Civis Romanus

In the first season of The West Wing, an American plane with dozens of U.S passengers is shot in the air by Syrian fugitives. President Bartlet, played by the extremely versatile Martin Sheen, now has his first test as the Commander-in-Chief of the United States. He has a really interesting discussion with his Chief of Staff, Leo McGarry. Penned by Aaron Sorkin, what follows below is the transcript of said discussion, taken from Wikiquotes.

What I really love about Sorkin is the idealism in his characters, their response to crises, and the faith the characters have in each other. Its uplifting, which makes for good television of course, but I like to think that he writes, hoping to provide for more than entertainment to his audience, whom he considers intelligent and capable of keeping up with his whirlwind of a pace. His signature quick-witted writing, dishing out facts one after the other, has at-least one fan in me.

Bartlet : Did you know that two thousand years ago a Roman citizen could walk across the face of the known world free of the fear of molestation? He could walk across the Earth unharmed, cloaked only in the protection of the words ‘Civis Romanus’ – I am a Roman citizen. So great was the retribution of Rome, universally understood as certain, should any harm befall even one of its citizens. Where was Morris’s protection, or anybody else on that airplane? Where was the retribution for the families, and where is the warning to the rest of the world that Americans shall walk this Earth unharmed, lest the clenched fist of the most mighty military force in the history of mankind comes crashing down on your house?! In other words, Leo, what the hell are we doing here?!

Leo : We are behaving the way a superpower ought to behave.

Bartlet: Well our behavior has produced some crappy results; in fact I’m not a hundred per cent sure it hasn’t induced it.

Leo: What are you talking about?

Bartlet: I’m talking about two hundred and eighty-six American marines in Beirut, I’m talking about Somalia, I’m talking about Nairobi-

Leo: And you think ratcheting up the body count’s gonna act as a deterrent?

Bartlet: You’re damn right I-

Leo: Oh, then you are just as stupid as these guys who think capital punishment is going to be a deterrent for drug kingpins. As if drug kingpins didn’t live their day to day lives under the possibility of execution, and their executions are a lot less dainty than ours and tend to take place without the bother and expense of due process. So, my friend, if you want to start using American military strength as the arm of the Lord, you can do that. We’re the only superpower left. You can conquer the world, like Charlemagne! But you better be prepared to kill everyone. And you better start with me, because I will raise up an army against you and I will beat you!

Bartlet: He had a ten-day old baby at home.

Leo: I know.

Bartlet: We are doing nothing.

Leo: We are not doing nothing.

Bartlet: We’re destroying-

Leo: Four high-rated military targets!

Bartlet: And this is good?

Leo: Of course it’s not good. There is no good. It’s what there is! It’s how you behave if you’re the most powerful nation in the world. It’s proportional, it’s reasonable, it’s responsible, it’s merciful! It’s not nothing. Four high-rated military targets.

Bartlet: Which they’ll rebuild again in six months.

Leo: Then we’ll blow ‘em up again in six months! We’re getting really good at it… It’s what our fathers taught us.


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