I recently came across a controversial statement about peace that I’d like to discuss with you. Here it is – our desire for peace actually makes us violent. (See Rene Girard’s book Battling to the End, especially page 44.) Sounds counter-intuitive, huh? I mean, if everyone desired peace, wouldn’t the world be a more peaceful place? Maybe not. The Hunger Games offers us a way to understand this idea
I don’t know about you, but it’s easy for me to hate the Capitol of Panem. It keeps the districts down through oppression and violence – ultimately through the violence of the annual sacrifice of teenagers called the Hunger Games. But here’s the thing about the Capitol – it desires peace and it creates a sense of peace and order in the Capitol by uniting through violence against the districts. The Capitol thinks that the districts are a threat to peace, so the Capitol uses violence as a method to subdue the districts. About 74 years before the events in The Hunger Games, we are told that the districts rebelled against the Capitol. Katniss, the main character of the novels, narrates that this rebellion created
… the Dark Days, the uprising of the districts against the Capitol. Twelve were defeated, the thirteenth obliterated. The Treaty of Treason gave us the new laws to guarantee peace and, as our yearly reminder that the dark days must never be repeater, it gave us the Hunger Games. (18)
It is the Capitol’s desire for peace that fosters the violence and oppression of the Hunger Games – because the Capitol thinks the Districts are a threat to peace. Indeed, the Capitol believes the Districts are barbaric, but it never questions its own violence as barbaric. (See page 74.) Indeed, in its use of violence to create peace, the Capitol believes itself to be unquestionably good. (84) Of course, you and I can easily question the “goodness” of the capitol because we know its sense of peace comes at the expense of the districts, whose citizens have to deal with the realities of violence and oppression every day.
Again, it’s easy for us to hate the Capitol. But here’s the sad truth about us humans. We’ve always used violence as a method to achieve peace. There’s a bit of the Capitol in all of us because violence does give us a sense of peace as it unites us against a common enemy. We all want peace, and we always tend to see another as an obstacle to that peace. So, we must subdue or destroy the other to achieve our desired peace. We see this not just in The Hunger Games, but we see it throughout human history. For example, the Pax Romana (or Peace of Rome) was created through the use of violence to subdue those that Rome believed threatened their peace. The Aztecs also used violence that created a sense of unity against an enemy. (See Father Robert Barron’s excellent video on The Hunger Games by clicking here.) Unfortunately, this method of achieving peace through violence remains with us today. In a desire for peace, the United States wages war against a common enemy. In an article called “The Bad Apple,” peace journalist Bob Koehler quoted a veteran of the war in Iraq,
The military turned hadji into a disempowering word. My sergeant major said, ‘The hadji is an obstacle. Get him out of the way.’ Denying a person their name gave us permission to separate ourselves from the people of Iraq. Thus, when a boy was hit by a truck, the CO said: ‘He’s gone, move out.’
The truth about violence that The Hunger Games points to is that humans have always believed our violence to be unquestionably good because we have faith that our violence will lead to our desired peace. The problem is that there is always one more obstacle to peace, one more bad guy that needs to be defeated. Who is the good guy when everyone believes in their own goodness and in their right to use violence to kill one another? To put it another way, does our use of violence turn us into monsters?
We’ll explore that question in my next post on The Hunger Games.
The Hunger Games Blog – Table of Contents