Review: Liberation

Well, we come now to book three in the I Am Margaret series, and I have to say, I’m starting to fall off the bandwagon.

GenieI know, and I’m sorry to have to say it, but there it is.  Once again, the story in Liberation is a good one.  Unfortunately, my objections are a little deeper than how the plot goes.  I will try not to give too many spoilers here (because, in spite of my objections, it’s still worth reading), but I will promise an in-depth analysis of the whole series after book four is released in November.

Until then, here’s what I think.

Liberation begins with our heroes hiding out in the Mediterranean, well away from the reach of the EuroGov.  The question is: now what?

They decide to free as many reAssignees from the camps as they can, hence the title of the book.  It’s an exciting story, with rescues and good characters.  Bane is starting to become Liberationa real leader, and Margaret is her usual, good self.  She spends an awful lot of time scared and crying in this book, but to be fair, she does have a lot to be scared and crying about.

Fortunately, Bane and Margaret (they need a celebrity name . . . maybe Bargo — Bane and Margo?  Nah, we’ll leave that alone) do FINALLY get married!

That deserves some commentary, because some of you might be wondering how a good Catholic author is going to treat that issue, especially from the point of view of a first-person narrator.  There is nothing too descriptive, nothing inappropriate.  In fact, I have to applaud the author by giving us a little taste of the goodness, holiness, and beauty of the marriage act, rather than taking a more Puritan stand that “all sex is bad and nobody talk about it.”  No descriptions are needed, but addressing the Catholic stance that yes, between two married people, that act is good, beautiful, and holy, is a great way to counter the cultural crap we have these days.  No, we’re not obsessed.  We’re not going to give you a blow-by-blow.  We’re going to treat it with respect.  In the words of one of my favorite authors, Victor Hugo:

“Here we pause. On the threshold of wedding nights stands a smiling angel with his finger on his lips.”

Well done by the author here.

The story goes on a bit of a different track than you might think from the title.  Yes, they are liberating people.  Yes, that’s a good thing.  But does this mean that we’re forming up an armed resistance?

Nope.

Here is where the author and I part ways in our opinions.  I’ll try not to give too much away, because I still recommend that you read it, but the idea that you can be both a fighter and a pacifist does not make sense.  The Underground, as we have seen, are thorough pacifists.  Now, they’re trying to come up with a way to free the innocent victims from a camp at which there are armed guards with orders to shoot to kill.  What do we do?

I would have said: well, the Catechism tells us that we have the right to use deadly force in defense of ourselves and the innocent.  I think saving a bunch of innocents from being carved up to use for spare body parts certainly qualifies.

Not here.  The characters go out of their way to make absolutely sure that no one is killed during the course of their liberations.  The author manages to make the reasoning behind that decision plot-relevant . . . but only just barely.  It seemed more contrived than anything else I’ve read in the books so far.

I will elaborate more in the promised in-depth analysis, but for now, I will leave it at this: the story is still a good one, but it proceeds on shaky ground in places.  It is internally consistent.  Nothing in Liberation contradicts something that was previously established in the other two books; unfortunately, it confirms something that was hinted at, and passed over by me as just the opinions of the main characters.  Eighteen-year-olds don’t always have all the information, or the life experience, to make life-and-death decisions.  I can accept that.  But when all the adults presented to the reader — including the Pope and all his retainers and assistants — act the same way as the eighteen-year-olds, there’s something wrong with the worldbuilding.

In this case, that something appears to be a deep misunderstanding of Church teaching, and that is what I object to.

The world in which the Swiss Guard — truly the deadliest soldiers in all of Europe — are actually pacifists, doesn’t make sense.  A world in which the Pope objects to people stealing weapons — non-lethal ones, at that — from their corrupt and tyrannical government, and then uses a pitiful rationalization in order to justify it, is a world that doesn’t make sense.

RiverThe Catechism tells us:

2263: The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. “The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one’s own life; and the killing of the aggressor. . . . The one is intended, the other is not.

2264: Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:

If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful. . . . Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one’s own life than of another’s.

2265: Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.

The only thing that saves the plot from being utterly absurd is the existence of the non-lethal weapons, the nonLees.  In that case, the characters stand on the above paragraph: “if a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful.”  With these weapons, killing the guards at the death camps is not necessary, and therefore unlawful, because it would be using more force than is necessary.  Again, they’re just barely right.

Again, the story is readable.  I’m not telling anyone to drop the series like a hot rock and run the other way.  But this halfway attitude between resisting the evil government and their practices, and keeping the faith and not harming anyone, is not something that we can emulate.  I realize that this is a story, and not always comparable to real life, and that it is a dystopian novel, and therefore is allowed a little more license to make things make sense.

