The Ideology of Torture

CONCLUSIONS

I hope that, through this article, I have explained (through information which you can verify by yourselves at any time if you want to do research) how for many of us games like Peace Walker, Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain hit close to home, very close, especially when the subject of torture for political purposes springs up. Latin America doesn’t get featured in mainstream games unless it is from a strictly Unitedstatian perspective (where we’re either sidekicks in the fashion of Indians following US doctrines, or instead get shot in the face while being depicted as drug traffickers, terrorists or nasty commies), and the suffering of Latin Americans during the Cold War is greatly ignored and forgotten (sadly, even on our own soil sometimes). Operation Condor was a Latin American Spring of genocidal dictatorships, a celebration of torture and arbitrary arrests and executions, with full support and consent from the US, and from a historical and geopolitical perspective it’s absolutely startling; an entire continent was completely overrun by military dictatorships in a span of only 20 years!

With his games, Kojima has basically not only paid tribute to what to us are everyday things such as mate successfully and in an endearing manner, but has also understood Latin America’s plight and its relation to the US in a wonderful and rich way, truly rare in mainstream games, with lengthy philosophical conversations about politics, history and economy. Most impressive of all, his characters have regarded Che Guevara as the great hero he was without fear of retaliation from the press or the fanbase (which while some have denied my claims of demonization, there was outspoken backlash easily found on Google just by typing “Che Guevara Peace Walker,” including many message board complaints and even some articles). Kojima went even further and centered the whole plot of Peace Walker and its core theme around the larger-than-life image of Che, almost making Big Boss his spiritual successor; it is important to emphasize that Big Boss is now considered basically the main protagonist of the franchise, and no matter how many fans remark that he ends up “a villan,” he has in some way redeemed himself by the expanded storyline involving his fight against the totalitarianism of the Patriots, not to mention he has been featured in more games than Solid Snake and I would add he makes for a more complete and satisfying character overall. Thus, it is important to outline how modeling Big Boss after a figure like Che is crucial for Big Boss’ development. That I know of, no other fictional videogame characters can be said to be based on him positively. No matter what you think of Big Boss’ future exploits, I think there is enough evidence in-universe to defend his actions, and his expanded backstory in games like Peace Walker simply make his life-long quest more compelling and rational, especially when knowing what he rebelled against. I believe there is also ample evidence to suggest that MGSV will be particularly harsh and extremely critical of the US, not only in the Cold War but in the present era, with themes such as digital tyranny and social engineering embodied in the figure of the Patriots. But as I said in my previous article, there is also plenty of evidence to suggest a not-so-radical approach and a more generic one, so we can’t do anything except keeping our faith in Kojima’s abilities as a writer and director. I wonder what we’ll hear in MGSV’s briefing tapes and how the Soviet War in Afghanistan will be described. It’s safe to assume that it won’t be as romanticized as the Peace Walker Sandinista struggle, where Che was a central figure in the game and was praised in the same way most Latin Americans do. Kojima really went beyond with his characterization of Che in the game and up to this day I wonder why he chose to portray him in a positive light when he didn’t need to. There were countless opportunities for demonization, yet he was depicted in the heroic fashion we’re used to where I come from. Perhaps, Kojima is more of a revolutionary (or rather, more enamored of revolutionary ideals) than what we might expect from him.

Following this train of thought, I must say that those who call Che a simple murderer because he fought in the revolutionary battlefield against soldiers like the ones that oppressed my country clearly have no idea of what we endured in Latin America, and thus fail to understand that we admire him precisely because he fought for our freedom and prosperity. Nobody in the US, a country which has never been overrun by a dictatorship backed by a foreign country, can even begin to open their mouths about what happened in countries like Uruguay, as they have never experienced it. The US consciousness about oppression goes back to its Revolutionary War, two hundred years in the past. The modern United States doesn’t have a recent scar related to oppression. It also doesn’t have the painful memory of being overrun by foreign powers and being invaded on native soil. The fact that the US benefited from these dictatorships and supported their existence seemingly considering it the best way to contain Communism, makes you cringe inside, and I wonder how Unitedstatians themselves feel about their country subjecting other countries to this treatment. After all, can you imagine the outrage if a country like Venezuela sent assassins or even the army into the US to instigate a regime change to satisfy its own geopolitical interests? What would the US reaction be like? What would the citizens think and feel? These affairs only exist in Red Dawn-esque fiction, for its the only way to make anyone sympathize with the US, by no means a political or military underdog. The truth is, the US is the aggressor, and the most militaristic, expansionist and active country in the worldwide geopolitical landscape, spying on its citizens as well as the citizens of other countries, possessing more than a thousand military bases overseas, instigating regime changes through its government agencies, performing unjustified invasions, supporting coups, terrorists and rebel guerrillas against countries it does not like, and all done so with the greatest military budget in human history, four times higher than the budgets of Russia and China combined and making up an unbelievable 43% of worldwide military spending. This is the main reason why all this aggressive and loud banter about Russia’s geopolitical interests on its borderlands or China’s territorial claims in Southeast and East Asia seem a laughing matter in comparison. Simply put, Russian and Chinese expansionism get nowhere nearly as bad as this:

Not quite the underdog.

