Polishing up a Youtube comment of mine and selling it to you all as a rant? I really am evil.
I noted a series of videos by an individual going by Oxhorn a little way back in another Fallout rant as being thoughtful and worth watching for any diehard fan of the Fallout series. In 1 of his videos, he talks about how there have been some people who have left comments on his videos about the evils of prewar society, who have said that perhaps the great war of Fallout that brought about the end of the civilization was actually a good thing, in bringing an end to a society so filled on every level with evil. Classy guy that Oxhorn is, he uses this video to highlight the fact that the tragedy and cost of the war to good, decent, average people could never be justified no matter how much evil it also wiped away, an opinion I completely agree with--no victory over evil can ever be achieved when it comes at the sacrifice of innocent bystanders.
But I’ll go a step further than that. Because I believe that even in terms strictly of punishing the wicked, the nuclear war of the Fallout series was utterly meaningless.
You see, punishment is not, nor should it ever be seen as, a goal in and of itself. Punishment exists for the purpose preventing wrong behaviors (or at least, behaviors perceived as wrong), whether preventing them before they occur, or preventing them from occurring again.
- When your child does something wrong, you shouldn’t be punishing him solely because he did it--you should be punishing him with the intention of making sure he knows that there are negative consequences for wrongdoing, and the hope that the knowledge of these consequences will keep him from doing it again. You’ll still punish your son again if he pulls this shit once more (and probably punish him more harshly, since he now should really know better), but the purpose each time is to find a level of consequences that will prevent him from doing wrong.
- When the government warns you that there will be a fine for littering on public property, the intention isn’t supposed to just be drumming up some extra revenue for Town Hall--the purpose of the fine is to dissuade you from polluting before you have a chance to do so, preventing wrongdoing prior to its happening. They’ll still fine the shit out of you if you do it, but the expectation is that knowledge of the punishment will keep that from happening at all.
- When you’re sent to prison, the intention isn’t supposed to just be to make you miserable for months or years--the idea is to put someone whose presence is dangerous to society into a place in which he/she cannot harm that society again before learning not to do so. That’s why prison education and rehabilitation programs were so vital--they’re accomplishing what the institution is meant to do, which is to improve and preserve society’s order and welfare by removing behaviors that threaten it, and remaking those who engaged in such behaviors into potentially productive members of society. Such programs are sadly almost entirely gone, now, since corporations have made the process of incarcerating American citizens into a profitable business rather than a necessary social function, but that’s a whole other subject, for a more meaningful rant blog than mine. The point is, though, that prison is not meant to be the purpose of its own existence, it's meant to be a functioning means to the purpose of maintaining society.
When you punish based on simply wanting to cause suffering to another who has done wrong, you lose sight of what punitive measures are meant to accomplish, and lessen yourself as a person in the process by embracing hurtful malice that doesn’t help you or anyone else. Punishment, and the threat of punishment, must exist as functions of preventing/eliminating wrong behaviors. When it becomes just about making someone who has done wrong suffer for their actions, it ceases truly being punishment, and simply becomes the useless, self-destructive concept of revenge, which serves no one, and lessens or harms everyone it touches.
So now that we’ve established how I see punishment, how I believe punishment must be seen if we are to successfully persist as a society, let’s bring it back to the topic at hand. The world of Fallout before the day of nuclear devastation is a world nearly exactly like our own, one in which corporations carelessly harm countless human beings with their policies and single-minded dedication to profits, in which politicians lie to the masses and use human lives like currency to satisfy their own vanity and lust for power, in which criminals both petty and organized prey on the weak and give into their base impulses at the expense of others, in which cultural factions attempt to divide and confuse the masses through the tools of paranoia and bigotry...and, it’s important to remember, it’s a world in which the majority of people are decent and honest, a world whose reason for being so flawed and terrible is not that most people are, but rather that the engines of capitalism and politics that rule society favor and elevate dishonesty, greed, narcissism, and psychopathy.
