Among the various things I've read in the run-up to Veterans Day / Remembrance Day is this article by University of Auckland's Tom Gregory, entitled, "Body Counts Disguise The True Horror of What Wars Do to Bodies":
"Relying on these statistics alone may provide us with a brief glimpse at the suffering of those affected, but it ends up concealing the violence it is supposed to expose. When dealing only with numbers, we tend to lose sight of the bodies that are left broken by the machinery of war, along with the individuals who are busy living and dying on the battlefield."
This is an important perspective. As much as numbers illuminate war's costs, they can hide its grim realities. Still, I would argue that this is not such a zero-sum game and that on balance the construction of casualty metrics helps rather than harms the cause of reducing and mitigating war's impact.
This is a guest post by Wendy Wong, Associate Professor of Political Science at University of Toronto, Director of the Trudeau Center for Peace, Conflict and Justice, and author of Internal Affairs: How the Structure of NGOs Transforms Human Rights.
When the great fall from grace (especially those who have built their reputations on being high-minded and altruistic), it makes a great story. And that’s exactly the view of the expose written by NPR and ProPublica that hits us with the punchline: the American Red Cross (ARC) is mismanaged, somewhat incompetent at its job, and misguided in its priorities!
In their lengthy story, the reporters document missteps in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Isaac and make the case that the ARC has diverted funds that should be used for disaster relief for its own brand-promoting purposes. They use some ARC documents, but mostly base their claims on a handful interviews with external critics of the organization (current ARC representatives make cameo appearances).
To be frank, the ARC has had more than its fair share of high profile mess-ups, starting with 9/11 in the 2000s and more recently, with. There are real problems the ARC should deal with that the article does a good job pointing out: resource waste, sex offenders mingling with children in relief centers, slow response time unbecoming of the reputation of the organizations that was founded in 1881. But … is this really an expose, or are nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) at the forefront of trying to ameliorate overwhelming disaster conditions that no one, or even group, of actors could hope to address effectively?
Let’s put the report in perspective.
With the United Nations First Committee on Disarmament and International Security convening in New York this month, one point of debate will be the potential health risks of depleted uranium weapons in post-conflict zones. And rightly so: depleted uranium is a byproduct of nuclear enrichment processes used in armor-piercing incendiary projectiles to penetrate tanks, and correspondingly to harden armor against attack. Since the Gulf War, veterans groups, doctors and civil society groups have raised concerns about the possible health effects on humans of radioactive DU dust left in the environment. Now, A10 gunships are headed back to Iraq, a nation that has already absorbed 400,000kg of DU contamination, according to the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons. This month's discussion at the UN follows a UNGA report released earlier this year, in which Iraq, not so surprisingly, joined a handful of other nations in calling for an outright ban of these weapons.
Early in my research for my new book 'Lost' Causes, I considered depleted uranium as an interesting case of agenda-vetting in the humanitarian disarmament NGO arena. A far-flung network of organizations has been lobbying for a ban since 2003, and language has been percolating in General Assembly First Committee resolutions since 2007, culminating most recently in the Secretary-General's report on the topic this summer. In short, the issue is gaining momentum in non-binding "soft law." But the DU issue has not been as prominent to date in disarmament circles of NGOs pushing treaty prohibitions on weapons in general, and major organizations like the International Committee for the Red Cross and Human Rights Watch have not prioritized the issue of DU on their formal agendas. Instead the most prominent issues on the NGO disarmament agenda since 2005 have included cluster munitions, small arms, autonomous weapons and, to a more limited degree, incendiary and explosive weapons. As this graph of NGO campaign affiliations from 2012 shows, organizations associated with the ICBUW are relatively disconnected from other disarmament campaigns, with more ties to the nuclear and environmental movements than to the humanitarian disarmament mainstream.*
In many respects, this is not at all surprising given the nature of the DU issue, which cuts across health, environment and arms control. My research has found that highly inter-sectional issues often have the hardest time finding a foothold in existing advocacy terrain. Also, elite advocacy NGOs gravitate for strategic reasons toward campaigns where they can a) combine testimonial and statistical evidence, and b) identify a clear causal link between the cause and effect of a humanitarian problem. Testimonial evidence is abundant here - much anecdotal evidence points to carcinogenic effects, including increased birth defects in areas exposed to DU. But generalizable scientific evidence is less so: few large-scale epidemiological studies have been carried out. "We know without a doubt that DU in humans is harmful and that contamination needs to be cleaned-up," ICBUW Coordinator Doug Weir told me. "The main question is to what extent are civilians being exposed to it."
