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V For Vendetta

V For Vendetta

By Patrick Samuel • November 3rd, 2012
Static Mass Rating: 5/5
Warner Bros. Pictures

Original release: March 17th, 2006
Running time: 132 minutes

Director: James McTeigue
Writers: Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski

Cast: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry, John Hurt,Rupert Graves, Sinead Cusack

V For Vendetta

There are three main types of terrorism that exists in the world today. State terrorism, which are acts conducted by a state against a foreign state or its own people, state-sponsored terrorism, which are acts supported and sponsored by nation-states against others and non-state terrorism which are acts carried out by individuals or groups independently and are not sanctioned by any government or its forces. But with so many different faces of terrorism, it can be hard to pin it down and say what it is exactly. So, what is terrorism?

This is how we recognise a terrorist attack, by these key features. A bomb planted somewhere, usually on a bus, a train, in a car, a bin, on a plane or explosives driven in the back of a truck into a building. With 9/11, the mode of transport itself was turned into a missile, as two commercial airlines flew into the World Trade Center towers; jet fuel combustion in the heat of the crash was enough to equate it with a bomb going off, eventually bringing the towers down, according to FEMA and the 9/11 Commission Report.

Terrorism can be a suicide mission with the terrorist wearing the bomb, but it’s almost certainly in a place where the attack would cause most damage, not just to the area, but also in terms of the loss of life, civilian life. Death, pain, bloodshed, destruction, panic, fear, suspicion, mistrust – these are effects associated with terrorist attacks that also ripple out onto the stock markets and the worldwide economy. Then why is it on this day, November 5th, in the UK, that we celebrate one of history’s most famous terrorist plots?

V For Vendetta, a film written by the Wachowskis, helps us understand the difficulties that arise once we begin looking at what terrorism is and how it’s used.
Set against the near futuristic landscape of totalitarian Britain, Evey (Natalie Portman) is rescued from an attempted rape by a masked man (Hugo Weaving) known only as ‘V’. He leads her to the rooftops and together they watch the destruction of the Old Bailey before taking over a television network the next day. V urges the people of Britain to rise up against their fascist government and in a show of support, to meet him outside the House of Parliament in exactly one year again on November 5th.

V For Vendetta

Though the real-life Guy Fawkes and his collaborators failed to blow anything up in 1605, the events of November 5th have been celebrated since then with burning effigies on bonfires and fireworks displays. While the original plan was to restore a Catholic monarchy, V For Vendetta’s aim through the act of destruction is to bring about freedom and justice in a society that’s fraught with cruelty and corruption. It’s an altogether different kind of violence that V calls for, but is it justifiable?

Paul Gilbert, in his book, Terrorism, Security and Nationality: An Introductory Study in Applied Political Philosophy, notes that it can never be justifiable for minorities to use violence to coerce a government into submitting to their demands because if a democracy exists, then there would always be a way for them to have their grievances redressed. He also states that since such violent methods would be wrong, their actions should be treated as political crimes.

The assumption is disputable. To start with, a democracy may offer no way of protecting a minority, especially if that minority comprises or is included within a more or less permanently smaller group. This is often the fate of particular interest groups or ethnic minorities. Democracy tends to further the interests of the majority at the expense of the minority. So long as the majority is a shifting one, depending upon the matter at issue, no harm may be done. But when it becomes entrenched within the system even the rights of a contrasting minority may suffer. As is well known, democracy is no guarantee for liberalism.

That last point, democracy is no guarantee for liberalism, is what is key here with films like V For Vendetta, and to some extent Children of Men V For Vendetta (2006) which also depicts a dystopian world where society is on the brink of collapsing. They show us that terrorism is a final resort for coercing a government in listening to the demands of its subjects who are by this time no longer a minority.

While Gilbert is right when he asserts that democracy tends to further the interests of the majority at the expense of the minority, how can we then use it to explain examples when a rising majority continue to go unheard by the few elite who keep the wheels of the machinery of government turning?

