Power is one of the most confusing and vacillating themes in any given society. Those who don’t have it seek to find it by all means while those who have it think of new ways to make their grip on it even stronger. Power shows itself in society at different levels and the different people in the society yield some form of power which they are more than willing to display if given a chance. The result of this kind of societal setup is that not everybody can have the same level of power and as one exercises the power that he has, there has to be a victim that is on the receiving end. On one end, the protagonist enjoys the power at his disposal while on the other end the innocent victim suffers as a consequence of the other actions of the powerful. The pursuit for power always has a casualty.
Power and Injustice
The theme of power can be clearly seen in the Omelsa society as described by Ursula and also in the society at “The Center” as described by Cohn. Government is one of the most important facets of society. Any time a group of people gathers together, there has to be some level of monitoring and control of the people in order to maintain law and order. The presence of government means the presence of a set of standard procedures that will be used in the addressing of the issues that come up. The guidelines are usually important in the formation of society since they will also offer the terms of reference but the same guidelines are often the reason for injustice.
As Cohn (687) observed at the center, the think tanks and the defense experts that were working at the center spent their time devising the best strategies that they could employ to protect their country from any external aggression. From the very onset, the author lets the reader realize that the society that we live in is a society where everybody is competing for power. The competition can be unstructured and of little significant impact and can be best termed as sibling rivalry or it could end up in a highly structured competition that includes government officials sitting in brainstorming sessions to talk about possible offensive and defensive techniques. Cohn (687) realizes that the fight for power had only two sides, the winning side and the losing side. For this same reason, the experts were talking from both perspectives. They were optimistic that they would manage in withholding any nuclear attack but they were also aware of the vulnerability that the nation had. They, therefore, talked of the options they had on how to survive and fight back in the event of a nuclear war.
The notion that Cohn had right from the onset is that a nuclear expert is somebody who is cruel as that is the only logical explanation she could come up with of someone capable of dropping a nuclear bomb on a city; a bomb that was capable of destroying the entire city. Anybody that was familiar with the effects of the Hiroshima bombing would concur. As she sat in the official sessions and sneaked around during the breaks, she was keeping her antenna high to get all the proof she needed that these people were not only cruel but that they had been corrupted by the power quest to the level of using chauvinistic terms in their conversations (Cohn 689).
The Omelsa society is portrayed as one happy society where everybody seems to be having a good time. What remains unknown to the minors and the strangers is that society is holding a little child prisoner as the price for their utopia. As a principle, the children will remain oblivious of this secret until they have acquired a specified age. On reaching this age, they are told the dark secret something that greatly disillusions them at fast. Nobody however raises a finger to object to the inhumane treatment of the child (Ursula 33). This can be looked at from points of view.
Firstly, there is the possibility that the people know only too well that should they confront the injustice and succeed in rescuing the child, it will also translate to them losing their social and economic power. The author portrays the society as a man-eat-man society where everybody is hungry for economic, social and even political power and no one would be willing to relinquish his power in the name of saving a child that has been suffering for years.
The second explanation would be that the people who are touché d by the grave secret and what to do something to help lack the power to effect any change. It appears that the Omelsa society is subject to some form of tyrannical leadership which is responsible for making decisions that will control the society as a whole. The decisions made by this leadership are cast in iron and nobody seems to be able to debate them. This is revealed when the people who think the ideology is unacceptable quietly walkway in protest to go to look at another society. Ideally, they desire to effect change as they can not stand to see an innocent child suffer while they continue to enjoy life. They however realize that they can do nothing to change the state of the child and the only option they have left is to walk away from the society of Omelsa.
Ursuala paints a bleak picture of the reality that we face in everyday life. The author illustrates to us how the power and the love of it corrupt the mind and the soul of the human being to the extent that what would ordinarily be considered to be unthinkable and unacceptable becomes something that can be easily done. This concept is also brought out by the narration of Cohn (691) when she listens to the defense experts deliberate on the nuclear bomb strategies. She wonders how somebody could so lightly refer to the subject while all she could imagine were the effects of the nuclear bomb reminiscent of the Hiroshima experience.
