Monday, April 27, 2009

Territorial Control and Validation

Aficionados of the television show 24 – or even those who simply watched the first part of this season – know that Jack Bauer will routinely be called on to save the United States. For the most part, he must save the United States from foreign enemies, even if, along the way, these enemies have co-opted Americans to their cause. The foreign enemies have been terrorists of many varieties, such as genocidaires, human traffickers, and rogue persons with access to devastating weapons.

The closest any foreign enemy in 24 has come to being a state was at the beginning of this season, when the regime of General Juma – a regime regarded as illegitimate by the United States – threatened to harm Americans if President Taylor did not call back American troops who were due to help the legitimate government of Sengala regain control of the state. At the beginning of this season, viewers discovered that the Juma regime was committing genocide in Sengala, and that it was not above taking the lives of its citizens in order to advance its cause. Even though the Juma regime was regarded as illegitimate by President Taylor and her cabinet, the decision to invade Sengala was subject to debate and deliberation. This was due in no small part to the fact that, as a matter of law, the United States would in fact be invading the territory of another state, regardless of the status of the regime which controlled the territory. When General Juma and his subordinates began to threaten the United States, their constant refrain was that they were doing what was good for their country, and that they had been forced to take action against the United States because of its hostile intentions towards Sengala. Throughout the Sengala storyline, it was made clear that General Juma and his supporters controlled the use of force and violence within the territory of Sengala, although there were pockets of resistance on the ground. As indicia of this overall control, we see an established military command structure, unique uniforms used by Juma’s men, and the use of the Sengala flag as a method of legitimating the Juma regime’s control over Sengala. Regardless of whether the world saw the Juma regime as legitimate, it was still, legally, the entity controlling Sengala.

Once General Juma was killed, the overt storyline of 24 shifted away from Sengala and, concomitantly, from the thorny issues of territorial control in international law. However, the issue of territorial control returned to the plot soon after in a less obvious form. Throughout the earlier episodes of this season, the viewer was slowly introduced to the character of Jonas Hodges. Hodges’ exact identity and role in the storyline were kept well disguised until part-way through the Sengala story. Subsequently, the viewer learned that Hodges was the president of Starkwood Industries, a US defense contracting corporation with what emerges as rather questionable business practices and relations with the Juma regime.

Ultimately, it is determined that Hodges, acting through Starkwood, has acquired a significant bio-weapon. It is also learned that the Starkwood corporate facility – located outside Washington, D.C. – is a large compound that is guarded by a number of trained mercenaries in the employ of Starkwood. In accordance with US law, President Taylor requires that a search warrant for the portion of Starkwood where it is (erroneously) believed that the weapon is being held. Additionally, she agonizes over the idea of sending in federal forces to execute the warrant not only because of taking such actions against other American citizens but also because of the risk that Starkwood would retaliatory measures against the United States. When the FBI is sent to the Starkwood facility to execute the search warrant, the FBI contingent is a large show of force out of fear that Starkwood’s agents might take hostile actions against federal action; that fear is well-founded. Upon landing helicopters in the Starkwood compound and completing a fruitless search for the weapons, the FBI agents are surrounded by a contingent of armed Starkwood agents, who draw their weapons on the FBI agents. These Starkwood agents are dressed in a specific Starkwood uniform, have a clear command structure, and owe allegiance to Hodges and Starkwood. Outnumbered, the FBI agents retreat to their helicopters and leave the Starkwood compound. From this exchange, it is abundantly clear that Hodges and Starkwood control the use of force and violence in the space of the Starkwood compound. Perhaps this is best evidenced by Hodges’ threat that he would order the Starkwood agents to open fire on the FBI agents if they did not leave. It is also abundantly clear that the law observed within the Starkwood compound is that set out by the Starkwood chain of command.

Following this encounter with the FBI, Hodges continues to ready the bio-weapon for use against locations throughout the United States. He has a telephone exchange with President Taylor in which he divulges the existence of missiles equipped with the bio-weapon and uses this to gain a private meeting with her at the White House. During this meeting, Hodges routinely claims that he has taken his actions because he is trying to defend his idea of America. He is angry that the Senate has been investigating Starkwood’s activities and is also displeased that President Taylor has not made the White House as open to him as her predecessor did. Hodges continues to state that he built his company from nothing and, in so doing, has kept the American people safe for years. The rationale for using bio-weapons on his own people is that everyone, including President Taylor, has to learn a lesson about how to treat him and Starkwood. Hodges’ proposal to President Taylor is that he and Starkwood have a direct hand in crafting all US military policy in exchange for not releasing the bio-weapons. The proposal, which President Taylor rebuffs, would have, in her words, made Starkwood the “fifth branch of government.” At the end of this meeting, the FBI is able to secure the bio-weapons – or so it seems at the time – and Hodges is arrested.
The obvious plot connection between Juma and Hodges is that they worked together to develop and test a bio-weapon on the people of Sengala. However, outside of this connection, there are important parallels that raise points regarding how territory and its control can be used as a source of validation for groups seeking to change their governments and states.

The similarities between the Juma regime and Starkwood under Hodges are striking. Both entities lay exclusive claim to a specific space, within which they control the use of violence and are not afraid to use it on those regarded as interlopers. Both were willing to use deadly force against citizens of the state they swear allegiance to in order to advance their own agendas, although Juma’s acts of genocide were not speculative, while Hodges was thwarted in his attempts to release the bio-weapons. Both were willing to disregard the will of the people in electing a government on a specific platform in order to further their own aims. Both used a specific chain of command, had a loyal group of followers that acted on these commands, and used indicia such as uniforms to identify themselves and their followers as belonging to a certain ideology and group. Both saw themselves as being targets of threats from the outside world, particularly the United States. And, perhaps most importantly, both used the specific spaces they laid claim to as their defining place in the world. Sengala was Juma’s “country” and he would not part with the areas that he controlled. In the same vein, the Starkwood compound represented Hodges’ life’s work and he would not part with it.

Thus, what we see is that extremist ideology is strengthened and to a certain extent validated through the control of territory. In the case of Juma, territorial control provided him with a semblance of legitimacy in the international law realm, while also giving him a rallying cry with which to recruit and retain followers. In the case of Hodges, territorial control gave him a legitimate place within which to develop an organization loyal to him and his cause, and a place to seek shelter when he was under attack from outside entities, including his government. While ideology plays a vital role in extremist regimes and ideology, an examination of the Juma and Hodges storylines in 24 highlights the importance of territorial control in order to further and strengthen these ideologies.

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