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The movie Independence Day teaches us that victory is more important than principles

David Levinson freaks out about recycling.
David Levinson freaks out about recycling.
20th Century Fox

The hostile alien intruders in the film Independence Day caught the world by surprise, arriving like a well-coordinated swarm of locusts to wipe out humanity and take all our natural resources. It was only through grit, ingenuity, and overwhelming patriotism that America could figure out how to defeat the enemy and lead the world in a 4th of July counter offensive to bring the bastards down.

Marine pilot and wannabe astronaut Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith) might have been the flashy star of the film, punching aliens in the face and delivering back-to-back one-liners. But in the end, it was the flannel-clad, environmentalist hipster hippie and American hero David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) who really made victory possible.

David is a very '90s hippie, and the movie isn't always sure if it should play, for instance, his environmentalism as a joke. But he's also the smartest guy around. He was the one who realized that if we could just hack the alien mothership from the inside, we could finally score a direct hit with a nuke and end the invasion for good. And all it took was abandoning all of his principles!

The film makes clear that this plan wasn't easy for Levinson to endorse. He spent hours lambasting the President for using nuclear weapons over American soil, and pleaded that they not be deployed again. But David was able to set aside his deep partisanship and see the bigger picture. The world was being overrun, and the only way to save it was to accept — embrace, even — his deepest fears.

The version of this American classic with which we're all familiar ends with well-placed nukes, a fighter pilot President, and a Mac Powerbook 5300. But uploading a nasty virus to scramble the computers of our highly advanced adversaries wasn't the only plan that do-gooder Levinson had cooked up. David looked into the abyss during that last overnight drinking binge, and he saw many roads to victory — all paved with the corpses of his dearest causes.

The hippie causes America needs to renounce to defend itself from future alien invasions are:

1) Environmentalism

"Maybe if we screw this planet up enough, they won't want it any more!"

Racking his brain as an MIT educated TV repairman, Levinson's true passion is in saving the environment from the sloppy, inconsiderate actions of the human race. He chides his father for using styrofoam cups, righteously pulls recyclable cans from the trash bins at work, and bikes his way around New York City.

But after all that time harassing his fellow man for minor infractions against the Mother Earth, it only takes one night of drinking (and the threat of annihilation) for Levinson to realize humanity's gotta do what humanity's gotta do to survive, and if that means trashing the planet, then so be it.

Blowing up the alien mothership was all well and good at the time. But what guarantee do we have that there aren't more giant alien motherships out there just waiting for the right holiday to strike again? Luckily, completing humanity's crusade against nature was easier than expected. Total victory against the invaders meant city-sized shipwrecks outside of all the world's major cities. Massive scrap heaps, unidentifiable leakages, and probably a whole load of carbon emissions from those downed ships means Earth ain't what it used to be, and no one's going to take any interest in it again.


Nobody wants this gross planet.

2) Anti-smoking campaigns

"I could get used to this."

First of all, tar-filled smoke could have totally ruined the the fragile space-technology of the aliens,  and Dr. Okun made it clear that the aliens' bodies are just as frail (and presumably susceptible to carcinogens) as ours. Even if we couldn't come up with an

effective way to weaponize tobacco smoke, cigars play a far more important role in humanity's salvation: they're cool.

Despite all efforts to prove the contrary, smoking is badass and instills confidence in America's heroes. Saving those stogies until the fat lady sang inspired confidence in the fighter pilots and tech nerds who delivered us from certain doom. We'll need that confidence if we are ever called to defend our corroded space rock again, so light up and strike a cool pose.

3) Reining in the NSA and government intelligence agencies

"You knew then!"

We could have been prepared! An alien scout ship crash landed in New Mexico, and through top secret government research we learned a great deal about the aliens and their technology. But because a squeamish American public and reactionaries like David could never appreciate the benefits of clandestine operations, our intelligence community was hamstrung and operating beyond the knowledge of even the President.

We won't make that mistake again. In the world of Independence Day, only one solution is clear: elevate the NSA to a cabinet-level agency. And give it spacecraft.

4) Separation of church and state

It wasn't just Captain Hiller's swagger and the mind-opening inspiration of a good binge that led Levinson to his genius plan to defeat the aliens. Julius Levinson, David's father, hadn't spoken to God in years at the time of the crisis, something he confesses just before David comes up with his master plan. Yet later, he pulls together a group of refugees for a prayer session. Can we be sure David's plan was divinely inspired? No, but why risk it? Boom, prayer in schools. It's the only thing holding back the aliens. Well, that and the raw charisma of Bill Pullman at his finest.