Despite these obstacles, in recent years the ICBUW has made some noticeable strides in messaging and networking its issue in transnational civil society.
The media might be forgiven for using such terms and images as click-bait. But some people have accused the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots of invoking “Hollywood paranoia” as well. NBCNews tech writer Keith Wagstaff asked whether “hysteria over the robopocalypse could hold back technology that could save human lives.” At the conference, autonomous weapons proponent Professor Ronald Arkin criticized the global coalition for holding a position based on “pathos” and “hype.” Another expert, Nils Melzer of the Geneva Center for Security Policy began his slideshow with an image from “Terminator 2,” saying he would be taking an “objective” view rather than “demonizing” these weapons – a veiled jab at NGOs. Even earlier, Greg McNeal of Forbes Magazine criticized the campaign for “scare-mongering,” using Hollywood archetypes.
Is this fair? A closer look at the history and tactics of the global coalition tells a different story: a story of global civil society organizations maneuvering in a balanced way in a socio-cultural context in which they must persuade multiple stakeholders – governments, militaries, and the global public – to take a “far-out” issue dead seriously; and in which they face push-back by opponents who use claims of “hyperbole” in attempts to discredit them. In this version of the story, a number of common claims about the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots turn out to be myths.
Every year at this time I receive several queries a day from colleagues, would-be colleagues and students asking me if I'll be "at APSA" - the Annual Conference of the American Political Science Association - and when we could meet up for a coffee.
Every year I reply several times a day:
"Sadly, I won't be at APSA this year because it conflicts with the start of school for my children."
This is more or less the truth but I confess it's not the complete truth. First, I've realized this canned response implies I might be there next year, whereas I've actually been AWOL from Labor-Day-Weekend APSAs pretty much since my second child hit grade school and it's time I admit that's not changing. Second, the "conflict" I described is less of a conflict every year as my kids get older, yet I'm still not coming back to APSA, so that's less and less the real reason for my absence.
The truer response to the question is that I skip APSA every year not because my son needs me desperately on the first day of school, but because I'm boycotting. I'm boycotting my professional organization for scheduling a conference so as to inhibit work-life-balance and pose an undue burden on parents in the profession, especially mothers. I'm boycotting APSA because they have done this year by year over the protest of their members. What began as an irreconcilable personal conflict for a parent of grade schoolers and partner to a dual-career spouse - what began, that is, as a simple work-life balance choice - has turned over the years into a political statement that I'll continue to make until APSA's policy changes.
About two weeks ago I had pledged to go on blogging hiatus in order to vacation with my family, a pledge I only broke once so far. However, while traveling south from Durango, CO with my partner and son last week, I ran across this post by LGM’s Erik Loomis,’ on the treatment of Central American refugees in US facilities north of the Mexican border. I also read the entire linked document by Wendy Cervantes, an Immigration and Child Rights expert First Focus – one of several NGOs who were permitted to tour the facility in Artesia, New Mexico, the previous week. I also found other sources on the subject including this, this, this, and this.