When she seats as a participative listener at the “center” where the officers are talking about nuclear war, it is evident to her that they don’t hold the subject with the grave fear that she did. The intellectuals on defense causally referred to nuclear strikes and counterforce exchanges as if they were the most ordinary of things to happen. In fact, Cohn (670) is evidently surprised by the fact that the men talked about the subject with no sense of urgency or horror. To her, this was a subject that should not only evoke fear but it should be treated with caution not just in the meticulous planning that they were so good at but also in the manner of conversation on the topic, something they were clearly not very good at.
The binary opposite is a term that is used in describing two concepts that are opposite of each other. Binary opposition is important as it is used in the description of human cultures especially in the context of society. Binary opposition can either be simple distinctions for example cooked and raw or it could be more complex involving a complex hierarchy where one of the two options holds the privileged position for example, when we talk of emotional and rational, rational is usually viewed as superior and it is often associated with the males. Emotional is on the other hand considered a woman’s thing since it depicts some level of weakness. Binary opposition is considered one of the most important strategies that are used in society by people who want to attain and exercise power. This idea stems from the obvious fact that binary opposition has been used as a way of creating social stratification in society.
The society of Omelsa brings out the concept of binary opposition. Society is described as a happy society where everyone is going around enjoying life. However, there is a dark secret that remains hidden to the people that are not part of the society and to the minors in the society. When the required threshold in age is achieved, people are told the secret of their happiness. They are let into the fact that there is a child that remains locked up in abject suffering in a basement which is a necessary evil for them to continue to enjoy the political, social and economic power (Ursuala 35).
When people first hear this, they first react in utter shock. How could such a happy society like Omelsa subject an innocent child to such suffering? How inhumane! But the feelings of disgust would eventually ebb away with time and before long, the people that were in shock would accept the current state of affairs and continue with life as usual. In fact, they would now enjoy life even more as a way of trying to make the sacrifice of locking up the child worth the while. It can be argued that the desire to have power is stronger than the desire to maintain morality.
The binary opposite brought out is that while the society of Omelsa is considered a happy one, there is still a child that continues to waste away in suffering. The child has no idea what joy is as he is starved, naked and locked off from the rest of the society. The contrast is often too much for some of the people to take that they walk away in protest. The author however asks a rhetorical question as to if there was any better society to go to (Ursula 84). He makes it clear that in fact, there are worse things that happen in other societies and perhaps this is the reason why the ones that walk away in disgust to go to another place have never been heard of again. No one seems to know any society that does it differently.
This same theme of binary opposition is revisited by Cohn (670). When she seats as a participative listener at the “center” where the officers are talking about nuclear war, it is evident to her that they don’t hold the subject with the grave fear that she did. The intellectuals on defense causally referred to nuclear strikes and counterforce exchanges as if they were the most ordinary of things to happen. In fact, Cohn (670) is evidently surprised by the fact that the men talked about the subject with no sense of urgency or horror. To her, this was a subject that should not only evoke fear but should be treated with caution not just in the meticulous planning that they were so good at but also in the manner of conversation on the topic, something they were clearly not very good at. What Cohn seems to be oblivious of is that the “power play” was about her safety.
Listening to the defense intellectuals deliberate on the subject would easily leave one to think that the men were so cold and cruel. However, it is the exact opposite of their true nature. The charm of the men, their respect for life, their decency and their good sense of humor is something that was a sharp contrast to their otherwise coldblooded conversations on the nuclear war. It is almost like the men had two personalities, one that was seen in the discussion room and the other personality that was their real nature that was revealed during the day-to-day interactions.
Power has been used well and has been abused in society. As we have seen in Cohn’s article, the pursuit of political power is the reason behind the catastrophe of war between nations. The lesson we can draw from the Hiroshima bombing is that innocent people suffer as a result of the power play. We also see the Omelas society subject an innocent child to suffering so as to attain their happiness. The desire to have power can therefore be seen as the reason for many forms of injustice in society.
Cohn, Carol. Sex and death in the rational world of defense intellectuals. Within and Without Women, Gender, and Theory.12.4 (1987): 687-718.
Ursula, Le Guin. The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas. London: Creative Education,1992.