Yesterday, as post-semester reading, I picked up Mark Kurlansky’s brief little monograph Nonviolence: Twenty-Five Lessons from the History of a Dangerous Idea (yes, I know, I’m a political nerd … what can I say?). I’ve had the book lying around since 2008 but what with one thing and another never got around to reading much passed the introduction, which was written by the His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
A booknote is forthcoming tomorrow on Nonviolence itself, but for now — as a sort of audio-visual introduction to the topic — I wanted to share two clips from my Favorite Television Show of All Time, The West Wing, episode 3.23, “Posse Comitatus.” Because as I was reading Nonviolence — particularly the portions describing the way in which violence consolidates and corrupts nation-states — this episode was what I kept thinking of as a pitch-perfect illustration of that corruption in action.
For those of you who don’t know the series, “Posse Comitatus” is the final episode in Season 3, and one in which the President Jed Bartlet (played by Martin Sheen) makes a decision to use his power as the U.S. President to do something illegal on an international scale: assassinate (and cover up the assassination) a defense minister/war criminal from a fictional Middle Eastern nation called Qumar. In the scene below, Bartlet has waited until the final possible moment to make the decision. His hawkish Chief of Staff, Leo McGarry (played by John Spencer), wants him to authorize the assassination, arguing that the defense minister will never come to trial and if he is not killed now, he will only cause more suffering. Bartlet is reluctant, arguing that if they resort to covert violence, “doesn’t this mean we join the league of ordinary nations?”
Note: This clip is actually much longer than that conversation, which begins about 4:15 in. If you want to relive the trauma of watching Mark Harmon be gunned down and C. J. get pulled out of the theater in order to be given the news, then by all means watch from the beginning. It’s a beautiful piece of television.
So let that set the stage for tomorrow’s review of Nonviolence: Twenty-Five Lessons from the History of a Dangerous Idea.