Abandoning our humanity

"Quick Snack" | Art by Chasing Artwork. Used with permission.
Attack on Titan is a brutal story that centers on one theme: survival. The only humans (that we know of) live in a city protected by gigantic walls, which prevent the Titans—giant, humanoid creatures that consider humans their chew toys—from entering.

You might foresee the problems that could arise when Titans break through the first wall that surrounds the city, Maria, and flood the outer ring inside, causing thousands of refugees to retreat back behind Wall Rose (or be Titan dinner). I, however, was too caught up in the terror of the people and watching a mother get chewed up before the eyes of her traumatized son to think about what would happen later.

After the citizens who escaped have made it to safety, after everyone, including me, has breathed a sigh of relief, the shoe drops. Hunger sets in as a food shortage becomes apparent. The space in the inner walls cannot support all the refugees who had flooded in from the outer ring, which is now overrun with Titans.

Is it worth becoming a monster so your children don’t have to be?

What does the government to do in response to this crisis?

Something horrendous.

But something that I might do in the same situation, because I can’t see an alternative.

They send about 250,000 of the refugees (20% of the populace)—farmers, blacksmiths, architects, gardeners, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers—on a “mission” to reclaim Wall Maria. It’s a suicide mission, a glorified reason for getting rid of the extra mouths to feed. Armin’s grandfather is one of the people enlisted to go, and we see him saying goodbye to Armin with a grim but determined expression. He knows exactly where he is going: to his death. Technically, he chooses to go, but is it really a choice? Is there really another option? Sure enough, every single one of the refugees is crushed and eaten by the Titans, and this is one of the many reasons the main character of the show, Eren, vows revenge on the creatures and, along with Armin, joins the army to fight against them.

I was too caught up watching a mother get chewed up before the eyes of her traumatized son.

The needs of the many, as it were. RIP Leonard Nemoy.

Armin, generally the voice of wisdom in the show, says at one point, “You can’t change anything unless you can discard part of yourself too. To surpass monsters, you must be willing to abandon your humanity.”

Is abandoning your humanity worth mere survival? Are you abandoning the very thing you are fighting for by doing so? Or is it worth becoming a monster so your children don’t have to be?

Everyone has a choice, but it is those decisions that seem to have no right answer that I dread facing.

Would I have the courage (or folly) to make the same decision and walk off on a mission that if actually succeeded, would mean abandoning my own humanity to accomplish it? It is hard to say one way or the other until Titans decide to invade Canada, but I do know I would be terrified of the ethical decision before me. Whether it be Adama or Obama, these tough decisions are not new.

At first sight, in Attack on Titan the needs of the many mantra can be interpreted as sacrificing your life for the lives of all the others who are left behind. That’s noble. That’s honourable. But the scary thought is pondering a future where it might be necessary for someone to sacrifice their humanity to preserve the humanity of others. That choice is terrifying.

Allison Barron

Allison Barron

Commander at Geekdom House
Allison is like Galadriel, offering wisdom where needed but turning treacherous as the sea when competitive games are involved. She is the executive editor of Area of Effect magazine, co-host of the Infinity +1 podcast, and staff writer for Christ and Pop Culture. When she’s not writing, designing, or editing, she is often preoccupied in Hyrule, Middle-earth, or a galaxy far, far away.
Allison Barron