Treize Khushrenada and the Psychology of Power

His was the face of a world consumed by war, and in watching the career of Treize Khushrenada, though fictional, we can learn about the psychology and perils of power.

Mobile Suit Gundam Wing is a series that I’ve long enjoyed. I have fond memories of it partly because I used to watch it on Toonami after school, but my fondness goes deeper than nostalgia. Mobile Suit Gundam Wing is a fantastic series with a plot more complex than a middle school student would be able to pick apart easily. As in a real war, power shifts constantly and fortune’s wheel turns on those who spin it too loosely. Treize Khushrenada is therefore a study on the use of power and a warning that those who misuse it will suffer a bad fate. In 2020, Gundam Wing it’s highly relevant.

Mobile Suit Gundam Wing begins with Treize Khushrenada as a colonel in the Specials Unit of the United Earth Sphere Alliance military, the Earth’s elite unit of mobile suit (giant robot) pilots. In reality though, Treize Khushrenada is the commander of Oz (Organization of the Zodiac), the military wing of the secretive Romefeller Foundation, a collection of royalty and aristocrats that uses its financial might for weapons development and political strong-arming.

Treize Khushrenada

Using the playbook of The 48 Laws of Power, Treize Khushrenada engineers a coup early in Mobile Suit Gundam Wing. He puts the leaders of the United Earth Sphere Alliance, who had turned away from militarism and authoritarianism, in a vulnerable spot, and tricks the Gundam pilots, his principal enemies, into killing them. Thus, the Gundams got the blame, while the leaderless Alliance was easy to overthrow with a military coup.

In this episode (episode 7 in the series), Treize Khushrenada demonstrates far-reaching thought of the type that Sun Tzu would use, but power also comes from fundamentally irrational characteristics which Mobile Suit Gundam Wing’s “antagonist” (he is actually something of an anti-antagonist) scores high on.

He has carefully molded his appearance into something aspirational. Treize Khushrenada always appears immaculately dressed with a noble uniform that stands out just a little bit more than normal, often wearing a black cape over his suit. One is reminded of the way that Julius Caesar used to dress in Rome to stand out from his peers. He molds his appearance as a man born to lead.

To match his appearance, he uses elegant mannerisms in his speech and movements. This was put most prominently on display in episode 42, when he rallies Earth to battle against the threat from the space colonies. He moves fluidly, with a confident poise.

His gimmick of a noble warrior with a chivalric ethos is consistent, which adds to his cult of personality. Yet, this is not only a gimmick or outward appearance. Treize Khushrenada is a character that legitimately believes in what he says and takes action accordingly. Glory can only be obtained through trial and sacrifice. In Treize’s case, he believes meaning is found most acutely through battles. Because of this, Treize Khushrenada has an admirable facade to his character, but behind it lurks tremendous dangers. We saw the bloody result in episode 7. He also leaves the world vulnerable elsewhere.

While he might be the leader of Oz and the public face of the new regime on Earth, we have already learned who Treize’s backers are. Now in power, the Romefeller Foundation starts getting other ideas about the direction humanity should go, and unsurprisingly, they have more leverage on the matter. For all of Treize’s qualities, he was never his own man. His base of power came not only from the connection he had with the soldiers, but more importantly, from the Romefeller Foundation.

After he successfully overthrew the previous order on Earth, Treize Khushrenada worked hard to absorb the space colonies that orbit the planet into Oz’s sphere of influence. This was another shrewd move, as the colonies had unlimited natural resources and manufacturing capacity which would be safe from terrestrial enemies once the Alliance space forces were taken out. Yet, it was the success of this operation which sowed the seeds of his own downfall.

As part of its next round of weapons development, the Romefeller Foundation decides on using the infrastructure in space to mass produce unmanned units called “mobile dolls,” a drone warfare style of fighting that Treize Khushrenada detested as being soulless. These units would then be sent down to Earth to secure Romefeller and Oz’s domination. Unable to change the foundation’s course, Treize Khushrenada resigns as the leader of Oz, rather than attach his name to this enterprise, which the foundation calls Operation Nova. His resignation speech is worth noting:

Duke Dermail, I’m sorry, but I cannot support the Romefeller Foundation in the path it’s taking.

Tradition is a history, it’s the history of caring built by deep true feelings of people. I do think that fighting in battles can indeed at times be beautiful, but at the same time I’d like to express my regret over the lost souls by appealing to you to recognize how priceless man’s life is. I believe what mankind needs is not absolute victory, but a certain demeanor in fighting, an attitude toward fighting. I fear that the era of soulless weapons called mobile dolls – in other words, the era that the Romefeller Foundation is creating – may become an embarrassment to the people of the future. I used to think that the ideals of people in the space colonies, such as their highly prized pacifism, were just pitiful complaints out of their ignorance of tradition. New warriors were born that surpassed even my ideals, the Gundam pilots. Tradition appears blurred alongside their pure feelings. From a historical point of view, warriors who lost what they were protecting and were further betrayed by those they were protecting, are losers. But they do not recognize themselves as such. Not only that, but they retain a strong will to continue fighting. The emotions of those who are thought to be beautiful are always full of sorrow, and honored tradition disappears in the cry of the weak. Winners of a battle will eventually decline in power and become losers. And then those losers will cultivate a new leader.

When Duke Dermail, the Romefeller Foundation’s leader, then asks him what he’s getting at, Treize Khushrenada responds by saying he wants to be a loser. The language is poetic and cryptic – in character for him, but in delivering this speech, Treize Khushrenada shows how deeply he understands how power works.

Treize Khushrenada resignation speech.
Treize Khushrenada’s resignation.

Though it appeared foolish, he actually displayed a perfect instinct for timing in this episode of Mobile Suit Gundam Wing.

Lo and behold, his prediction comes true. Without a charismatic figure like Treize Khushrenada as their public face, the Romefeller Foundation wields naked power with the soulless mobile dolls, and just as he predicted, it became extremely unpopular to the people of Earth and space alike. As a result, the pacifism of the Sanc Kingdom, led by the charismatic and inspiring Relena Peacecraft, becomes popular. You can read a lot more about her and these events in The 48 Laws of Power: A Creative Retelling by signing up for my email list above. Relena, an even greater character of power than Treize Khushrenada (and a more just and wise leader), is discussed at length there.

Duke Dermail then invited Relena Peacecraft to come in as Romefeller’s public face. This was a major mistake on his part, though. Far more popular than him, she changes the foundation from the inside and sidelines the authoritarian militarists, the faction he leads, but it’s at this point where a militant group in space called the White Fang defeats the Oz space forces and declares its intentions to attack Earth.

With his usual knack for timing, Treize Khushrenada stages another coup, bloodless this time, to take center stage, this time as his own man. He knew that the public mood after White Fang’s declared animosity would be fear and retaliation, leaving Relena Peacecraft vulnerable. Yet, his reappearance means another war, a war in which he sacrifices himself in mobile suit combat to the Gundam Pilot Wufei Chang, maintaining his character to the end.

In the end, he was a man of great ability, but because he threw the world into chaos, served corrupt interests, and had a worldview that was warped by his rosy perception of warfare, fortune turned on him finally, despite all his talents. The lesson is clear – be a servant of Ma’at, guided by the hand of Athena, and fortune will favor you in the long term. Oppose these forces at your peril.

Read Stumped to learn more about molding power in yourself.

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