Alex Montgomery I have a new post up at Foreign Policy arguing that “The Bells” – and audience reactions to it – tell us something about American attitudes toward just war theory. A relevant topic with rising tensions w/ Iran, a debate over whether to pardon war criminals, and the stated willingness of our own rulers to violate war law.

The underlying reason for the outcry went unspoken: The deliberate targeting of civilians from the air, using incendiary weapons that are impossible to escape, is rightly recognized by Americans as a terrible crime—something good actors just don’t do. Our research confirms the evidence from reactions to the show’s finale. Americans would have wanted Daenerys to use air power but only against military targets such as the Iron Fleet. They would have wanted her to limit its use inside the city walls to avoid collateral damage. They would have wanted her to target the Red Keep, if needed, but not the streets of Flea Bottom. They would have chosen to let boots on the ground do the work of breaching the Red Keep and capturing Cersei Lannister and expected the Unsullied, Dothraki, and Northmen to fight soldiers rather than massacre civilians. All of these arguments show a clear and consistent understanding of, and sensitivity to, the international laws of war.

If public opinion can indeed constrain the executive – and there is evidence it can – this matters for foreign policy.

The article, I hope, does three other unstated things:

  1. Demonstrates the kind of analysis Paul Musgrave mentions IR scholars could and should be engaging in vis-a-vis pop-culture artifacts.
  2. Develops a testable hypothesis: that audience reception of pop culture artifacts could be as reliable a source of information on public opinion as fictionalized survey experiments, if only we start paying closer attention.
  3. Reminds us that American concern for the protection of civilians is a fragile thing, and not a historical inevitability.

Read the whole thing here.

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