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“We Had No Choice” – International Relations in Shin Sekai Yori

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Shinsekai Yori is finally over, and it was a hell of a ride. The epilogue did get a bit wordy for my taste, but overall, it was very well thought out. In particular the treatment of Yakomaru as the antagonist was just about perfect in every way. They could have ended his story with his defeat, leaving his motives up in the air, or even worse, basing them off of a juvenile hatred for humans. But instead they made him incredibly sympathetic, and, in a way, turned him into a pseudo-protagonist–an anti-hero of sorts.

After all, the humans had committed innumerable atrocities against the bakenezumi. Could there really be a legitimate reason behind what appeared to be the wanton slaughter of entire cities? Yakomaru makes the claim that he waged war for his people, and I honestly believe that to be the truth. His species lived in constant fear of eradication, and he took it upon himself to rid his fellow bakenezumi of these chains. If he desired only power, he would have been far better off living beneath the humans than risking everything in a war that would likely end in his defeat.

His intentions may have been noble, but one still has to consider the actions used to achieve his goals. He clearly intended to commit genocide against the entire human race. Is that travesty somehow justifiable because humans had done the same to the bakenezumi?  It takes some pretty twisted morality to advocate something so inherently wrong even in light of the situation.

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You might be wondering what this has to do with international relations. It’s actually a respectable model for the relationship between modernized nations and the developing world. There’s a clear inequality between the humans and the bakenezumi, and the bakenezumi lack the ability to change this status quo. To be more specific, they lack the ability to change the status quo through conventional means.

Developing nations are weaker both economically and diplomatically than their developed counterparts, and even if they do happen to gain an edge in either one of these categories, military action against them will always be an option. Together, the International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization, and North Atlantic Treaty Organization can easily dominate even a coalition of developing nations.

If this is the case, then what initiates change in this model I’ve outlined? For one, a severe enough change in the world economy can shift the balance of power in favor of stronger developing nations (China, Brazil, etc.). Another way is to have a social change within the developed nations that supports treating developing nations more fairly. This is what Western Europe, and to a lesser extent the US, have been experiencing in the past decade or so. Finally developing nations can employ unconventional military tactics to subdue developed nations.

By unconventional military tactics, I’m specifically referring to the use of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Regardless of a nation’s conventional military strength, WMDs are still incredibly deadly and difficult to defend against. In reality, they don’t even need to be used to drastically increase one’s bartering power on the global stage. North Korea manages to have a surprisingly large influence because it has obtained nuclear weapons despite the fact that it lacks any form of real military power projection. It doesn’t even matter if a developing nation can win a war, as long as it can guarantee itself a Pyrrhic victory. That is, it has to ensure the cost of its defeat is too great for any nations that might oppose it.

The bakenezumi may be far outmatched by the humans when it comes to military strength, but with the introduction of a single fiend, the tides turn in their favor. The fiend cannot be stopped by any human and has the ability to cause virtually limitless destruction. On paper, the humans might still appear to be stronger, but the fiend acts as an equalizer that cannot be effectively countered through conventional means.

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Unfortunately, because of the immense power every human can wield through their cantus, even a single survivor would still have the ability to exterminate the bakenezumi. With this in mind, Yakomaru decided a complete genocide was the only way to ensure the continued survival of his species. In a way, this is the most extreme form of total war as each and every human has the power to militarily dominate their enemies.

Barring any change in the human’s viewpoint, this was literally Yakomaru’s only strategy with any possibility of success. Does that make it right, or at the very least, justifiable? I don’t believe there’s any remotely objective answer to that question.

To claim that either side has the morale high ground over the other is a mistake. Both sides were clearly willing to commit terrible crimes against each other in order to ensure their survival, so how can either be considered “better” than the other? The war between them was merely the unfortunate conclusion to a round of game theory. Neither side was willing to trust the other, so they both focused purely on preventing their own destruction whatever the cost. As independent observers, we can see all the mistakes being made, but we also have nothing at risk so are we really weighing every option fairly?

Call me a pessimist, but I believe that the social hierarchy is natural and unavoidable. There are shifts in power that pass through an equilibrium, but it is never sustainable. As far as I’m concerned, it’s just human nature to strive to be better than those around you. This trait may bring about some negative outcomes, but it’s also the reason we’ve survived for so long and improved our standard of living so much. The bakenezumi living beneath the humans was an unfortunate reality, but you’re fooling yourself if you believe the bakenezumi would have behaved any differently in the human’s position.

Do you think Yakomaru was right in retaliating against human aggression?  Were the humans acting rationally when they decided to  deal out swift punishment to any rebelling bakenezumi? Is history doomed to repeat itself?

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2 thoughts on ““We Had No Choice” – International Relations in Shin Sekai Yori

  1. First: I’m interested as to how you portray Kiroumaru in this. He clearly straddles the line between humans and bakenezumi, both in stature as well as in conduct. I have some thoughts, but it’d be cool to see what you think.

    Do you think Yakomaru was right in retaliating against human aggression?
    I think the resounding, but depressing, answer is yes. It’s why he works so well as an anti-hero, and why no matter how much we want to, we just can’t bring ourselves to hate him. We can view the answer in terms of duties, rights, or even go for dignity and humanity, and all of them seem to back up his war. Although the ideal solution would’ve been to reach a non-violent solution, given the circumstances it is doubtful whether that would ever be even hypothetically, let alone physically, possible. I think most will agree the foundations of his war are solid though.

    Were the humans acting rationally when they decided to deal out swift punishment to any rebelling bakenezumi?
    It’s hard to say. One the one hand, you can see that if you give them too much freedom, they might cause much trouble. But then if you repress them too harshly, you end up incurring resentment, especially the more developed (culturally and intellectually) the oppressed. You could go both ways.

    Is history doomed to repeat itself?
    Well, it seems it has done it a fair amount. Marx, Hegel, and others might argue so, and they would have quite a bit of evidence to support them. Then again, there’s always the optimism that the future is open – that we can do better, that the next time around we’ll get it right, that we’ll learn from the past. I like the second option. 😉

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