While at first “Prime Directive” may seem like another article criticizing the war, a deeper look reveals that it is about human nature especially in regards to pain and feelings of superiority. Author Davidriffith uses a lot of symbolism in this piece to subtly show his readers a different side of our society and the surprising things we, as humans, are capable of. His arrangement of this article shows us how his perspective changes toward the Abu Ghraib atrocities and the people who committed them. As Griffith describes the events of his night and his shift from numb disregard to strong passion, his words convey a feeling of dark confusion and unbalancedness giving readers the idea that he and others are blindly searching for something. Griffith incorporates the shadiness of Halloween along with the clear-cut Prime Directive and even our Pop culture to illustrate his realizations and their significance.
“Prime Directive” is Griffith’s retelling of his experiences the night before Halloween and Halloween night. Griffith is dressed as Captain Kirk from “Star Trek” but is repeatedly mistaken for an extra who dies. He and his friend go to a couple of different parties because Griffith says he doesn’t want to be home alone as his wife and things are gone. His wife had to move before him and he will soon be joining her. At the last party he goes to, Griffith poses for an Abu Ghraib-like picture with a friend dressed as Graner. The next day, Griffith is remorseful and helps his good-hearted neighbor pass out candy and terrify children.
Griffith’s description of his Halloween experiences is very dark and causes the situation to seem out of balance and confusing. From the very first paragraph of the piece we get the idea that things are not normal when Griffith tells us that the sky darkens at the “exact moment” as the street light goes out. He goes on to say that “the world seems rife with omens,” a phrase that foreshadows the symbolism yet to come. During the first party scene when Griffith is misidentified, we get the feeling that he is depressed and ready to escape his problems after he considers imitating Kirk. Griffith says that he is “not feeling up to it. No one is drunk enough for it to be funny, including me.”
This last phrase brings up an interesting theme in “Prime Directive.” In many instances in the piece, people seem to be trying to stay on the surface of serious subjects or to be numb and shut out their troublesome thoughts. As Griffith describes his empty apartment, we see that he is uncomfortable being alone in a bare apartment because his thoughts keep him from peace. He says that he has to drink a few beers to go to sleep and compares the “crammed bookcases” to the new sparse living space saying that there is “nothing to deaden the sound.” This makes me think that this emptiness leaves him no other choice but to explore uncomfortable ideas, where as normally his many distractions shield him from harsh reality and serve to “deaden the sound.” We see this same need for distraction in the party-goer dressed as Prozac. After the party lightly discusses the connections between the war in Iraq and Star Trek’s Prime Directive, Griffith says she “began to get impatient; she’s ready to move one.” Prozac wants to go to another party because when we keep moving we don’t have to stop and think. Griffith emphasizes this idea again when he decides to continue on to another party because he wants to be “away from my empty house, away from thinking.”
Even though Griffith is trying not to think, a couple paragraphs later, the absence of his sane thoughts seem to let in these abnormal ideas. While standing in line for the last party, Griffith imagines himself attacking the bouncer and attending a “Hieronymus Bosch-like party.” Griffith’s word choice here immediately evokes graphic images of the scene he is imagining simply by saying the name “Hieronymus Bosch.” It is ironic that just as Griffith is trying to be mindless, all these violent images take over. I think Griffith is showing us that when we refuse to acknowledge that incidents like Abu Ghraib are pertinent to our lives then we begin to become just as perverse and guilty as the people responsible for such heinous acts.
It seems that though Griffith is trying to escape his thoughts, the abnormality of the events has caused him to think in a different way. Griffith says he needs some “proximity to strangeness, something to take my mind off of the stuff that was waiting for me when I was alone,” but instead the “strangeness” causes him to delve deeper instead of hovering on the outside of his thoughts. A good example of the “strangeness” that causes Griffith to think is his picture with the Graner impersonator. Griffith claims to find the costume “somehow exhilarating” because it goes “beyond the point where rational people turn back.”
The idea that Griffith now find it “exhilarating” that the Graner impersonator went so far shows how much Griffith’s thinking has evolved since the beginning of the article. Originally, Griffith is trying to hide from his thoughts and now he appreciates this guy who has plunged in to the heart of the Abu Ghraib issue. This shows that what is necessary in order to effectively learn from and respect the Abu Ghraib atrocities is a correct balance between recognizing the actions and perpetrators as deplorable and seeing that same perverseness in ourselves. Griffith sees this after taking the Abu Ghraib-like picture with his friend.
Griffith mentions Abu Ghraib many times from the perspective of one who cannot understand and would never do such things but finally at the end he shows us that the tendency to take advantage of those who are weaker exists in every human in some form. He leads us to this conclusion throughout the article by first demonstrating his feelings of disgust towards Abu Ghraib from an observer’s point of view. He describes the incident as something that would “bring everybody down” but later begins to connect the exploitation of humans in Abu Ghraib to our own pop culture. He uses words like “near-naked” and “gyrating” to show us the humiliating way that the women in music videos are being exploited and then ties that in to the naked, humiliating pictures from Abu Ghraib. Slowly we begin to realize that people are being exploited in horrible ways even in America, though we don’t equate this kind of exploitation to that of Abu Ghraib because it is more voluntary and less cruel.
Griffith's emphasis on Star Trek’s Prime Directive and his depiction of himself as Captain Kirk symbolizes how in America many times we don’t even consider that we could be capable of such horrible actions. We were all raised to respect each other and to not infringe on anyone else’s rights but we should ask ourselves if that is really how others see us. As Griffith went around the night before Halloween, he was mistaken a couple of times for “one of the guys that dies” in an episode. He was mistaken for an extra that doesn’t even have an identity while all the time trying to be Captain Kirk, a protector of the Prime Directive. This shows that while we usually think of ourselves as these great human rights people, we are often not just the people who inflict pain but, the faceless people who are dehumanized like those in Abu Ghraib and the extras that die in Star Trek.
Griffith realizes how closely connected he is to the crimes committed at Abu Ghraib after taking the picture with his friend that mimics the Abu Ghraib pictures. The next morning this picture makes him realize the fine line we struggle with in order to properly react to atrocities such as Abu Ghraib. It’s hard to find the balance between condemning Graner and those like him and recognizing our disgusting similarities.
At the end of the article, Griffith demonstrates the extent of unbalancedness in our culture. He first tells us that his neighbor Mel “is a kind, loving man,” and then describes how he helps Mel pass out candy and terrify children. In Mel, we see how even the most unlikely people can still derive enjoyment from the pain and terror of weaker individuals. Griffith takes a turn as the fake looking grim reaper and is supposed to scare the kids as they come for candy. He fails to convince the kids that he isn’t real and one suggests that the other kick him to find out if he is really dead. Griffith uses this depiction of a real person acting like an object to show us how we sometimes fail to see those weaker than us as people until they react to pain, and even then we may not understand. The kid’s natural reaction in order to find out if Griffith was fake is to inflict pain.
“Prime Directive” shows us two different viewpoints that we normally would never see ourselves as. Typically we are Captain Kirk, always on top of things and doing what is right, but through the examples of Mel and the party picture we see our natural tendency to inflict pain. We also see that instead of being the inflictor of pain or the protector we can just as easily be the faceless object that is exploited. As Griffith waits to scare the trick-or-treaters, is mistaken as the dead guy, or describes the women in music videos, we see how we are so often unknowingly dehumanized in our culture. Griffith puts us in his place that night before Halloween. We feel him shift perspectives from observer to the guilty party in a dark, confusing atmosphere as he tries in vain to stay on the surface.