All these articles point to overcrowding and the absence of adequate medical care and legal representation for these families, as well as the wider problem of what international lawyers call “refoulement” – forcible return of asylum seekers who likely face persecution or violence in their home country. This is of course a violation of the Refugees Convention, which requires governments to accept and aid individuals fleeing their country due to a well-founded fear of persecution should they return; and which prohibits them from forcibly returning such people or prosecuting them as illegal immigrants.*
Our route by car from Albuquerque to Roswell / Carlsbad took us directly past Artesia. It seemed wrong to carry on cavorting through limestone caves and UFO museums knowing we were driving right by a facility where refugee women and children were being held, allegedly without adequate supplies. So we decided to make a brief detour and see what would happen if we drove up to the base asking questions and offering help. Our primary objective was to obtain an audience with someone, anyone, in a position to receive feedback from some concerned citizens about the fate of the refugees.
Although I'm technically off the grid, the news that ISIS proclaimed women and girls in Mosul should submit to genital mutilation (FGM), and the report's subsequent debunking, compel me to emerge from hiatus.
Leaving aside why a fake report on FGM should be viewed as needed to discredit a group who is executing civilian, forcibly displacing minotiries and destroying cultural property, I have mixed feelings about the outcry this story raised.
On the one hand it indicates a widespread norm in the West, in UN circles and among the Muslim population in Mosul to view FGM as a heinous human rights violation: that's a good thing. That said, the appropriation of women's issues to denigrate men "we" might wish to cast as barbaric enemies has a long history and has rarely served women or feminist interests. Using feminist causes for propagandistic ends should not be confused with genuine feminism (which we can define for simplicity's sake as HuffPo did today) since it undermines efforts to reach gender equality in two ways.
First, it perpetuates conflict through stereotyping and emnification, conflicts in which women often suffer disproportionately. If we are following global affairs critically, we should be conscious of these dynamics and find ways to promote women's human rights without contributing to war propaganda. Second, pointing fingers at "Them" blinds "Us" to ways in which our own institutions and policies also perpetuate harmful gendered practices. Too often the media spotlight on barbaric foreigners closes the space for feminist activists on the home front to press for greater gender equity at home. And simplistic narratives of bad men oppressing women in foreign lands obscure the complexity of these practices - which implicate and affect men as well as women - and too often substitute for exploring efforts at change.
In the case of genital cutting, for example, consider some actual facts: Even though ISIS is apparently not going to be forcibly circumcising girls and women in Iraq, millions of girls do face non therapeutic genital cutting in the Mideast/Africa / Southeast Asia. Female circumcision as practiced in the US as recently as the 1970s: Playgirl magazine promoted it in 1973, and Blue Cross Blue Shield covered the procedure until 1977. The US no longer tolerated circumcision of girls, but baby boys are still cut primarily for cultural reasons in the US - as well as Africa, Israel, Canada, Australia, much of the Muslim world and parts of Europe. Moreover, inter-sex children undergo involuntary genital surgeries in the name of gender 'normalcy'.
None of this is consistent with human rights unless chosen voluntarily by consenting adults, according to the Genital Integrity movement, which is meeting this weekend for its Bi-ennial Symposium in Boulder, CO. I have been attending this meeting to present research findings from my recently published book project and can attest to the inspiringly multi-vocal and genuine efforts here to eradicate all forms of genital cutting - in a way that engages, respects and builds bridges to communities who engage in it, with fortitude and compassion, rather than demonizing.
Highlights will include:
- Some Colorado conference travel to present my research findings to one of the activist communities whose work I profiled in my book
- London for a week of exploratory research among NGOs that specialize in civilian casualty-counting, plus visits with my son to the newly re-opened Imperial War Museum and 222B Baker Street
- Some southwest road-tripping fun with children, partner and siblings sandwiched in.
Between all this I'll drag along various bits of light reading, among them the following, in case you're interested in reading along:
Samer Abdelnour and Akbar Saeed have published a terrific article in International Political Sociology. "Technologizing Humanitarian Space: Darfur Advocacy and the Rape-Stove Panacea" critically traces the emergence of fuel-efficient cook-stoves as a global "solution" to sexual violence in refugee camps.