With this understanding in mind, with our knowledge of Fallout’s lore leading us to fully realize the terrible sins of the political and economic rulers of the prewar world, we might initially think that nuclear punishment was an acceptable, even necessary solution. Get rid of the organized crime bosses, get rid of the corporations that used and abused people on every level without a single care so long as it was profitable, get rid of the government that used the hopes and anguishes of its citizens solely to promote its own interests. Get rid of it all, give humanity the punishment it has brought on itself, and ring in a world without the complex social vices that the old one had built over the centuries.
But unfortunately, as punishment for the old world’s evils, the bombs were a complete failure. Because war never changes.
Oh, certainly, many of the horrible people of countless heartless corporations met their just ends, as did many of the evil social leaders and criminals of the world. But Fallout shows us that humanity after the bombs is, at its core, the same as humanity before the war.
What was the point of nuclear punishment for the world’s criminals? The same acts continue unabated in the new world. Raiders and organized factions like the Gunners still steal and murder for their daily needs, as surely as any petty mugger or violent thief does. Some individuals do it for even less than that--Allen Marks, of Fallout New Vegas, steals and murders from people not because he needs their resources to live, but because they have special bottle caps that he collects in the hopes of trading to a prewar machine for a fabulous treasure. Countless raiders torture and destroy people for their own twisted satisfaction as much as any prewar serial killer, like the Fens Phantom, did. And there’s only more organized crime in the Fallout world than ever before--from Junktown’s Gizmo to New Reno’s families to Diamond City’s Triggermen, with hundreds, thousands of raider groups and mercenary gangs mixed in, the nukes accomplished nothing if they were meant to punish the evils of organized crime. They simply traded the Eddie Winters of the old world for the Gizmos and Darion Khans of the new.
What was the point of nuclear punishment for the world’s evil governments? The same kinds of corrupt groups in power persist after the war. The NCR, while admittedly not outright evil just yet, uses unjust economic pressure to annex territory and force all the world around them to play by their rules, just like the US government. Cruel, horrible culture-destroying warlords still violently overtake all they come across, as evidenced by Caesar’s Legion. Fanatical, totalitarian bigots still seize control and warp the minds of entire societies, as seen with the east coast Brotherhood of Steel by Fallout 4. Self-important tyrants still decide that the rest of the world should hold their values and engage in the societies that they feel are correct, and attempt to force that new world on others violently, if The Master is anything to go by. Political leaders still lie to, manipulate, and betray those they are sworn to protect and represent the way the prewar senators did for their corporate masters, if Mayor McDonough’s sniveling ambitions to please the Institute are any indication. And those with power still seize the lives of those without, snuffing out their culture and forcing them to live as lowly workers in the conqueror’s culture, as seen by House’s transformation of the tribes near New Vegas into the 3 families running his casinos. Arrogant societies still dismiss those who are different as less than human, and look for any reason to control or destroy them, if Vault City is indicative of anything. The nukes accomplished nothing if they were meant to punish the evils of corrupt and oppressive politicians and governments. They simply traded the Genghis Khans of the old world for the Legion’s Caesar, the Adolf Hitlers for the Overseer Lynettes and Arthur Maxsons, of the new.
What was the point of nuclear punishment for the world’s self-important psychopaths who set themselves and their purposes above the good of their fellow man? The same kinds of arrogant, inhuman disregard for life and morality didn’t end. The Institute ignores the plight of the Commonwealth’s people as they pursue some intangible, undefined future of humanity that sacrifices the species’s heart and soul for technological advancement, just as Vault Tec designed horrific social experiments in its vaults to abuse those who came to them for shelter in the interests of discovering new understandings of social dynamics and ways to increase productivity. The original Brotherhood of Steel has, by the time of Fallout 3 and New Vegas, fallen so far as to mistake their purpose and ignore the plights and needs of humanity, in favor of dogmatically following the letter of their law rather than its spirit, withholding the aid and technologies that the people around them need, just as, prewar, food and other resources were withheld from the populace so that they could instead benefit the military,* whose purpose in fighting the Chinese was supposedly more important to the welfare of the USA’s citizens than having a decent meal. Ashur of the Pitt works his slaves to the bone, assisted by his violent gang of enforcers, for the sake of building an empire around his precious cure, ignoring the needs and welfare of his slaves in favor of his vision of what they and the rest of the world needs, which is much the same as countless logs we can find throughout the series that show employees being expected to work unethical hours to advance the interests of military research in the name of patriotism that would never benefit them. The nukes accomplished nothing if they were meant to punish the evils of those who use and abuse humanity in its own name. They simply traded the Stanislas Brauns and Lieutenent Governor Grahams of the old world for the Fathers and Elder McNamaras of the new.
