Godzilla, King of the Ecoterrorists?

Is ecoterrorism the next wave of violent extremism?

A few weeks ago I was in Toronto to give a presentation on terrorism and had a few hours free to wander around the city. It had been some time since I last had the opportunity to visit some of my favourite parts of the downtown core: when I was a PhD student at the University of Toronto in the early 1990s I loved walking around the neighbourhoods near the campus.

One of my all-time joys is dropping in to the Royal Ontario Museum, or ROM as it is known. I have long been a dinosaur fan and the hall devoted to those magnificent beasts at the ROM is amazing. So of course I sauntered through the exhibit – again! – but what drew me that day was something else. Something else that I have a passion for.

I have written on many occasions that I love science fiction and horror films – the hokier the better. I grew up watching bad films every Saturday afternoon and this obsession is still with me. So imagine my thrill to see that the ROM had a feature on old movie theater posters dedicated to these genres: I was in heaven.

ROM poster It’s Alive! Classic Horror and Sci-Fi Art from the Kirk Hammett Collection

There were so many posters, some of which were the only known ones still in existence, but there was one section that has a direct link to today’s discussion on terrorism. This was a display on the Godzilla films of the 1950s and 1960s. For those not up on the Godzilla films, the post WWII nuclear scare, especially in Japan – which of course was the country that suffered from two bombs – led to the making of a whole series about a gigantic dinosaur that emerged out of the radiation left behind.

My first experiences with Godzilla, or Gojira as he is called in Japanese, were on those Saturday afternoons watching Detroit and Cleveland TV stations. And those films were bad, really bad, with Godzilla played quite unconvincingly by a guy in a rubber suit.

Godzilla in a scene from the 1954 film. © Toho Co. Ltd. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

My how things have changed.

I don’t know how many Godzilla films have been made but the portrayal of the 100 ft. dinosaur has benefited from CGI that is for certain. Take the 2019 US film Godzilla: King of the Monsters for example. This portrayal of Godzilla bears no resemblance to what I used to see on the silver screen

The plot of this latest Godzilla film centres on an ecoterrorist Colonel Alan Jonah who gets hold of a powerful bio-acoustics generator called the ‘Orca’ that can communicate with and control Godzilla and a whole other cast of 100 ft. monsters called the ‘Titans’. Jonah wants to ‘restore nature’s balance’ which we humans of course have wrecked: it turns out that the ‘Titans’ have been around for millennia and are actually the ‘gods’ many cultures believed in. They are the planet’s guardians it seems.

Official movie poster

Things go south and the Titans run amok, destroying just about everything until a rejuvenated Godzilla (they explode a nuclear bomb nearby to give him a ‘shot of energy’: I am NOT making this up) fights all the Titans and in a final scene that beggars belief they all bow down to him as ‘king’. As the credits roll we see newspaper headlines extolling the new green era that rises from the global destruction meted out by the Titans.

What is my point here? Simply to draw attention to those who advocate a return to a less complicated time, before fossil fuels, before nuclear energy, before pollution and environmental damage. These people are convinced that we are on a highway to hell and that drastic action is required. Consensus is building on the reality of global warming and climate change and more and more people are demanding immediate action.

If the crisis continues to worsen and governments fail to act appropriately frustration among environmental activists will rise. A few among them will conclude that more dire responses are needed and some of the responses will be violent in nature. Put bluntly, we will see acts of terrorism by activists who are convinced no other strategy will lead to the changes necessary to stop global environmental catastrophe.

I doubt that the Titans exist or that there is a ‘bio-acoustic generator’ that an ecoterrorist can use to carry out his plans. As ever, terrorists will find their own means to make their point.