Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


On Treatment of Prisoners and the Face of Evil

Establishing villainy is hard work. Too little, and your villains seem pathetic. Too much, and they’re over the top. Even drawing deeply on Joseph Campbell and with the music of John Williams, Lucas still needs actions to show that Darth Vader is the embodiment of evil. What does he choose? The first time we see Vader act, he is strangling a rebel captive, looking for information.


The scene is carefully arranged, and no storm trooper blocks the camera’s view of the strangling. There are rebels in the background, being allowed to observe what is being done. Moments later he orders that his officers lie to the Senate about there being no survivors. The next time we see him, he is strangling a member of the Death Star’s executive committee. He leaves there to “discuss” the location of the rebel base with Princess Leia. The camera lingers on the torture droid and its syringe, while Vader looms.


Establishing moral authority is also hard work. Too little, and no one trusts you, too much and you can seem like a cartoon. Once it’s established, it can be quickly lost by treating your prisoners as Darth Vader does. I was going to talk about intercepted communications and plans because that’s in the news. Then I realized that while wiretaps are in the news, we’re still hiding prisoners at black site prisons, we’re still quibbling over when the Geneva Conventions apply, and no senior officer has been court-martialed for mistreating prisoners, or allowing the mistreatment of prisoners on their watch.

How you treat prisoners, people who are helpless and at your mercy, says quite a bit about you. That’s why Lucas uses it to define Vader. It’s a pity that such behavior can be used to define the United States.

2 comments on "On Treatment of Prisoners and the Face of Evil"

  • Iang says:

    It is a singular observation. The US is currently embroiled in the president’s wire tapping scandal. Europe is simmering with anger over the overflights of torture victims. Yet neither care about the other.
    What’s the correlation? It isn’t wiretapping, which Europeans are used to, and the US makes legal against foreigners, and it isn’t torture, which apparently is ok by the US, and not a problem for outside Europe.
    The correlation is “it was done to us,” whatever it was. Both in the US and the Europeans, the issue is that something illegal according to local laws was done on local soil. So Darth Varder has it right – just don’t let the Senate see it.

  • Ethereal says:

    Just don’t let them see it.
    I often wonder how people can be so stupid to stand there with digital cameras and take pictures of prisoners being tortured. The fact that it goes on should not surprise anyone. It is war and these are kids after all. Americans should be better than torture, but it seems that there just isn’t a clear definition that we can all agree upon and that is pretty sad. I am of the “know it when I see it” mindset. I understand though that intelligence needs to be gathered. There needs to be limits and I think that the US is on the whole pretty good about following those limits. When we begin to justify going outside of the limits and start calling prisoners of war something else, we are going down a dangerous slope.

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