In the HBO series, “The Last of Us,” we were made privy to the Fireflies, a rebel group that was in an armed conflict with the FEDRA, i.e., the Federal Disaster Response Agency. The entire nation was divided into quarantine zones, and there were strict laws in place to prevent the population from getting infected with the deadly Cordyceps Brain Infection. The Fireflies termed FEDRA as a military dictatorship, while the establishment branded the Fireflies as a terrorist organization. So, let’s try to decipher how FEDRA was able to create a general consensus about the illegitimacy of the rebel group when their own actions were not so justified in nature.
In the first episode of the series, “The Last of Us,” the depiction of the Fireflies is such that one is pushed to question their legitimacy and is more inclined towards branding it as a terrorist organization. To decide whether it is fair to call them a terrorist organization, we would have to look into two things: first, the kind of actions they carried out, and second, the motives of the leader of the organization, which in this case was Marlene. Though there is no standard definition of the word “terrorism,” we can safely say that if any individual, group, or organization engages in violent activities with a political objective that includes inducing fear or causing intimidation and generally adversely impacts the sitting regime, then the person or group causing it can be said to commit acts of terrorism. One more thing that should be taken into consideration is whether there is an intention to hurt the civilians or whether efforts are taken to avoid any collateral damage. Marlene said that their real motive was to restore democracy and give back the right to freedom to the citizens. But somewhere, the operations they were undertaking, and the impact they ended up having on the lives of the citizens didn’t align with the thought process of their leader. There was a general notion that Fireflies was a terrorist organization because of the unwarranted attacks they had been orchestrating for quite some time, and it was a possibility that due to the loss of civilian life, a majority of the population would have seen them as terrorists rather than rebels with a noble cause. Marlene says that the FEDRA was a military dictatorship, and they had no option but to wage war against them and their tyrannical ways and means. Kim, a member of the rebel organization, expressed her doubts about the mission of the Fireflies under the leadership of Marlene. Kim didn’t understand why they were bombing military targets without any specific motive. Marlene wanted to cause an upheaval, and she believed that the pace at which they were currently moving wouldn’t get them anywhere.
We do not doubt Marlene’s intentions, but in such circumstances where the line is so blurry, and the odds are generally not in favor of an anti-establishment organization, it is essential to be cautious about the actions that are undertaken and the kind of impact they might have on the people. Public perception also plays a significant role in this scenario, and if it is in conflict, no matter how noble the organization’s goal is, it will never be able to cross the line and will always be classified as a terrorist organization. During the Indian Independence Movement, the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA) faced a similar challenge when the British branded it a terrorist group. The problem was that because they resorted to violence rather than more legitimate and conventional ways of protesting, the general public also feared them, as they were completely oblivious to the kind of ideologies and objectives the group had. This perception changed when the Indian revolutionary Bhagat Singh joined the cause and became an important pillar of the HSRA. Under the leadership of Bhagat Singh, the HSRA stopped its guerilla warfare and, for probably the first time, made an effort to lift its veils and make the people aware that what they were referring to as violence was self-defense. The people realized that though HSRA’s modus operandi might not be very traditional, one couldn’t discredit them by calling them terrorists. Che Guevara, was also one of those revolutionaries who was able to eventually legitimize his rebellion, and he brought great reforms to his country, largely because he stuck to his ideals and did not compromise on his principles.
In the first episode of “The Last of Us”, we didn’t see any effort being made by the Fireflies to make the people understand that, unlike FEDRA, they were trying to find a vaccine for the CBI. The way they were bombarding the buildings and the manner in which they conducted their day-to-day business didn’t make it look like they had a greater purpose that served the best interests of everybody.
The FEDRA might have incorporated martial law, but their bureaucracy is what made them look a bit more organized and uniform as compared to the Fireflies. It might be possible that, as Marlene had said, FEDRA tried to establish a military dictatorship, but they ended up creating a structure and followed procedures that made them look less autonomous in nature. FEDRA takes extreme punitive measures and awards death sentences to people who have gone outside the quarantine safe zones in one scene, leading us to believe that the majority of their decisions would have been ex-parte in nature. It is often seen that when a nation is witnessing an organized uprising, the population is divided into two conflicting groups: one that condemns the action of the rebellion group and another that vehemently supports it or actively participates in it. There have been times in history when the rebel group has been able to gather enough support to overthrow the government, but most of the time, they are unable to bring the political change they seek, mostly due to a lack of organization and failure to establish the rule of law. In the end, it merely becomes a battle of narratives, and a lot depends upon the kind of means and resources the rebel group has and what methods it resorts to if it fails to establish that sort of pressure on the establishment, which in this case was FEDRA.
In the upcoming episodes, we will get to witness if the Fireflies are able to change their image as a terrorist organization and if they are able to accomplish their mission under the leadership of Marlene or if they fall prey to the authoritarian treatment of FEDRA.