“How many of us will you kill in order to ‘keep us safe?’”
– random old lady, Justice League Unlimited
Season 2, Episode 7, “Patriot Act”
This is one of my favorite moments in animated history.
The story is, there was a general who thought super-people were a threat to his country. He was part of a large effort to curb them as a whole, and when that effort failed, he was disgraced, and lucky not to be run out of the army entirely. But he was determined to protect his country and its people, so he stole the means to make himself super, and thus he was transformed into a monster. He attacked a group of superheroes, looking for their strongest fighter, Superman. But he was met by heroes who were all but normal people, with just some special skills and special tools. They fought valiantly, but he ran roughshod over them and did a lot of damage in the process. The last one still fighting challenged his views as much as his fists, and was beaten half to death for it, all while the former general spouted on and on about how right he was, how he was doing this for his country, how he was keeping the people safe, even if he was hurting a number of them in the process.
Then, just as he stood ready to crush his enemy, the general found the ordinary citizens, men, women, kids, and one old lady, standing in his way.
They gathered around their fallen defender, standing with him against the monstrous general, and they did not hesitate to call him on his hypocrisy. He hated people with powers, but he became one himself, indeed, the only one on that particular battlefield. He proclaimed that he was protecting his country, but he was the aggressor, wrecking the neighborhood and endangering everyone. He preached about protecting the people, but here he was, ready to kill them and write them off as “collateral damage.” He said he was saving them all, but what improvement comes from destroying the people who save lives at risk of their own? Especially when one is willing to kill countless innocent bystanders in the process.
The old lady, whose name we don’t ever know, was the one to ask him this question, and it is a powerful one.
Every tyrant in the world held on to that power by providing a facade of security, of stability. Everyone is supposedly “safe” from outside aggression and inner turmoil, yet no one is safe from those in power. Any dissident voice is silenced, by force. Anyone who is anything but subservient, anyone who does not conform, simply disappears, for “the greater good” and “the security of the nation and its people.” Security for the many at the cost of the few. It is a monstrous concept, and the thinnest veneer imaginable in which to shroud atrocities.
It is a harsh reality that not everyone can be saved, not always, so some loss must be endured, but that is not the same as doing the harm with one’s own hand, causing suffering where there was none before, just as a matter of convenience.
Anyone who does not hesitate to harm the people they claim to protect has no right to make that claim.
Safety is not safety until one is safe from their “protectors.”
And that holds true everywhere, from the highest halls of political and military power, to the lowest house and home and hovel.