What America Should Learn from 'King Arthur'

Unlike other recent historical movies'like Oliver Stone's empire-promoting Alexander'Antoine Fuqua's King Arthur paints a negative portrait of imperialism, as historian H. Arthur Scott Trask has pointed out. Fuqua's film emphasizes many unflattering aspects of the Roman Empire , such as exploitation of soldiers, torture, and the use of religion to uphold State power, all of which have parallels in today's America . Americans, after watching this movie, would be wise to reconsider the current direction of their country.

In the movie, the Romans conscript young men in modern-day Hungary and send them to fight hundreds of miles away in Britain . After they complete their 15-year terms, the Romans force them to risk their lives once again on their most dangerous mission yet. This practice'exploiting soldiers'has an obvious parallel in modern-day America . In order to maintain America 's troop presence in Iraq , the Army has issued 'stop-loss' orders, forcing soldiers to exceed their commitment to the military. For many of these men and women, Iraq 'like the last assignment for the conscripted 'Roman' soldiers'is their deadliest mission yet.

King Arthur depicts the Roman Empire 's extensive use of torture upon those who resisted Roman rule. After Arthur saves her from a Roman prison, Guinevere tells him the Romans tortured her with machines, breaking several fingers. The Romans also starved their subjects and tied them up in uncomfortable positions, among other horrendous acts. Many died from their injuries. These atrocities also have a parallel in today's America . At Abu Ghraib, American soldiers, apparently under orders from their superiors, sexually humiliated Iraqi prisoners, among other abuses. At Abu Ghraib and other prisons, the US military has deprived prisoners of sleep, exposed them to extremes of heat and cold, withheld food, and shackled them in painful positions. Other forms of physical abuse have also been reported. The government lacks evidence to charge some Guantanamo Bay detainees in US courts; instead of releasing them, it may hold them for life without trial. Many prisoners have 'disappeared' to countries that ignore basic human rights during interrogations. In yet another similarity to Rome , some have been killed in custody. Alarmingly, most of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib'the center of abuse allegations'were innocent; they had been picked up accidentally.

The Romans utilized religion to convince their British subjects to live in serfdom. In Guinevere's village, for example, the Romans taught the villagers to view the Roman priest as a godlike figure. Therefore, resisting serfdom equaled heresy. Similarly, to persuade Americans to support the 'war on terrorism,' George W. Bush has infused his speeches with religious rhetoric and said he believes Providence placed him in his position. Republican Congressman Tom DeLay once told a group of Texas Baptists that God put Bush in the Oval Office. Many evangelical organizations directly support Bush. These examples, and many others, show that American leaders, like the Romans before them, have learned to manipulate Christianity to suit State interests.

Eventually, Arthur realizes that the Rome for which he fights'a land of freedom'does not exist. Instead, he fights for an empire, and empires torture, murder, and manipulate their subjects. Will American soldiers ever experience a wake-up call similar to Arthur's? We can only hope. If they do not, I fear many will end up like Lancelot, who at one point tells Guinevere he has 'killed too many sons' to deserve one of his own.

Your rating: None
Andrew Young's picture
Columns on STR: 5

Andrew Young is a senior history major at Kentucky Wesleyan College in Owensboro, Kentucky, where he won the Powell Peace Award in 2004.