To highlight; between January 3rd and April 12th in 2003 it was estimated that 36 million people across the globe took part in 3,000 protests against the war in Iraq, yet America and Britain invaded anyway. Even today with the Occupy Wall Street movement spreading internationally, it has so far yielded little results save for the annoyance of city workers and capitalists and worry for St. Paul’s Cathedral officials.

These are western problems though, but once we begin to look at other areas in the rest of the world we see crimes such as genocide at the hands of governments, militaries and powerful corporations such as Shell. What happens then when democracy fails? What options then remain open? How can these people be heard, who will listen to them?

Another way of looking at terrorism is to take the word itself as a purely subjective term which tells us nothing about the act itself, Gordon Graham discuss in Ethics & International Relations:

There is a familiar saying which captures this subjectivist attitude – ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’ – and its familiarity reveals the widespread adherence which relativism attracts. The idea behind the slogan is that ‘terrorism’ and ‘terrorist’ are not descriptive words. They do not pick out one sort of thing about which we might ask whether it is good or bad, but in themselves serve to condemn whatever causes and methods the user of these words happens to disapprove of. ‘Terrorist’ necessarily has a negative connotation, and implies condemnation. By contrast ‘freedom fighter’ has a positive connotation, suggesting moral approval.

What subjectivism implies is that though both terrorists and freedom fighters use violence against the established order, whether we call them one or the other depends V For Vendetta upon whether we disapprove or approve of that order. Those who support the established order will denounce violence against terrorism; those who oppose it will regard violence against it as a struggle for freedom. What this implies is that the name by which such violence is labelled does not determine our moral attitude; rather our moral attitude determines which label we choose to employ.

It brings us to a problem then of looking at how we define terrorism and distinguishing between acts which are fighting for freedom and those which are not. Take for example the Black September Organization and their campaign of terror between 1971 and 1973 as a response to King Hussein of Jordan’s declaration of military rule that resulted in the deaths or expulsion of thousands of Palestinians. We can then ask, were they freedom fighters, but it leads us another question… Is terrorism effective?

Critics of terrorism are usually keen to show, on the basis of a careful study of a variety of campaigns, that terrorism is not effective as a strategy for political ends. The evidence relevant to this debate is very extensive, however, and judgements of cause and effect in politics are difficult to make. Accordingly, a clear conclusion is hard to draw, so that if the crucial question about the rights and wrongs of terrorism is its effectiveness, it is a question which admits of no easy answer.
~ Graham, G Ethics & International Relations

  • Gilbert, P Terrorism, Security and Nationality: An Introductory Study in Applied Political Philosophy (1994), Routledge
  • Graham, G Ethics & International Relations (1997), Blackwell Publishers
  • Socialist Workers Online Anti-war protests do make a difference (2005), accessed on November 5th, 2011

As a result of the actions taken by the Black September Organization, permanent, professional, and military-trained counter-terrorism forces were set up in European countries, but as to overcoming the oppression of Palestinians, the answer is no. Although the spectacle of Big Ben and Parliament being brought down by the explosions at the end of V For Vendetta is impressive, it leaves the question unanswered as to whether or not this act of non-state terrorism (or freedom fighting) was actually effective.

The film ends before we can see its aftermath and this is where I see it as flawed. It gives us the story of a totalitarian state likened to the Third Reich and shows us that the only way to fight against it and restore freedom and justice is to resort to violence but as we’ve seen here, in our efforts to truly understand terrorism and why it occurs is to look and see if it is ever effective and V doesn’t tell us that.

Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is an emerging artist with a philosophy degree, working primarily with pastels and graphite pencils, but he also enjoys experimenting with water colours, acrylics, glass and oil paints.

Being on the autistic spectrum with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is stimulated by bold, contrasting colours, intricate details, multiple textures, and varying shades of light and dark. Patrick's work extends to sound and video, and when not drawing or painting, he can be found working on projects he shares online with his followers.

Patrick returned to drawing and painting after a prolonged break in December 2016 as part of his daily art therapy, and is now making the transition to being a full-time artist. As a spokesperson for autism awareness, he also gives talks and presentations on the benefits of creative therapy.

Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and science fiction, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.

Patrick Samuel ¦ Asperger Artist

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