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Old 07-16-2019, 10:32 AM
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Bond's "license to Kill" What does it really mean?


All this talk of the Bond brought to mind a question I've never seen addressed.

So the double-naught designation gives the holder a "license to kill". Nice fantasy for the readers, but what does it cover?

Is it only for sanctioned assassinations? That's not that special. Any random soldier has a "license to kill" by that standard.

Is it supposed to protect him from killing random civilians that get in the way?

Can he shoot his brother, his barber, his auto mechanic if they do a bad job?

Can Bond shoot someone in the middle of the street and not be prosecuted?

Is there reciprocity with other countries? Can Bond kill people in Canada or the US?

Is there no recourse to the law if Bond kills someone he shouldn't?
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Old 07-16-2019, 10:42 AM
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Originally Posted by Just Asking Questions View Post
All this talk of the Bond brought to mind a question I've never seen addressed.

So the double-naught designation gives the holder a "license to kill". Nice fantasy for the readers, but what does it cover?

Is it only for sanctioned assassinations? That's not that special. Any random soldier has a "license to kill" by that standard.

Is it supposed to protect him from killing random civilians that get in the way?

Can he shoot his brother, his barber, his auto mechanic if they do a bad job?

Can Bond shoot someone in the middle of the street and not be prosecuted?

Is there reciprocity with other countries? Can Bond kill people in Canada or the US?

Is there no recourse to the law if Bond kills someone he shouldn't?
As I understand it, a licence to kill is the official approval by the Government for a particular operative to kill people in the exercise of his mission. So if he kills someone, his/her own government won't prosecute or punish him. I don't think it gives him licence to shoot his brother for changing TV channels.

It's also not the same as any soldier - if a soldier shoots civilians for no good reason, he/she is likely to get in trouble. An agent with a specific licence may not.

Also, anyone who goes killing people in other countries is going to be subject to the laws of those countries if he/she gets caught.

Last edited by SanVito; 07-16-2019 at 10:43 AM.
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Old 07-16-2019, 10:45 AM
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Your major assumption is wrong.

No random soldier can perform assassinations of any kind. Soldiers can only kill inside of a designated battlefield, and those by definition are not assassinations.

That in itself is enough to force the creation of a "license to kill" for anyone who kills outside of war.
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Old 07-16-2019, 10:51 AM
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From Wikipedia:
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The legitimacy of deadly force usage from country to country is generally controlled by statute, particular and direct executive orders, the common law, or rules of engagement.

Sir Richard Billing Dearlove, former head of the UK Secret Intelligence Service MI6, testified in court in 2007–2008's Diana, Princess of Wales inquest that it does grant a licence to kill, subject to a "Class Seven authorisation" from the Foreign Secretary, but that there were no assassinations conducted under Dearlove's authority.
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Old 07-16-2019, 10:51 AM
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It's "Licence." Lawyers are watching.

Last edited by burpo the wonder mutt; 07-16-2019 at 10:52 AM.
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Old 07-16-2019, 11:14 AM
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Before he got his license, Bond was an assassin. He was given two specific targets to kill. He was given authority by his superiors to kill those two specific targets. In the movie Casino Royale he was given specific instructions to kill a mole and his contact.

The double-O prefix gives him autonomy. Once he got his license he is permitted to kill on his own authority. If he detects a mole, or an enemy agent, Bond can kill him without specific instructions from a superior.
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Old 07-16-2019, 11:36 AM
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Thanks for the replies. Do the books go into it more, or just leave it understated?

I figure MI6 can revoke said licens/ce to kill can be revoked if the 00 starts killing random personnel at HQ and claiming they were "moles".

Not unlike the "an alien made me do it" defense in Star Trek-like situations. How can you be sure?
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Old 07-16-2019, 12:02 PM
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Offhand I can recall only a few times in Fleming's books where Bond's mission was to specifically go out and kill someone. He kills lots of people in in self-defense and occasionally plants bombs that detonate at plot-dramatic moments, but premeditated targetted murder is relatively rare:

In Casino Royale, Bond describes two such missions he'd completed earlier in his career (he actually doesn't kill anyone in the course of the novel's plot).

From Russia, With Love: while in Turkey, he participates in a retaliatory kill with the local spymaster.

Dr. No: Bond buries the title character in bird dung. Seriously.

For Your Eyes Only: Bond goes on a revenge mission in, I believe, upstate New York.

You Only Live Twice: while on loan to the Japanese Secret Service, Bond is directed to assassinate someone who has become an embarrassment to the Japanese government.

The Man With the Golden Gun: Bond's mission is to kill the title character. At the climax, he hesitates to do so and is very nearly killed himself.

The Living Daylights: Bond's mission is to spot an enemy sniper and shoot him dead. He elects to shoot her (surprise!) rifle instead, likely injuring but not killing her. He expects to get in trouble for this.