Here's the abstract:
We examine how an unassuming domestic technology—the fuel-efficient stove—came to be construed as an effective tool for reducing sexual violence globally. Highlighting the process of problematization, the linking of problems with actionable solutions, we show how US-based humanitarian advocacy organizations drew upon spatial, gender, perpetrator, racial, and interventionist representations to advance the notion that “stoves reduce rape” in Darfur. Though their effectiveness in Darfur remains questionable, efficient stoves were consequently adopted as a universal technical panacea for sexual violence in any conflict or refugee camp context. By examining the emergence and global diffusion of the rape-stove problematization, our study documents an important example of the technologizing of humanitarian space. We postulate fuel-efficient stoves to be a technology of Othering able to simplify, combine, decontextualize, and transform problematizations from their originating contexts elsewhere. When humanitarian advocates construe immensely complex crises as “manageable problems,” the promotion of simple technical panaceas may inadvertently increase the burden of poverty for user-beneficiaries and silence the voices of those they claim to champion and serve.
I remember teaching about the firewood/rape nexus in refugee settings during my days at GSPIA, but I was not aware of how the technology had proliferated since then or of many of the pernicious side effects of this technocratic solution to a multi-dimensional problem (here is an op-ed version by Abdelnour). It was nice to read a detailed critical assessment of such a policy, and to think about how many other globalized practices are doing more harm than good (or maybe some good and some harm) in places where well-meaning agents are struggling to deal with so much nastiness. Fuel-efficient cook-stoves to reduce rape are a band-aid, but so are refugee settings themselves: technocratic efforts to cordon off nastiness from vulnerable populations, and cordon off vulnerable populations from their host societies. The takeaway is that looking below the rug of humanitarian policy leads to some pessimistic conclusions.
Lots of ink is being spilled over Gaza. Watching and reading, I am reminded of something I read early in my career, while writing my second book. This thing I read was a manual for reporters, written by veteran British war correspondents Annabel McGoldrick and Jake Lynch. Jaded by knowledge of how the media can exacerbate or dampen conflicts, their manual contained specific suggestions for producing "peace journalism."
For example, McGoldrick and Lynch suggest reporters avoid portraying conflicts in zero-sum terms, emphasizing essentialist divisions, adopting language that victimizes or demonizes, or reporting only the horrors. Instead, they suggest, war reporters should "disaggregate the two parties into many smaller groups pursuing many goals," engage in "asking questions that reveal areas of common ground," and ask victims "how they are coping and what they think."
Like many I am today watching unfolding events in Gaza with sadness, outrage and a sense of helplessness. As a non-expert in the region, I have very little value to add in terms of insights. But what I can do, I figure, is a) pass along things I've seen come across my feeds that exemplify this kind of reporting and b) dwell especially on some under-covered angles that might complicate the conventional story of intractable hatreds in ways consistent with McGoldrick and Lynch's suggestions.
Germany won the Men's World Cup. The other half of the tournament takes place next year, in Canada.
Calling the men's half of the tournament 'The' World Cup while excluding half the world's population including some of the best players in the world is really nothing more than gendered language at its sexist best.
At Huffington Post last week, Jezebel's Valerie Alexander penned a terrific piece on why this semantic distinction is so important:
American commentators, please stop announcing that Landon Donovan is the "all-time U.S. leading goal scorer." He is not. With 57 international goals, he's not even in the Top Five. The all-time U.S. leading goal scorer is Abby Wambach, with 167 goals, followed by Mia Hamm (158), Kristine Lilly (130), Michelle Akers (105) and Tiffeny Milbrett (100). In fact, Abby Wambach is the all-time leading goal scorer in the world, among all soccer players, male or female.
