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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Humanism vs Reality in "Mobile Suit Gundam Wing"

Mobile Suit Gundam Wing was one of my favorite shows growing up. To a pre-teen boy a show that was loaded with giant robotic suits fighting each other in large battles every week was precisely the kind of show to grab and hold my attention. Even now that I'm older I still go back and watch through the series from time to time. What I failed to realize as a kid was just how deep and philosophical a show Gundam Wing actually was/is.



The basic premise of the show is that humans went into outer space and built large orbiting space colonies. Once these colonies were established a multi-national body called the United Earth Sphere Alliance attempts to use their overwhelming military force, including large robotic exo-fighting units called "mobile suits", to forcibly control both the various nations of the world and the space colonies. In retaliation, extremely advanced mobile suits called "Gundams" (so named because they are built with a nearly indestructible metal called "gundanium") are designed by five seperate scientists within the colonies and are sent to Earth to fight for peace and freedom in the colonies.

Throughout the series the political and military climate changes multiple times, often very rapidly, but the Gundams stay true to their purpose of gaining freedom and peace for the colonies (they eventually also champion the same objectives for the Earth). What complicates the already complex and very Byzantine political picture is the presence of numerous figures who advocate Total Pacifism. That is, that every nation and all the colonies should completely disarm and solve their differences through negotiation. This ideal eventually comes to be embodied through Relena Peacecraft, a friend of the Gundam pilots and the lost heir to the pacifist Sanc Kingdom.

Numerous episodes in the show center around the philosophical struggle between those who advocate total pacifism and those who see military force as necessary. Those who speak for the military often point out that it is "within man's nature to fight" and that the only possible guarantee for peace is military strength. In a way it's a rehashing of the Cold War policies of armaments and the nuclear deterrent with some bigger toys. There is also a strain of Realism in their arguments. They need only look at themselves and at history to see that man has it within him to fight. The pacifists meanwhile, argue that man can achieve a world without war. That no one deep down wants war or battles and that the differences between people and nations can be set aside to accomplish a world of peace. Their point of view is essentially Humanism taken to it's logical conclusion: since man is basically good and wants good for others, all it takes is for the whole world to realize that and all the sudden wars will be a distant memory. The pacifists see the militants as propagating pointless violence. The realistic military see the pacifists as being incredibly naive.

The show ends with a climactic showdown between Earth and the colonies when the common people of both refuse to further support bloodshed. The remaining holdouts are defeated by the Gundam pilots and the entire human race enters a period of peace and total pacifism. However in the followup movie, Mobile Suit Gundam WingEndless Waltz, the daughter of the primary antagonists returns to the Earth with an army and it's shown that the only thing that had prevented another war from breaking out up to that point had been the creation of the Preventers: a covert military group that put out flames before they became fires. So in reality the pacifistic peace was a sham. It still was maintained at its core by military force.

Gundam Wing proves within the context of it's own created world that the logical end result of Humanism is impossible because it's wrong from the very get go: man is not good. Man will never outgrow violence and war because mankind will always posses individuals who thirst for violence and conquest. Ironically, the military realists who spend the show and movie attempting to prove this point are portrayed within the show as the primary villains, while the pacifist Relena is portrayed as the primary hero of the show. The Gundams meanwhile, are caught somewhere in the middle. Eventually settling into a position where they destroy all military force other than themselves in order to create a world where pacifism can become a reality.

The show provides an interesting case study in taking both Humanism and Realism to it's logical conclusion. The philosophical debates between the show's primary characters often delve deep within the heart of mankind and paint a vivid portrait of the heart and personality of each character. It's a wildly entertaining show: great pacing, prolonged action sequences, dramatic politics, and well developed characters. It's also a show that leads the viewer to examine the world we live in and our own hearts to view our faults in relation to what the idealist in every mind tells us we can be.

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