Justified and Military Discipline

Spoilers for Season 6 of the television show Justified.

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The last season of Justified opens with a plot that brings three Iraq War veterans to Harlan County as mercenaries for a hostile takeover of the county by outsiders. There’s the commanding officer, Walker, and his two subordinates, and it’s hinted that they are either Blackwater-esque PMC troops or just down-in-the-weeds wetwork men who are trained in torture, the hunting of people, and generally making difficult problems go away for higher ups.

The plot gets really outsized and strange, but watching it recently made me think about the argument of Michel Foucault’s Discipline & Punish around the community of the criminal. The prison, at least in part, becomes a crucible through which criminal networks are forged, and it seems that what Justified is saying here is that the Iraq War functions in much the same way. People from a diverse set of backgrounds are put through an immense amount of hierarchical discipline and released back into the world, and in the fiction of Justified, the best place for that discipline to be put to use in civil society is through creating a hyper-efficient criminal network.

In any case, not a full thought, but the case is interesting because the show often focuses on the military past of Tim, another Deputy Marshal alongside protagonist Raylan Givens. Tim is a complicated character with a wry sense of humor and a clear “I’m proud of my military past but it isn’t my entire being” which is nice for a tv show in the contemporary period. The valorization of the law in Justified is pretty extreme, and so to be given characters who are the most extensive form of the state’s ability to enforce law (the military) and using them critically is pretty interesting.

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