I don't want to take anything away from what Landon Donovan has achieved. But every time he sits there, silently allowing that phrase to be rattled off -- 'all-time leading U.S. goal scorer' -- without pointing out that he is the all-time leading men's goal scorer, it does take away from what Abby Wambach and Mia Hamm have achieved -- total world domination. It would be great if he displayed some of the dignity and grace we know he possesses and say, 'All-time leading men's scorer. There are seven U.S. women higher on the list than me.'
Rob Farley and I talk on BloggingheadsTV about new books (his and mine); the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots; how political scientists might study the circulation of science fiction and fantasy in real-world politics; and the meaning of Game of Thrones' fourth season.
As I write this, Twitter and Facebook inform me that air raid sirens are going off in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, as well as several cities and towns closer to the Gaza Strip, while Israeli forces have launched air strikes against Gaza and are considering the mobilization of as many as 40,000 reservists for a possible ground incursion. The numbers of dead, wounded, and terrorized are mounting.
This most recent escalation comes on the heels of the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens in the West Bank, and also the official and unofficial retaliation by both the Israeli government and a small group of Jewish extremists. But while this is the proximate cause, the truth is that this week’s bloodshed and terror is rooted in the simmering hatred, prejudice, and distrust that has characterized the peace process almost since its inception.
While leaders have in the past at least made a pretense of working toward the goals set out way back in the 1990s, the Israeli government under Netanyahu and the deeply-divided Palestinian leadership have both made clear their unwillingness to compromise. Decades of occupation, radicalism, and foot-dragging have brought us to the point where leaders and citizens now find themselves, committed to verbally endorsing a peace process that has no chance of ever turning into actual peace. At the very least, peace would require an end to – rather than the continued expansion of – Israeli settlements in the West Bank, just as it would require Hamas and its supporters to unequivocally give up on the dream of a map of the region that doesn’t include Israel. But peace would also require giving up on the idea that justice is bound up with affixing blame and with retaliation, giving up on the whole ridiculous notion that everything will be sorted out properly once everyone finally understands whose fault it all really is.
Imagine never knowing whether your next step will be your last, whether your children are safe in the fields around your house, whether objects they find in the street are toys or deadly explosives. For people living where landmines lie in wait long after wars end, such frightening thoughts are daily realities.
“The humanitarian impact is heartbreaking,” said Kiman Lucas of Clear Path International, which assists landmine survivors. For almost two decades, US landmine policy has been at odds with NATO allies and in the uncomfortable company of Iran, North Korea, Cuba and Syria. “Everywhere I go,” Lucas told me, “people question why the US has not already joined the landmine ban treaty.”
But without much fanfare last week, representatives of the State Department announced subtle but crucial changes to the US government’s stance, distancing itself from the unilateral tone of Bush-era policy.
Just in time for you to head to the beach with a copy, my new book is now available from Cornell University Press.* As many of you know, this is the culmination of a my 6-year NSF-funded research project on why some human security problems get on the global agenda and others don't. The answer in a nutshell: it's all about what's going on within the advocacy networks. A teaser of the first chapter is here. A nice write-up by the Chronicle of Higher Education is here.
The book includes a longer version of the argument in this article, and three case studies on human security campaigns that I've followed and occasionally written about at the Duck - causes long championed by norm entrepreneurs but varying in their ability to gain traction on the global agenda:
- 1) The campaign for a new norm providing compensation to collateral damage victims. This idea that civilian war victims should be compensated by the militaries that harm them was the brainchild of humanitarian legend Marla Ruzicka, and has been cultivated over the years by the Center for Civilian Victims in Conflict (CIVIC) since Marla's untimely death. Starting in 2007 I followed this group, documenting their efforts to get governments, generals, diplomats and humanitarian "gatekeepers" to take seriously the idea of "amends" for the lawful victims of military operations. Chapter Four tells that story up to 2011.