Not quite the underdog.

The US can comfortably complain about Russian or Chinese territorial expansion because theoretically, the US does not expand. However, it does so militarily through NATO, through the financial capitalist system and through its overseas military presence, but it doesn’t absorb territories or physically change its borders. The US way is sneakier and more effective, since it makes it easier to dominate countries and their socioeconomic and political realities from afar, without having to cope with the problems of managing said territories as if they were officially a part of the US itself. It is particularly interesting to highlight that approximately a third of the US is comprised of land taken from Mexico by military force. The US was forged through territorial expansion by military means just like many modern nations of today’s era, and still maintains an ideology of “Manifest Destiny” clearly visible in its treatment of other fellow American nations in Latin America (considered little more than “a US backyard”), so the double moral in the face of its own history is astoundingly irreverent.

The Metal Gear saga, for its part, seems aware of the hypocritical nature of the US, using the country as the background for the playable protagonist purely out of aesthetic purposes that seem palatable to Westerners, and thus properly marketable. To balance things out, the series also seems aware of the injustices committed under communism by the USSR and its satellites from a particularly neutral perspective, not the anti-communist propaganda we’d expect from Tom Clancy-brand games. But the USSR and its horrors are dead and buried, and the US is the surviving superpower which still has demons to exorcise, past and current. The particular case of Peace Walker and the content included in it are signs that the times are changing, that game developers are no longer afraid to depict the US for what it is, and that we may see more games like these in the future. History is filled with enough evidence to question US foreign policy and the integrity and vision of US politicians, and we can only hope that one day, a major AAA game is made either about the Cuban Revolution, Che’s adventures throughout Latin America or maybe a Phantom Pain-esque game where we destabilize brutal US-backed dictatorships in America and the Middle East as guerrillas, real-life CIA documents littered all over the levels for us to collect, read and cringe in disgust due to knowing they are real. With Russia, China and Latin America rising and displacing the US and Western Europe as the unilateral superpower, it is only a matter of time before we start playing as the enemies we have always killed from Unitedstatian eyes. The horrors of communism are well-documented and have been accordingly denounced and punished, by all countries involved; now is the time for the US to undergo the same process.

Metal Gear, the first videogame franchiste to depict this the way it is.

Metal Gear, the boldest videogame franchise to depict this the way it is.

Personally, I do not support many of the things committed under 20th century communist states as we’ve had similar experiences under capitalist pro-Washington dictatorships in Latin America, and I believe strongly in the democratic state. I have heard the testimonies of people tortured or arrested in communist states and I shake at that in the same way I shake at Operation Condor, even more so because I hold the ideals of socialism and communism to be based on justice and equality, not on the wanton torture and senseless violence they ended up producing.

Still, we cannot deny that a one-party state is crucial for certain nations in such dire circumstances as Cuba, where extreme unity is needed to combat US aggression and terrorism aiming at making Cuba a subjugated province like it was under Batista, and that democracy is very weak when threatened by elements seeking power through armed violence. Venezuela has recently seen this trend too, and the state is struggling to keep peace and democracy while at the same time continue its anti-poverty agenda and battle the lies and manipulations of the media, instigated by the ever-present political right coupled with the oligarchy who see in leftist humanitarian policies a threat to their own greedy interests. The fact that we know what a US-oriented economic and political order means (financial crises, economic hardship and political instability) makes us want to distance ourselves more from the North American nation and its values, thus approaching more anti-capitalist ones.

