Hunger Games, the reality show

I always thought the premise of “The Hunger Games” was a bit ridiculous. After all, what kind of society would allow a government to send its children to fight to the death? But after seeing the second film, I finally realized what Suzanne Collins has been up to.

In the real world, children are indeed sent by their government to fight to the death. In fact this is absolutely standard, and has been so for centuries. Here in the United States, you are eligible for this honor when you are seventeen — the same age as Katniss Everdeen in the second Hunger Games novel/movie.

This isn’t something that we or any nation does maliciously, but I think there may be unconscious forces at work. Sending our children to die (as opposed to, say, sending ourselves) is a sign that our love for our country comes even before our love for our children. It is the ultimate expression of nationalism, the secular equivalent of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son.

When you see it that way, it is not surprising that this particular expression of nationalism has been a property of many cultures down through the centuries. And it is one of those human practices that, like religion, is powerfully resistant to censure.

After all, a nation that sanctions such a policy is not going to take kindly to criticism. “Support our troops” is such a sacred creed that even to question putting teenagers into mortal danger can be seen as disrespectful to our brave soldiers.

I am amazed that it took me so long to understand the nature of this near universal practice, and that it required the tag team of Suzanne Collins and Hollywood to get me there.

2 Responses to “Hunger Games, the reality show”

  1. CC says:

    I was always under the impression that the reasons the districts didn’t revolt were more practical. First, they were already being punished for a past attempt at revolution. Also, the Capitol were their military superiors, by far. They were constantly surveiled anyway, and any small spark of an uprising would get extinguished by the local Capitol law enforcement. The districts relied on the Capitol’s infrastructure for their highly-specialized production to actually support them. And finally (and this is what I think the Author’s intent with the trilogy was), the districts had no real hope. President Snow makes a little speech about it when he’s talking to Seneca. The hunger games are only superficially about punishment for what the districts have done. Their real purpose is to break the districts’ spirits to rob them of hope. Even President Snow describes how the hunger games is designed to manage the districts’ hopes, so that their hope for and loyalty to their broken-spirited/brainwashed winners keeps them loyal to the Capitol. But he also lets us know that he knows that hope is dangerous when a winner comes out still full of rebellion and hating all that the Capitol stands for.

    In a different vein, I was also under the impression that the reasons we send young people to war is more practical. It seems that the 18-25 demographic statistically defines the best soldiers. They’re *just* old enough to be able to rise to responsibilities greater than their own lives, to believe in something and fight for it literally to the death by their own choice. And physically, it’s the perfect entry point. If you get them started around 18, then by the time they’re 25 and older, they’re capable of being the deadliest human forces. When war happens, a smart nation (at least one that survives) will send out their best fighters, those most well-equipped for combat.

    Also, I think a large amount of resistance to critique of war is that that critique is often (or at least most loudly) paired with disrespect for soldiers. I wasn’t around for it, but it seems that the anti-Vietnam movement involved hating the war, and anyone remotely involved in it, including the soldiers, and even the soldiers’ families. I think once you make sure that the other person understands, “no, I’m don’t believe in interrupting an Iraq vet’s funeral with anti-war protests” or any of the other ridiculous, disrespectful things we’ve seen radical war opponents do, then you’ve divorced yourself from those who would oppose the phrase “support our troops.” You’ve put that unfortunately reflexory assumption that anti-war == anti-soldiers to rest and you can talk about the philosophical and practical reasons why war is, isn’t, should be, or shouldn’t be necessary.

  2. admin says:

    I think one can agree with your first two paragraphs and still see something other than a practical quality to the policy of sending kids to war. After all, “seventeen year old” does not equal “adult”, no matter how many hairs we try to split. We don’t let seventeen year olds vote, but we let them kill and die for us. I suspect something is going on here other than “practical”.

    Your third paragraph is more problematic. In fact many Vietnam war veterans became war protesters. At its height during the war, Vietnam Veterans Against the War had around 25,000 members.

    Yes, there will always be a radical fringe in any political movement, but it is important not to make the mistake of identifying that fringe with the movement itself. In fact there was significant positive interaction between the antiwar movement and returning veterans.

    For example, Vietnam vets themselves were highly active in the amnesty movement that eventually led to President Carter granting amnesty in 1980 to draft resisters and dissenters.

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