if you humans are bad. Its
Armageddon or compliance. The UP has no problems with hypocrisy or benevolent
dictatorship. If we are too violent, by UP standards, they will counter
with the ultimate violence. This is their law, and will be applied without
any research into why humans fight: exploitation, racism, sociology,
and ideological differences as reasons are all equally wrong, even if
in self defense. The query rises- is peace without freedom a virtue?
It has been counter-argued that there is such a thing as limited freedom-
we do not have the right to infringe upon others rights with our
own. Klaatu claims the only freedom the UP has given up is the freedom
of violence. Violence is the only freedom that is policed by Gort and
his robotic brethren. The film has thus been seen as posing the question
How would society function if disputes had to be resolved without violence?
And its a good query. Obviously, repression would end since it
is dependent upon such. Even Klaatu admits that the UP is not perfect
and could still relapse to violence- thats why they created the
Yet, the fact is that Klaatu is from a truly alien race- all of the
speculating about him assumes he has human motives- but he is an alien.
He looks human, but that is just a guise. How humanoid is he? To him
his threat may be just as humane as declawing a cat is to
us. Yet, I think of this old films relevance in the post-9/11
period. How little has changed and how relevant the film is obviates
most of the nonsensical paranoia of the Patriot Act and its backers,
who seem to feel that the surrender of liberty is the price to pay for
peace. How Klaatuvian of President Bush and his band it is to 'by fiat'
declare this over the public, not just here but globally- Youre
either with us or agin us! As far as we know from the film
Klaatu is telling the truth, but as weve seen with W & Co.
lies are often just beneath such a façade. I think back to the
famous Twilight Zone episode 'To Serve Man' where equally seemingly
benevolent aliens come to Earth, end war and famine, only to use humanity
Is Bush as Klaatu genuine or not? With each ex-member of his Administration
that comes forward it is painfully obvious that Klaatu could legitimately
be seen as an oppressor. Yet, the reason Bush seems destined to lose
his job this November is because many conservatives are jumping off
the bandwagon- the UP is in civil war. Some of the member planets are
choosing freedom over oppression. What some saw in the film as liberal
propaganda has turned into conservative hegemony run amok. How would
Klaatu and the UP have dealt with the Fundy nutbags had they been in
charge of the earth? These are people so brainwashed and delusional
that they desire war. The invasion of Iraq was the best recruitment
tool they could ask for. With that mindset old Klaatu would have unwittingly
stirred up even more of what he came to end, rather than how the film
actually ends. Sound familiar? Of course, Fundamentalists make up only
a small portion of any group. Annihilation has to be total or its
ineffective, but if total its probably unethical. Sometimes the
sword fails to the pen, or some other similar metaphor. Strategic, or
surgical, diplomacy or action is essential in such regions. If only
Bush the Elder had taken out Saddam when he was 20 miles from Baghdad
in 91, and helped split the country up into Kurdish, Sunni, and
Shia nations, much of the 9/11 foment would have been avoided- not to
mention if the dimwitted (Thank God The Bastard Is Dead!) Ronald Reagan
had not helped train and arm Osama bin Laden to the teeth. It was Bush
the Elders betrayal of the Iraqis he called upon to rise against
Saddam in 1991 that is the reason weve earned the Iraqi distrust
Bush also is seen as Klaatu in that he has Messianic delusions and casts
much of his greedy self-service in Christian terms. But, can Stone Age
Hoodoo-ridden Fundamentalism rise to the challenge of this latter-day
Klaatu the way the Earth did in the film? I doubt it because 1) it is
based on fear and intimidation, therefore calling on the same in systems
seeking to exterminate it and 2) the film was a film- art. The fact
that there are so many levels of interpretation is testament to its
greatness. Great art always asks questions, it rarely answers them.
Reality is far more blunt. Hence W. Imagine if President Bush emerged
from that saucer with Gort behind him all those years ago. I doubt if
Patricia Neal would have even been able to utter W. Barada Nikto for
the planet would have already been vaporized.
Is it too late to draft Michael Rennie for President?
(Better a dead one than a live Bush - Ed)
© Dan Schneider September 2004
by Frank McCourt
Dan Schnieder Review
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