But it sets a bad precedent, and teaches a bad lesson to the readers, in my opinion.  Paragraph 2265 tells us that “legitimate defense” is “not only a right, but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others.”  Margaret and Bane have taken that responsibility on themselves, of their own free will.  They can’t act by halves.  “The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm.”  Only in this fictional story does NOT killing the guards actually work.

The fourth wall might have been cracked in books one and two (and I mentioned a few points in my other reviews), but it takes a severe beating in book three.  I’m more than willing to read book four when it comes out, to see how things end for our heroes, who are definitely not out of the woods yet, but I’m more than a little disappointed in the way the Church has been presented to the world in this story.

Liberation gets three out of five stars.  The fourth review will have to wait until next month, when Bane’s Eyes is released.  I’ll certainly read it, and give you both a review, and a full analysis then.


lsbFollow the squirrel minion to get to Lori’s website, Little Squirrel Books.

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10 Responses to Review: Liberation

  1. shamrock31girl says:

    I really liked book 3 a lot, but I definitely thought the Underground was a bit too pacifist at times. I totally understand why they don’t like the Resistance, and I agree that it’s good to try non-lethal means to keep guards subdued when they’re trying to free prisoners (especially since Margo makes a big point in earlier books to humanize the guards, and show that the guards themselves aren’t evil people). I felt like the obsession against stealing weapons might be that they were trying uphold the whole “ends don’t justify the means.” That being said, I think they were a little too worried about non-violence at times, because yes, an amount of violence is sometimes necessary! Though I also feel like part of the book’s content was trying to show that there are many peaceful ways to make a stand (ie: the big ol’ newsworthy witness at the end of the book). ~AnneMarie

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  2. Hi Lori,

    I keep meaning to write a response to this because I’ve always been a bit bemused by your interpretation, tbh. I’m not having a go at you in any way; if certain things aren’t clear no doubt it’s because I didn’t write it well enough! But anyway, in response:

    Firstly, the Underground are not supposed to come across as 100% pacifists (Margo is prepared to use both the signal pistols in bk 1 (knowing they will lead to fatalities) and they are all prepared to use nonLethals, which can kill even with only 1 or 2 shots if the person is unlucky and has a medical condition). But as Regina so aptly points out, historically, the more extreme the persecution, the more passionately the Church tends to cling to its fundamental values, in this case, peace, and this is precisely where I was coming from when I made them so strongly against any unnecessary violence.

    Regarding nonLees in the plot of book 3:
    1) I personally cannot conceive why any Christians, in a world with nonLethal weapons, would choose to use Lethal ones for the sort of raids being carried out in book 3. CC 2306, ‘If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means’.

    2) Politically speaking, it’s suicide for their cause if they use Lethals. The moment they take Lethals and start killing EuroGov employees they lose their moral high ground and the general public will view them as no different to the Resistance—just another violent terrorist organisation killing their fathers, brothers and sons almost indiscriminately. The events at the end of the book simply would not have happened if they had used Lethal weapons. When they stay at the end of bk 2 to ‘fight’ they are fighting for ‘hearts and minds’, not for territory. They are not in the sort of state of open war where killing or injuring enemy soldiers rather than rendering them unconscious is so often a regrettable necessity.

    3) Pope Cornelius never says they cannot kill Facility guards, in fact he explicitly states that they could do so: “You could, with a strict application of the duty to save the lives of the innocent, make a case for killing or injuring Facility guards in that cause.” He only says that “with the social situation, I would find it an unpalatable interpretation”. Not incorrect, not a sin, just unpalatable, as well as practically and politically a terrible idea, to say nothing of unnecessary (with nonLethals available), hence they don’t do it.

    4) Not fighting at the end. One of the conditions of Just War theory is that there be ‘serious prospects of success’. Even if they fight and use lethal force they have no chance of success whatsoever at this point. So Just War theory actually specifically excludes fighting in the situation they are in at the end. They’d be killing people for no benefit whatsoever.

    Incidentally, the Swiss Guards wouldn’t have served in the EuroArmy—they’d have to make the Divine denial to join up. They get their basic military training in the African Free States. Just FYI, this is not mentioned in the books.

    I hope this makes things a little clearer and I’m sorry it took me so long to respond!

    God bless,

    Corinna

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    • Corinna,

      First, you make the point that they are not supposed to be pacifists, but rather clinging to fundamental ideas of peace. That assumes that the most fundamental ideal of Christianity is peace above all things; if that were the case, then you wouldn’t have a plot in the first place. It’s easy to have peace; you just stop fighting. Instead, the ideal of struggle against evil is an even more fundamental teaching than that. Christ Himself promised strife, not peace, in this world.