- 2) The campaign to ban autonomous weapons. Roboticist Noel Sharkey, and his colleagues, have been promoting this idea since 2007, but it gained salience on the international stage in 2012 when Human Rights Watch picked up the issue and launched a report on the topic. Now it is a full-fledged global campaign. Chapter Five tells the story of how norm entrepreneurs sold this concept to humanitarian disarmament elites despite opposition from counter-norm-entrepreneurs, and learned the art of transnational advocacy unexpectedly along the way.
- 3) The campaign to stop infant male circumcision. Although nearly three million baby boys are circumcised annually worldwide, often without anesthetic and primarily for cultural reasons, the practice has long been opposed by a grassroots transnational movement of health care practitioners, families, and children's rights advocates. The cause has nonetheless received short shrift from the human rights movement, as Deb DeLaet has documented. Chapter Six examines "intactivist" efforts and agenda-vetting by human rights organizations and explores reasons for inattention to this bodily integrity rights issue by powerful actors in the human rights network.
Each of these cases illustrates the broader argument: that norm entrepreneurs must market their causes through human security "hubs" in order to succeed, and that their chances of doing so depend on social ties between actors, issues and subcultures within global issue networks. But each also tells a fascinating story of social change agents on the global front-lines, and the work they do each day to make our world a better place, often against great odds.
1) Jarrod Hayes is Assistant Professor in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs and is the author of Constructing National Security: US Relations With India and China. You may have seen his IO article on securitization, and his guest posts on nuclear policy, Crimea, the Arab Spring and other topics; and you probably know him as a long-time Duck reader and commenter as well. Jarrod is keen to blog on security, US / Asian foreign policy and climate change in between hiking, kayaking, and working on his house.
2) Tim Luecke is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Mershon Center for International Security Studies at Ohio State University and the managing editor for International Theory. Tim's current research focuses on the concept of ‘political generations’ and its applications and explanatory value in International Relations. Other areas of expertise include German foreign policy, qualitative methods, and raising nine-year-old daughters. In his free time, he rock-climbs and is a Reggae and Drum and Bass DJ under the pseudonym “Troublemaka.”
3) Heather Roff-Perkins is Visiting Associate Professor at the Denver's Korbel School of International Studies and the author of Global Justice, Kant and the Responsibility to Protect. She specializes in just war theory, military technology, and has a particular interest in cyber-warfare. She blogs at Kantemplation and is a frequent contributor to the Huffington Post. She also has expertise in raising toddlers and training dolphins for the US Navy.
4) Cynthia Weber is Professor of International Relations at University of Sussex in the UK and author of numerous book including Simulating Sovereignty and Faking It: US Hegemony in a Post Phallic Era. She has written for OpenDemocracy and readers may recall her popular "PoliSciJobRumors" guest post at the Duck. She also directs.
Please issue them a warm welcome.
Last Spring the International Studies Association approved a new ISA journal, the Journal of Global Security Studies. I am normally pretty sanguine about new journals in the discipline but in this case I feel genuine excitement. Why? Because JOGSS is not just another outlet for scholarship but is actively positioning itself institutionally to cultivate much-needed bridges and conversation across divides within the sub-field:
"The mission of JOGSS is to publish first-rate work from across the entire range of methodological, epistemological, theoretical, normative, and empirical concerns reflected in the field of global security studies and, more importantly, encourage dialogue, engagement, and conversation across different parts of the field."
This is important because security studies scholarship has long been siloed in a number of blocs, all largely ignoring one another. By contrast, JOGSS would put these different takes on "security" in dialogue, bringing together conventional rationalist approaches on great power politics with critical human security studies and everything in between.
This effort is reflected in the journal's first call for proposals, which was released today to the ISA membership and is excerpted below the fold. An early special issue on "The Future of Security Studies" is envisioned, with papers cultivated through a workshop process. It's a great opportunity for students or more advanced scholars interested in the direction in which our sub-field is headed. I hope many Duck readers will consider submitting!