While some people have accused me in my previous articles of being too “black and white,” and it’s true that the world dwells in very fine lines which become increasingly blurry, it cannot be denied that the world and all of its major conflicts have a tendency towards the number two, always pitting two major factions that engulf all the minor ones as the struggle intensifies. A good example is the Russian Civil War, where the Red and White Armies absorbed all left-wing and right-wing movements when it was apparent that unity was the only way out. This happened in its best example during WWII, when even rival nations such as the US and the USSR fought side by side as allies. The polarization of the world between two opposing factions that we see nowadays (US, European Union and allies vs. Russia, China and allies) simply leads us to believe that we’ll always have only two options to choose from, that it’s just a matter of picking a side in the fight while still being faithful to our beliefs and ideas. Depending on the context, we’ll ally with anyone if it suits our interests, no matter their ideology or stance in the political spectrum. The times change, and alliances are never indefinite. But regardless of nations or ideologies, it all seems to always boil down to two different factions, two spheres of influence, at least in the largest geopolitical scale, with no room for a third faction, as it would be inevitably engulfed by the two major warring ones one way or another, making the existence of a neutral power unfeasible. Nobody portrayed this better than George Orwell in “Nineteen Eighty-Four” and we all know he wasn’t a black and white stereotypical leftist. Kojima is not this type of man either, and let us remember that a world torn apart between two main ideological zones, the inescapable nature of their struggle and how it affects us individually comprise the most relevant themes of Snake Eater, to my eyes the best representation in the series about the true cost of patriotic or ideological devotion.

I for one believe that the only thing that matters is that most people (idealistically, all) have access to the most basic tools to craft a decent living and lead satisfactory and productive lives, and will always support the faction that fights to achieve it without resorting to torture, repression or violence of any kind; but as we have seen here, torture and repression are more inescapable than any of us would prefer. Us Westerners have a very comfortable life here in the privileged Western hemisphere, but even our countries have suffered greatly fighting against political tyranny from both left and right. I think it’s important that most of us, the next generations, keep these themes very present and never forget them, because, as it happened in my continent in a span of 20 years, we might see ourselves immersed in totalitarianism and brutal repression before we even know what hit us. And obviously, we always have to be grateful for bold developers like Hideo Kojima for granting us these digital experiences to expand our sociopolitical conscience and keep on learning and forming ideas and opinions of our own. Most videogame designers are content with taking our hard-earned money and giving us shallow and generic experiences in return, sometimes fused with garbage propaganda intent on conditioning the way we think. Kojima, on the other hand, gives us something that has a real legacy, something which begs for our input as freethinking peoples.

I have my own ideas, and I’m proud of them and will defend them with ardent conviction. Because of my experiences, my background, my family, my home environment and my country of birth I will always be biased no matter how impartial I try to be, but at least I’m honest about it and try to tackle these themes as objectively as I can, which, I must say, it’s a harsh task, especially when trying not to develop an emotional response when processing the mechanisms behind situations in which your family or close friends were affected. I also like the fact that my ideas spark debate and make people think and defend their own beliefs, despite causing some to become offended or claim my intention is one of indoctrination. I wish to condition no one through my writing, but to make people aware that some of us in this world share the ideals I hold, and I’m pleased to share them and what I extract from this series with all of you. I believe that’s the real legacy of Metal Gear. So, let us all cherish that legacy, and honor the next chapter in the MGS series by absorbing its teachings and forming our own ideas about it. We owe it to ourselves.

UPDATE

I finished writing the article before having watched the latest gamescom gameplay video, where we are shown a global map menu featuring selectable operations from all over the world. This has revealed many new details about the game, which are very important, and has changed some of my previous perceptions.

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The game’s Argentine location. It includes the entire Buenos Aires province, the entire Río de la Plata estuary as well as a minimal part of southern Uruguay. It should be noted that this is a very heavy city region with some of the most important Argentine and Uruguayan cities located here, and the dense tropical jungle setting is highly inaccurate, as most of this region is comprised of hills, forests, plains and prairies.

First of all, I wanted to tell readers that one location we can visit will be in South America, in an area comprising mostly the Argentine Buenos Aires province and, it may seem, some of southern Uruguay. Since MGSV: TTP takes place in 1984, this is one year after the fall of the dictatorship in Argentina, when democracy was restored during the Alfonsín era. However, it’s one year before the dictatorship in Uruguay came to an end. The soldiers depicted seem to wear Argentine summer army uniforms and carry FN FAL rifles. It’s good to know that more locations have been added rather than solely Afghanistan and Africa, but it’s unknown whether plot missions will take place in these locations. It is however absolutely interesting that Kojima chose this particular South American location for missions, as it’s of extreme historical importance given the game’s year. I wonder how the soldiers will be depicted and with which accents, since translators will play a huge role in the game. They will probably have generic Mexican or Central American accents, though, as in most games depicting Southern Cone countries. The geographic location at least reinforces the inaccuracy assumption, as no place in the Southern Cone — with its endless steppes, plains, prairies, deserts, forests, hills and mountains — looks nothing like the tropical jungle location depicted in the trailer, especially the Buenos Aires province area. At least the soldiers appear to be modeled somewhat correctly, with accurate army caps and FN FALs, as you can see below, contrasted with Argentine Army soldiers from the 1980s:

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I’m extremely anxious to know more about these very important details and will do and update on everything once the game comes out.

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