The Electric Commentary

Friday, July 23, 2004

A Real American Hero

What can we learn about the war on terrorism from GI Joe?

When I was growing up, wayyyyy back in the 80s, we learned all about terrorism from everyone's favorite group of para-military cartoon supervillains bent on world conquest: Cobra - the perpetual thorn in the side of America's elite special forces unit known as GI Joe. This particular organization was not based in any specific nation, and yet it was able to afford state of the art weaponry, thousands of foot soldiers, matching facemasks for said soldiers, and a relaxation facility buried underground somewhere in the arctic.

Cobra, like al-Qaida must have relied on nation-sponsors for its continued existence. It required a large budget and the ability to hide troops and vehicles, some of which were inexplicably bright yellow. Afghanistan would have been perfect with its lack of infrastructure and towering mountain ranges. After all, lone supervillains, for instance, the Joker, can simply hole up in an abandoned warehouse in downtown Gotham (Note: Gotham City could have rid itself of crime entirely if only they enacted stricter zoning ordinances). It is quite another thing to hide an entire army. Unfortunately the troops at GI Joe were never able to discover the whereabouts of Cobra headquarters, so no economic sanctions could be imposed nor military action taken against Cobra's host country.

I always thought it highly probable that Cobra was Canadian in origin. They seemed to have ready access to the American border (according to GI Joe, attacks on American soil not only occurred; they were routine). They all seemed to be Anglo-Saxon (with the exception of Cobra Commander, who always wore a mask, and his second in command Destro, who may or may not have been a robot. His head was made of metal, and if it was a mask, then he had a really small head. I seem to recall that he was stronger than normal people as well). Another high ranking Cobra official, the Baroness, spoke in an ethnically ambiguous accent, which I assumed must be French, lending support to my Canada hypothesis (though it just as easily could have been German, or Russian, or just copying Natasha from Bullwinkle).

We learned the consequences of a passive foreign policy on GI Joe. Weapons of mass destruction were created by Cobra using deep see lava, moon rocks, and some other hard to get ingredient. Giant "Lasers" were placed in space, somehow avoiding detection by the United States. Nuclear warheads were placed inside the logos of a ubiquitous fast food restaurant right under our very noses. We risked total annihilation on a weekly basis. Surely some preemptive action was warranted by the President. But alas, none was forthcoming.

The reason for our lack of initiative against Cobra can probably be found in their incompetence. In the history of aggressive Cobra military operations, no member of GI Joe was ever shot. Several planes and tanks were destroyed, but in an amazing feet of engineering and foresightedness, every troop managed to parachute to safety or leap away from their doomed vehicle at the last moment. Cobra was also in a constant state of disarray, as Destro continually plotted to overthrow the vain Cobra Commander.

Cobra's incompetence was matched, if not exceeded, by our own special forces', who were slightly more adept at destroying opposing vehicles but equally inept at taking opposing life. No member of Cobra was ever slain and their parachutes were as efficient as their American counterparts'.

Perhaps the two sides were using the same weaponry. All GI Joe artillery fired what appeared to be blue "lasers" and all Cobra artillery fired what appeared to be red "lasers." It is my belief that these lasers were actually incapable of causing damage, and that some government contractor had hoodwinked the government in a despicable act of war profiteering.

The ultimate lesson from GI Joe is that if you allow your enemy to survive, he will come back week after week with increasing ferocity until he takes you out. Cartoons in general teach this lesson.

From Power Rangers to Superman to Voltron, no hero will ever actually kill his arch-nemesis. This puts the hero into a difficult situation in which he can never lose a battle, and the enemy need only win once. Superman once had the opportunity to kill Darkseid, the near omnipotent ruler of a hostile world, who would occasionally try to conquer this world. Superman had defeated him in battle and had the opportunity to finish him, but declined, sending his mangled but living body back to his people, who worshipped him as a god. This was supposed to show the righteousness of Superman, but it always made me mad. Wouldn't this lack of action lead to the future deaths of thousands? Possibly millions? This was just irresponsible. Voltron's planet is constantly attacked. Batman's enemies continually escape from the asylum. People die, and heroes do nothing.

GI Joe is perhaps the worst example as it is clearly the policy of the Unites States Government that we will not attack an enemy even after multiple successful strikes on US soil. Instead, we play perpetual defense using an elite force composed of a rapping strongman, a mute ninja, and a sailor with an actual parrot on his shoulder (named "Polly"). Clearly this is not the way to go.

Basing foreign policy on a childrens cartoon show is suspect, I grant you. But the hero problem is real. A nation should not put itself in a position of perpetual defense, even if the enemy is so inept that it employs soldiers who don't remove their masks, even when on vacation and wearing comical John Stocktonesque shorts (scroll down a little more than half way).

This is why preemption must be viewed as a legitimate option. While it is clearly not appropriate for every situation, it should not be dismissed out of hand as inherently wrong. Sometimes, it may save lives. It may help people be free.

Now you know. And knowing is half the battle.


  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 3:08 PM  

  • Somehow I think that the Joker -- the clever SOB that he is -- could find some way to get around those zoning regulations.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 5:35 PM  

  • Perhaps, but at what cost?

    Stricter zoning in Gotham may have not stopped crime entirely, as I posted, but it would have acted as a tax on elaborate crime. Most Batman villain schemes involve tons of toxic chemicals, access to television for brainwashing purposes, animal care and boarding facilities, and other large scale industrial production venues. If these hideouts were to be obtained legally, not only would the Joker have to pay rent, licensing fees, accountants' fees, and legal fees, but he would probably also have some sunk costs to fund a front so that his criminal machinations remained undetected.

    These factors would combine to vastly decrease the damage that the Joker could inflict, as resources would be diverted from the "crime budget" to the "infrastructure budget." Any high profile criminal actions would also draw the attention of authorities or the Caped Crusader far in advance, as they would be able to keep an eye on him, and any large purchases that he made.

    Taxes and regulations stunt innovation and productivity. In this case, that would be a good thing.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 10:04 AM  

  • I get the sense that you're going entirely on the cartoon here, and I consider the comic book to be canon and the cartoon to be a supplemental set of tales based on the same characters but not necessarily canon, much like the X-Men cartoons and movies.

    I think Destro turned out to be black in the comic books. That was definitely a mask that he wore. They brought him back long after they'd stopped using him for a while. Maybe it was during Larry Hama's tenure. I'd stopped reading by then, though, and my brother who read the series isn't around anymore to answer my questions. Cobra Commander was definitely a white guy, and they revealed his name at some point. I think it was Joe Smith or something mundane.

    There was a definite sense that they had control over parts of the U.S., including a whole town in the one of the early issues.

    As for the preemptive strike issue, the first issue of the comic book was a raid on a Cobra base without any sense that they had first attacked. It was merely to stop this terrorist organization.

    One of the G.I. Joe guys did die in the comic books. I think it was Grunt. I'm not sure, though. I vaguely remember something like some more dying later on. These were the best of the best, but they finally realized that even they have to die sometimes. I think Cobra soldiers did die often in the comic books, and there wasn't anything like the laser effect.

    Under Frank Miller's pen, Batman did become a vigilante at some point, but it was a future Batman, and D.C. may not decide to make it ever happen in the current timeline, choosing to see it as an alternate future. I think it came from Robin being killed or something, so it wasn't from a reasoned argument like yours. He just went mad.

    By Blogger Jeremy Pierce, at 7:43 PM  

  • this is a nice canon bp 511 blog

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:15 PM  

  • Was googling for some info for my blog about the GI Joe movie and stumbled on this. Awesome have a new devotee.

    By Blogger TheGreenMan, at 2:10 PM  

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