This is a guest post by Philip Martin, PhD student in the Department of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In a recent op-ed in the New York Times, columnist David Brooks advises a U.S. approach to Iraq which uses military force to arm-twist Iraqi elites into forming an inclusive new government, since “if you get the political elites behaving decently, you can avoid the worst.” At Political Violence @ a Glance, Barbara Walter also argues in favor of a negotiated settlement based on power-sharing as the optimal solution to Iraq’s current political fragmentation, an outcome that will supposedly “become increasingly attractive to everyone as the costs and risks of war increase.”
It is true that if moderate elites had more power in Iraq this would reduce the intensity of the country’s domestic political violence; it is less clear, however, that another power-sharing coalition government brokered by foreign interveners is an effective means to this end. For the last decade or more, scholars and practitioners have advocated for inclusivity, integration and power-sharing as the principal solution to the problem of civil war termination, expecting that these arrangements can reassure combatant groups of their participation in the post-war distribution of power, and eventually establish a cooperative model of governance which builds trust and moderation. Yet empirical research on foreign-imposed regimes and the determinants of peace agreement success provides little optimism about the likely effectiveness of these institutional arrangements.
In the same weekend that parents around the nation watched their high-school and college students graduate and spread their wings for brighter shores, Game of Thrones served us up a season finale that was both about passages out of childhood, and about the shadow of parent-child relationships that follow people into their young-adulthoods.
Similarly, it is safe to say Game of Thrones as a series came of age this season in its richness and complexity (while making mistakes along the way and learning from them). I don't only mean the characters: Sansa Stark, who mid-season vaulted unexpectedly from girlish frailty to saucy, empowered womanhood; Daenerys Targaryen, who has gone from single-minded teen mother-of-cute-baby-dragons to a seasoned parent setting painful boundaries with her children (albeit inexpertly), and ejecting her surrogate father along the way; boy-king Tommen Barratheon, who has lost a brother, secured a fiance and assumed the throne all in a few weeks; Tyrion Lannister, who finally closed the door on his Daddy-issues; Arya Stark, who abandoned her de facto and would-be keepers and put the rudder to home and hearth in the majestic final moments of the season. And I don't only refer to the way whatever leftover innocence we may have had as an audience has been increasingly shaken this season by the show-runners' tricking us into cheering at the death of children or forcing us to confront the fact that honorable men can also be rapists.
Mostly what I mean is that the sprawling arc of the show is gradually, inexorably fulfilling the germ of its promise in the series' opening scenes, maturing into the story it was born to be: a story of climate insecurity overlooked by the machinations of state-centric power politics. This was the tale Martin always meant to spin, this was where the series has been heading, and this arc has been intentionally dormant amidst the childish dramas of Westeros and Essos. In the season finale, the wildlings emerge as climate refugees; we are introduced to the Children of the Forest (synechdoche for indigenous populations and deep ecology); we are reminded that here be giants. If Game of Thrones is a metaphor for real-world politics, and if the metaphor is about global affairs instead of domestic politics, then it seems less like a story about Westphalian statebuilding and more like a 21st century metaphor for our frog civilization boiling in its hot, carbon-baked planetary pot. But I also refer to a few key moments in the show that tell us something about how the show is maturing, albeit imperfectly.
I have not blogged episode-by-episode about GoT this Spring (for that you can always follow Scott Eric Kaufman, Alyssa Rosenberg or Laura Hudson). But with the season now wrapped up, I do want to offer my take for what it's worth on three of the season's biggest moments. By big, I don't mean best (though one tops my list) nor most controversial (though one probably counts) nor most important to the plot (really, how can we pick among twists? [non-book-fan SPOILER alert: the last twist from Storm of Swords at that link has not yet been revealed on the show.) Rather these are the scenes that made me, as a book fan, along with a significant portion of the Internet, stop and go some combination of "huh" and "um..." Here are my readings on what they meant and why they matter: