Warrior Geopolitics: Gladiator, Black Hawk Down and the Kingdom of Heaven
Association of American Geographers: San Francisco, April (2007)
The “war on terror” and remilitarization of political anxiety in the aftermath of September 11th in the West, is both facilitated and challenged by representations of geopolitical danger and the supposed necessity for warriors to fight wars in distant lands.
Ridley Scott’s three movies, “Gladiator”, “Black Hawk Down” and most recently “The Kingdom of Heaven” explore the morality and identity of warriors. They do so in exotic landscapes and settings that emphasize the confrontation with danger as external and frequently unknowable and political violence as something that has complicated geographies.
From the putative left in the case Michael Ignatieff and the Warrior’s Honor or the right in the case of Robert Kaplan’s Warrior Politics, the public discussion of the necessity for warfare and “intervention” is enmeshed in discourses of moralities, rights and “just war”. The professional Western warrior, whether a special forces operative or garrison soldier in peacekeeping mode, is a key figure of the post September 11th era, physically securing the West, and simultaneously securing its identity as the repository of virtue against barbaric threats to civilization. These themes are key to Ridley Scott’s work.
In the discussions of empire, the histories of imperial conquest and more recently the themes of post-coloniality in geography, one figure has received much less attention than others. This is the figure of the warrior, the imperial adventurer par excellence in many cases, but a dark figure, a violent figure, one who does the dirty work of empire but who frequently goes unmentioned. But the imperial warrior is very much back in the news these days as special forces, garrison troops and expeditions in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere are an unavoidable part of what was until recently the global war on terror, but is now the Bush administration’s “long war” to “eliminate tyranny”. This paper suggests that it is time to revisit the discussions of empire and look at the codes of the warrior and how they are represented in contemporary geopolitical discourses.