What was the point of nuclear punishment for the greatest of mankind’s evils, the corporations? The same kind of soulless, careless pursuits of money and power at any cost continued undeterred. Tenpenny, Porter Gage and the Nuka World raider gangs, Eulogy Jones, Iguana Bob, Theodore Collins, Griffon, Talon Company, Set, Kellogg...from coast to coast, throughout the 200 year period after the bombs dropped through to Fallout 4’s events, the wasteland has no shortage of swindlers, of cheats, of those who put profit above the wellbeing of their customers, of those who will not hesitate to kill for the sake of money, who will overtake the honest work of the innocent and steal or destroy it for their own benefit, who will sell out their fellow human beings for the sake of economic gain, and who use their money and influence to destroy anything inconvenient to them, regardless of who it hurts. The nukes accomplished nothing if they were meant to punish the evils of those who bring harm to others in their pursuit of wealth. They simply traded the Nuka-Cola Quantums of the old world for the Bob’s Iguana Bits of the new.
And finally, what was the point of nuclear punishment for the evil members of humanity when so many of those sinners escaped that retribution altogether? The US government, the controlling, manipulative entity that detained citizens for their heritage and opened fire on peaceful protesters, wasn’t wiped out; it simply hunkered down and became the Enclave, re-emerging decades later to once more terrorize the people of the country from coast to coast. Bradburton, the head of Nuka-Cola who overworked employees, overcharged customers, and put money over human beings’ safety, survived for 200 years after the end of the world. So did Eddie Winters, infamous crime boss of the Commonwealth. Stanislas Braun, Professor Calvert, both powerful men whose actions and influence harmed others, continue to cause suffering after the end of the world and the beginning of the new one. If anything, Braun’s evils only bear their true fruit from the nuclear rain, as the Vaults began to perform their horrific tests upon humanity and he began to personally torment a dozen people’s minds for over a century, and Calvert’s intent to control the Maryland area only begins to move forward in the decades after the bombs drop. And even if the heads of Vault Tec are (perhaps) destroyed by the war, the evil intents and methods of the company live on in at least 1 employee who survives, Overseer Barstow. The most the nukes did to punish them was to bring on terrible boredom and loneliness for many, but even then, we see no indication that this isolation taught them anything. Winters is still an ass, Braun becomes shockingly cruel before finally becoming tired of life, and Barstow carries on Vault Tec’s mission as though nothing happened. Maybe Bradburton gained some humanity, but we’ve no indication one way or another. The nukes were such a failure as punishment for the evils of the world that they could not even wipe many of those great evils clean.
The Fallout series makes it a point to prove that the human race is flawed before AND after society’s nuclear reset button is pushed; War Never Changes because humanity never changes. I’ve always loved the fact that the series bases itself so strongly around 1950s aesthetics, because we have a tendency to idolize that age of American culture as somehow safer, more moral and upstanding, than everything that came after, while in reality it was no better. The darkness in human beings was still exactly as present as ever, before and after. And similarly, the evils of humanity before the war are those of humanity after the war, simply given new faces and new nuances of the world to twist to their vile purposes. And thus I say that anyone who views the nuclear devastation of the Fallout series as just and effective punishment for the evils of the prewar society is wrong...because to succeed, punishment must end and prevent bad behaviors. But the evils of humanity continued, as they always had, as they always do.
* Well, the military, and those high in power. Mayor Hildenbrand might’ve been doing dick all to actually benefit the people of Boston, but he sure as hell made sure he wasn’t going hungry himself.