      Second, you say that if a world existed with your non-lethal options, no Christian would ever use lethal means. You also quote the Catechism to defend this, almost as if you ignore the “if” in the very quotation you chose. Lori’s objection was not that non-lethal means might be employed, but that lethal means are fundamentally off the table. That is, to use the language of the Catechism you quote, if non-lethal means are not sufficient, then the authority will still confine itself to such means.

      If you’ll notice, the Catechism says, earlier in the same section, “Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.” (2265)

      Third and finally, you mention explanations which are not present in the story itself. The explanations are interesting, but any criticism of a story, positive or negative, must rise and fall based on what is actually in the book itself. Similarly, the story that book tells must depend on what is in the book, and if an author has forgotten or neglected necessary elements, then no response to that can work if the response depends on external information.

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    • Incidentally, I wrote the above while taking a quick break from something else. I just now looked up the passage you cite (2267, not 2306):

      “Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

      “If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

      “Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”

      This refers to the death penalty, not just war or even an unjust conflict. It is a matter of legality in society and maintaining a current status of safety after a period of careful and fair deliberation, not a matter of hot confrontation and the necessity of quick decisions.

      Even then, the Church underscores several times that this is not an impossibility even in a just and peaceful society. The situation the characters in this book find themselves in is quite different from the best-case scenario described here.

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  3. Hi Matthew,

    Slightly puzzled by some of your responses. Of course peace is not ‘the fundamental ideal of Christianity’–I did say ‘values’, plural. The whole point I was making was that they cling to non-violence wherever possible, not to non-violence full stop.

    I think perhaps you read my ‘1)’ too fast, since I said that if nonLethals were available, I couldn’t imagine Christians using Lethals ‘for the sort of raids being carried out in book 3’, I did not say never using Lethals. But for the raids, nonLethal means are sufficient; if they weren’t, as Pope Cornelius makes clear in the book, they could indeed use Lethal means. But why kill people for the sake of it?

    The grave duty to defend others is a big thing throughout the whole series. But the Christians in the book distinguish between the unjust aggressor (the EuroGov) and their more innocent employees, and prefer not to kill the latter if they can avoid it.

    I think the only explanation I gave that isn’t in the books is the comment about the Swiss Guards, which was just a FYI, plus the discussion doesn’t reach the point where they need to explicitly mention Just War theory at the end of book 3 in order to decide not to fight. The main reason why I wrote my response was in fact to highlight the things in the books that Lori seemed to be misinterpreting, or to have missed altogether. It’s possible there could be a cultural problem here, since I haven’t had a single UK reader that I’m aware of, read the book in the way Lori read it. I’m not aware of any other US readers who’ve taken it that way either, but perhaps they did and just didn’t mind. Out of curiosity, have you read the books, and was Lori’s interpretation also yours?

    God bless,

    Corinna

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    • No, I haven’t read the books, which is precisely why I stayed away from any commentary on the story; I was simply commenting on the philosophy and theology involved in the topic at hand, independent of the narrative.

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      • Accidentally left this as a new comment, but here it is as a reply:

        Ah. Well, this is not explicit in the book, so feel free to ignore it, but I view the dismantlers as analogous to abortionists, and the other Facility workers as analogous to abortion workers. If you would not support killing abortionists and abortion workers (as I very much hope you would not!) then you will understand why the Christians in the ‘I Am Margaret’ series try so hard not to kill Facility workers and dismantlers. Facility or abortion workers, they have all bought into the lies of their society and are to a large extent just as much victims of the devil as their own innocent victims. This is why I find objections to not killing them so bemusing.

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  4. Ah. Well, this is not explicit in the book, so feel free to ignore it, but I view the dismantlers as analogous to abortionists, and the other Facility workers as analogous to abortion workers. If you would not support killing abortionists and abortion workers (as I very much hope you would not!) then you will understand why the Christians in the ‘I Am Margaret’ series try so hard not to kill Facility workers and dismantlers. Facility or abortion workers, they have all bought into the lies of their society and are to a large extent just as much victims of the devil as their own innocent victims. This is why I find objections to not killing them so bemusing.

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  5. Lori Janeski says:

    I’ve already said what I think, with (some, admittedly vague) textual evidence to back it up (trying not to spoil the story for people who have not read it yet). I also said that my objections did not make the book unreadable, and that it worked *in that situation,* but *only* in that situation. I did not “misinterpret” or “miss” anything. The fact that additional justifications and explanations are included in the comments section underneath a review of the book should tell us something about the worldbuilding.

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  6. Pingback: Review: Bane’s Eyes | The Catholic Geeks

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