Giren Zabi idolized Adolf Hitler, and patterned his Spacenoid (though he used the term Newtype) superiority ideology after Hitler’s own doctrine of Aryan racial superiority. The Principality of Zeon is depicted in romanticized WW2 German likenesses, most notably through their uniforms and dress. As the Gundam franchise continues to flesh out and add works to the narrative of the ‘One Year War,’ the portrayal of the Principality of Zeon becomes progressively more the Germany of Hitler’s Reich.
One of the more recent of these installments is the manga Mobile Suit Gundam: the Gihren Assassination Plot, serialized in Gundam Ace magazine from 2007-2010. In this manga, the Gundam narrative draws further from the Hitler history and mythology, particularly “Operation Valkyrie:” an actual plan developed within Hitler’s military to assassinate him. Interestingly, a feature film based on this was released starring Tom Cruise in 2008.
Operation Valkyrie (German: Unternehmen Walküre) was an emergency continuity of government operations plan developed in Nazi Germany for the Territorial Reserve Army of Germany to execute and implement in case of a general breakdown in civil order of the nation. Failure of the government to maintain control of civil affairs could be caused by the Allied bombing of German cities, or a rising of millions of foreign forced laborers working in German factories.
German Army (Wehrmacht Heer) officers General Friedrich Olbricht, Major General Henning von Tresckow, and Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, modified the plan with the intention of using it to take control of German cities, disarm the SS, and arrest the Nazi leadership once Hitler had been assassinated in the July 20 Plot. Hitler’s death (as opposed to his arrest) was required to free German soldiers from their oath of loyalty to him (Reichswehreid). After lengthy preparation, the plot was carried out in 1944, but failed.
Back to Gundam: After the One Year War, the Earth Federation Forces unearthed voluminous documents of the Principality/Side 3 in order to investigate how exactly the OYW wrapped up…
…and from these documents, the plan to assassinate Gihren Zabi was revealed.
Without going into the details of the narrative, let us look at what this premise – and its historical basis give us. Speaking for myself, it tells me that the Germans aren’t evil as a race, a nationality, or as a social group; and Zeon is the same. This narrows down the evil associated with the Second World War in our own history and the fictional OYW to a single source, or perhaps a few others.
This is personally significant to me because the romanticizing of Hitler’s Reich, the Wermacht and the SS, is actually quite attractive to me, and this extends to Zeon. This is to me, an authentic guilty pleasure. I feel guilty identifying with the bad guys; not that I actually relate to them, but I want to have their look, and their badass effect. This desire almost feels like an endorsement of their evil. This is where the guilt comes from.
I feel the same way with my affinity for Reinhard von Lohengramm and the Galactic Empire from Legend of the Galactic Heroes, that is also wholly evocative of Imperial Germany. The names themselves sound so awesome to me. It’s like it’s almost automatically GAR if your name is German. Gundam does a lot of the same for its Principality of Zeon:
As seen from the above image, the whole plan is wholly based on the historical “Operation Valkyrie.” The code names listed in the display are actual names of mythological Valkyries in Norse mythology (though perhaps Germanized). Why is this so attractive again? The ‘bad guys’ are often portrayed as machine-like though not really, often with amazing use of symbols and perhaps heraldry, disciplined and threatening. The ‘good guys’ in contrast are presented loose, collegial, scruffy, and sympathetic. It is the same with Legend of the Galactic Heroes as with Gundam.
See the Reich’s officers’ stately mien, compared to the Free Planets’ bunch of merry men. It’s not that the Free Planets’ characters are never cool, they’re just allowed to be goofy, making them sympathetic and relatable compared to the ‘Boring Germans in Space.’ However, I’m sure I’m not alone in this: I find the Reich to be wicked cool, and I watched the whole show rooting for them.
As seen from the image, you have your gritty and grimy Earth Federation soldier having a smoke with his rations – and interestingly the EFF characters at the foreground are most often front line personnel; contrasting with the aristocratic Zeon officer inspecting a wine cellar with at least one fawning sympathizer/collaborator, as characters with speaking lines among the Zeon are often officers (unless they are mooks about to get killed).
The image evokes slices of life from the OYW, as inspired by the European theater (of war) during WW2. The allies were scruffy and seemed rag-tag while fighting through Northern Europe (as depicted by films like Saving Private Ryan, or television mini-series such as Band of Brothers), and the Germans had their way with the treasures of the countries they occupied and lived like aristocrats (as depicted by films like Schindler’s List).
I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising at all that the OYW should draw so much from WW2, as evil is so easily identifiable while the fashion of the ‘enemies’ are so impressive. I don’t think it’s in the creators’ (to permit myself some Doylian speculation) best interests to model evil after the Japanese part of WW2’s Axis of Evil. So yes, Germany for Zeon; Gihren Zabi for Adolf Hitler; Operation Valkyrie for the Gihren Assassination Plan. As I read more into the manga, I’ll find out if the use of Operation Valkyrie is a matter of direct inspiration by the plotters, and not simply a thematic consistency on the part of the narrative.
Bad guys look cool and I find myself rooting for them sometimes (or often). How do I rid myself of this guilt? I don’t really; I don’t do a good job of rationalizing away the fact that I don’t necessarily endorse the views, behavior, and acts of the bad guys. Unfortunately for me this is such a big part of my viewing and reading experience, and part of my hobby in general. Sometimes, even if it doesn’t really work, I look at images like this one and try to be at peace:
But no, it doesn’t really work. What can you do?