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International Relations in Bridge of Spies

1636 words (7 pages) Essay in International Relations

08/02/20 International Relations Reference this

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America was involved in the Cold War from 1961-1973. This was America’s longest involvement in a war. Bridge of Spies follows the life of James “Jim” B. Donovan, an insurance litigation specialist who is asked to defend a Russian man known as Rudolf Abel. In one of the opening scenes, Donovan is confused that as an insurance attorney, and former prosecutor, he is being asked defend a man accused of a crime punishable by death. Rudolf Abel is accused of being a spy for the Soviet Union. He is pursued by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and arrested for espionage. Donovan is hesitant to take on this case because he is aware that defending a “traitor” will not bode well with his family and community. However, even before he commits to defending Abel in court, he defends him to his wife saying that every person deserves a defense. This film covers many issues within the justice system of the United States as well as the Soviet Union and each nation’s foreign policies. The fact that this film is based on a true story and covers actual issues and happenings during the Cold War strengthens its description of the court system. Jim Donovan has the opportunity to put a halt to an international conflict and potentially reduce the risk of a nuclear war. Donovan fights for Abel’s rights and conveys in multiple different scenarios that Abel’s rights were abused. He argues that he was arrested and searched without proper documentation. This shows one of the examples of how Abel rights, protected by the Constitution, are not actually protected. Abel is used as a bargaining chip for the United States as he is held and traded in exchange for an American spy as well as a falsely arrested American student. American foreign policy is brought into question in this film and choices made by government leaders affect all members of the nation.

The audience of this film can see each step in the judicial process and how the government and law enforcement treat Rudolf Abel. His apartment is invaded and destroyed as they (illegally) search for evidence to prove that he is a spy. They government is required to provide an attorney for Abel so that it appears that he has an honest trial. It is clear that Donovan is not confident in his ability to represent this man but he thinks he might be the only option for him to have representation. The committee that selected Donovan for this case emphasizes the importance of conveying that Abel is going to have a fair trial because they know that the world will be watching and the American justice system will be on trial as well. As Donovan expected, he faces negativity and hate from his community, strangers on the subway, and even his family. However, he continues to fight for Abel and ensures that he has someone advocating for him and his rights. As the case goes on and comes to the courts, Donovan uncovers the illegal experiences Abel has had. The judge overseeing the case seems to be very biased against Abel and it is clear that Abel will not actually be receiving a fair trial. On March 28, 1960, Abel’s case was brought to the Supreme Court. Donovan wanted to argue with as much force as he could in order to ensure that Abel would be treated fairly. He argued that each trial on American soil deserved due process of the law, as stated by the Constitution. While Abel was still found guilty, in a move that upset the crowd, the judge allowed him to face a sentence of thirty years in prison rather than face the electric chair. Donovan was able to arrange this on the hope that one day Abel could be used as an exchange chip if the Soviets ever had an American in their possession. The same day as the trial, Francis Gary Powers, a pilot for the United States Air Force began a mission to take pictures of Soviet Union land. This task ordered by the United States government was one that came with much risk. His plane was shot down and Powers was captured and taken as a hostage by the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union used this prisoner to their advantage and created an opportunity for a prisoner exchange, giving Powers to the United States and taking Abel back to the Soviet Union. Donovan was chosen to be the negotiator for the exchange and went nearly alone to East Berlin without the security or support of the United States. An innocent American student, Frederick L. Pryor, was also being held prisoner by East Germany and Donovan wanted to make sure that he was safely returned as well. After negotiations, the exchange is set to take place at the Glienicke Bridge. The suspenseful exchange takes place and all three men are returned to their home countries. Donovan is able to return home safely to his family and went on to become a prominent negotiator for the United States government.

The connections between international relations in this movie are seen from beginning to end. The American public is put on display with their beliefs and feelings towards the nation’s government as well as foreign governments. The hatred toward the Soviet Union and the man, simply sent to protect what he believed to be the better nation is an example of the rational choice theory. How his case was handled, as well as the treatment of Powers and Pryor in foreign land, bring into question the concept of human rights.

The United Nations says that human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more.  The tortures and unknown horrors that the American spy, Powers, might face is enough that ending his own life is the encouraged answer if captured by the enemy. The lack of respect from the CIA towards Pryor’s safety demonstrates how even American security during wartime put no weight on the human rights and the civil rights of individuals, even those who were risking their lives for the sake of the United States.

At the time, the Soviet Union’s communist state of mind meant that their version of civil rights and what was to be allowed was very different from the views of the republic of America. However, in this film, the unconstitutional mistreatment of foreigners by the judicial system is brought to light to put pressure on those in charge. America was supposed to be the land of the free and this movie enlightened the audience to the fact that that might not necessarily be accurate; especially during the Cold War period.

We see many different examples of how Rudolf Abel’s human rights are taken away and how the rights that should be given to him on American soil are refused. At one point, Donovan argues with the Supreme Court and says, “By the use of the evidence obtained through this illegal search and seizure, this man has been convicted of a capital crime. The only place criminal proceedings based on such practices occur is in police states like Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.” This international comparison was meant to call out the Court for their unjust and un-American actions. However, he still lost the verdict.

This leads to the presence of the rational choice theory. In international relations, states are deemed unitary rational actors. The roles of the leaders that Donovan works with, the CIA, USSR, and the East German Democratic Republic, play a large role in the exchange of prisoners. Each leader makes decisions for its nation. While there are many individuals involved in the making of the decisions, for example Judge Byer. He is an individual whose decisions impact the entire nation. His ideas and policies potentially differ from other American individuals. Each national government’s most important interest is its own well being.

Donovan is able to stand up to East Germany’s government because he has a solution that will improve their stance, as they will be reunited with a man who most likely knows classified information. For them it is worth the risk of returning the American prisoner in exchange for protecting delicate information.

In conclusion, there are both strengths and weaknesses of using this book to understand the real world. After further research, though this movie is based on a true story, there are lapses in truth. We are given the a look into one of the most publicized cases and of the 1960’s and are able to see, with historical accuracy, the manipulating and selfish ways of the United States government. While looking at the concept of human rights, this movie provides an insight to how enemies of the state were treated. It brought to mind the question that America might not be standing up for justice and liberty for all, as it should have been. The comparison to the Soviet Union was not as grand as I would have imagined. Americans treated their prisoner with the same lack of respect as the Soviets did with the American. This also goes hand in hand with the rational choice theory. Both countries are doing what they believe to be best for themselves and will provide their country with the most successful and least dramatic result.

Works Cited

  • Bridge of Spies. (2015, October 14). Retrieved from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3682448/
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