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Why we fight: War and Appeasement in Magi

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Seele: “The fate of destruction is also the joy of rebirth.”

Gendou Ikari: “Death creates nothing.”

The End of Evangelion

The act of war is purely destructive in nature. Regardless of what one might be fighting for, the sole function of tanks, guns and warplanes  is to take life, plain and simple. To deny this fact is to deny the reality in which we live. Even so, there are times when we still raise arms and commit terrible crimes against each other in the name of freedom and justice.

The last two episodes of Magi placed Aladdin in the middle of a potential conflict between a nomadic tribe and a growing empire. The younger men in the tribe are fiercely independent and wish to remain so. On the other hand, the village elder seeks to preserve the lives of her people even if it means the loss of their cultural identity.

Each side has a reason for their actions, but there is an obvious bias in the depiction of events. The young men are viewed as reactionary and emotional. The elder is the opposite, being calm and relatively rational. In this particular instance, I agree with the elder’s decision, but this is not without hesitation.

So far, we haven’t been given much information on the encroaching Kou Empire. The princess seems to be a well-intentioned person, but there is no mistaking the empire’s powerful military presence. By appeasing the empire, will the Yellow Fang tribe save itself from destruction or merely be assimilated to the point of nonexistence? If the end result is the same (cultural destruction), would it not be better to at least try to resist?

“People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”

– Unknown

War may be destructive, but we still attempt to justify it in some cases with varying success. Here’s a little summary of Just War Theory in case you aren’t familiar with the subject:

Jus ad bellum (in order to go to war)

1) Just Cause – danger must be imminent and life-threatening, just wars cannot be acts of aggression
2) Competent Authority – war must be declared by a public authority and waged transparently
3) Right Intention – war should correct a wrong, not be used for material gain
4) Probability of Success – a just war must not be futile
5) Last Resort – all peaceful alternatives must have been exhausted
6) Proportionality – the benefits of waging war must far exceed the costs

Jus in bello (when waging war)

1) Distinction – acts of war should be directed towards enemy combatants only
2) Proportionality – excessive force should not be used, collateral damage should be kept to a minimum
3) Military Necessity – acts of war should help in the military defeat of the enemy
4) Prisoners of War – enemy soldiers who no longer pose a threat should be treated fairly
5) No Evil Methods – no mass rape, torture, use of WMDs, etc.

Now if you think there are a lot of grey areas, you’re not alone. It is incredibly difficult to say for certain if a war is just or not. In many cases, wars will vary in their adherence to these rules from battle to battle. In general, a just war is considered a necessary evil. It is a terrible situation that hopefully offsets an even worse situation.

Maintaining peace through appeasement is also an incredibly dangerous game to play. Europe and America both implemented appeasement policies towards Germany and Japan in order to avoid war in the years preceding WWII. These actions eventually lead to the largest military conflict in human history. Could war have been prevented or at least shortened if the Allies had acted sooner? We’ll never know for sure, but this is a clear example where waging war might have prevented a greater loss.

Magi portrays the surrender of the Yellow Fang tribe in a fairly positive light, but isn’t this an overly optimistic analysis? Although they may keep their lives, their culture will almost certainly be assimilated into the Kou Empire. The younger men in the village will likely be conscripted and sent to fight battles in far away lands. All things considered, their surrender was the village elder making the best out of a bad situation.

In that sense, we can compare the outcomes of surrender and war quite easily. Like I said above, war is a terrible situation that offsets something even worse. Surrendering certainly doesn’t favor the Yellow Fang tribe, but it does prevent their complete destruction which is a far worse fate. In all likelihood, raising arms against the Kou Empire would have been a hopeless endeavor, and consequently a violation of Just War Theory.

I haven’t touched on this topic in quite a while so this was an interesting little exercise. It appears that we’ll be seeing more of the Kou Empire in later episodes so maybe that will give us a clearer picture of their intentions and motivations.

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2 thoughts on “Why we fight: War and Appeasement in Magi

  1. Have you ever watched the movie Hero? The premise is quite similar to what happens in these episodes of Magi, and has the same sentiment towards assimilating with the greater power for the greater good. I have no idea whether the decision made here, or in that movie for that matter, ended up being more beneficial than the alternative, but it does feed upon the more popular shounen themes of friendship and getting along with people, even if it means living under totalitarianism.

    • Why would a “good” nation ever resort to military conflict to achieve its goals? I don’t think war ever leads to a better result in the long run. It might lead to some immediate economic and political benefits, but a nation built by war will usually be ended by it. I think the reason behind this is that people naturally reject any authority that is forced upon them. Any authority worth submitting to shouldn’t be starting wars in the first place.

      The thing with avoiding war for the greater good is that one forgets the third option: not starting a war in the first place. Assuming that this is the best option, one is actually choosing the lesser evil, not the greater good when it comes to appeasement. Choosing the lesser evil may leave one better off for the time being, but it’s called evil for a reason.

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