Most of his missions were investigations, not assassinations.
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Old 07-16-2019, 12:04 PM
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One presumes that, if an ordinary agent finds someone they suspect is a mole, they report it to their superiors (or their superiors' superiors, if they don't trust their superiors either), and then there's a whole process they go through to figure out the truth, and then if they confirm that the person is a mole, they take whatever action is appropriate. And one further presumes that this process is fairly accurate and reliable. But it's also slow, and sometimes time is of the essence.

So you pick out a limited number of agents whom you deem to posses sufficient judgement to almost always get it right, in the moment. But even after a 00 kills a mole, you still go through that whole investigative process, because you want to be sure, and because you want to know a lot more information, like who the mole was working for, what they've already accomplished, and how they were put in place. And if you go through that process and find that they were innocent, well, maybe you were mistaken to trust that agent's judgement, and so you revoke his licenxe to kill.
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Old 07-16-2019, 12:24 PM
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Well, before the whole mole thing became such a lazy cliche, Bond was,aware of such a person in MI6: Maria Freudenstein (from the short story "Property of a Lady"). It turns out the Service was well aware she was a double agent who was sending material to the Soviets so the only information she ever had access to were banal mundanities and occasional nuggets of blatant misinformation.
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Old 07-16-2019, 12:30 PM
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For Your Eyes Only: Bond goes on a revenge mission in, I believe, upstate New York.
Vermont.
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Old 07-16-2019, 12:53 PM
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Is there reciprocity with other countries? Can Bond kill people in Canada or the US?
If he was in the US or Canada on a diplomatic visa then he'd have diplomatic immunity. Which would be plausible, it wasn't uncommon for spies to travel to foreign countries under the guise of being "diplomats". Of course diplomatic immunity doesn't mean you can get away with murder; it just means you're sent back to your home country to be prosecuted under their laws. If Bond murdered a random American civilian that had nothing to do with his mission, the US would probably revoke his visa and deport him, and the UK government would likely prosecute him for the murder. If he shot one of Goldfinger's henchmen in the US in the course of carrying out his mission, the UK government would likely decline to charge him due to his "license to kill".
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Old 07-16-2019, 01:23 PM
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It's "Licence." Lawyers are watching.
Um, wouldn't that be "Solicitors or barristers are watching?"
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Old 07-16-2019, 01:23 PM
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Dr. No: Bond buries the title character in bird dung. Seriously.
"Messy business."
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Old 07-16-2019, 01:29 PM
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Um, wouldn't that be "Solicitors or barristers are watching?"
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Old 07-16-2019, 01:35 PM
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Um, wouldn't that be "Solicitors or barristers are watching?"
Of course, m'Lud.
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Old 07-16-2019, 02:47 PM
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Do you have to start with a learners permit to maim?
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Old 07-16-2019, 04:42 PM
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Thanks for the replies. Do the books go into it more, or just leave it understated?

I figure MI6 can revoke said licens/ce to kill can be revoked if the 00 starts killing random personnel at HQ and claiming they were "moles".

Not unlike the "an alien made me do it" defense in Star Trek-like situations. How can you be sure?
In the first book, "Casino Royale", Bond describes how he got his Double 0 number and what it means:

Quote:
It was a pretty sound job. Nice and clean too. Three hundred yards away. No personal contact. The next time in Stockholm wasn’t so pretty. I had to kill a Norwegian who was doubling against us for the Germans. He’d managed to get two of our men captured—probably bumped off for all I know. For various reasons it had to be an absolutely silent job. I chose the bedroom of his flat and a knife. And, well, he just didn’t die very quickly.

For those two jobs I was awarded a Double O number in the Service. Felt pretty clever and got a reputation for being good and tough. A double O number in our Service means you’ve had to kill a chap in cold blood in the course of some job.
The phrase "licence to kill" first appears in the sixth book, Dr. No, and all it says is:

Quote:
M took his hands from behind his neck and slowly leant forward and placed them flat on the desk in front of him. His eyes were hard. “Just so.” The voice was velvet, dangerous. “Your gun got stuck, if I recall. This Beretta of yours with the silencer. Something wrong there, 007. Can’t afford that sort of mistake if you’re to carry an 00 number. Would you prefer to drop it and go back to normal duties?”

Bond stiffened. His eyes looked resentfully into M’s. The licence to kill for the Secret Service, the double-0 prefix, was a great honour. It had been earned hardly. It brought Bond the only assignments he enjoyed, the dangerous ones. “No, I wouldn’t, sir.”
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Old 07-16-2019, 11:27 PM
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Where does he go to get his licence renewed?
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Old 07-17-2019, 01:02 AM
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The phrase "licence to kill" first appears in the sixth book, Dr. No, and all it says is:
Quote:
...It had been earned hardly...
Did Fleming really write that? I thought that sense of "hardly" was archaic.
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Old 07-17-2019, 05:06 AM
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It's a medical joke....
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Old 07-17-2019, 05:24 AM
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Also "From a View to a Kill": Fleming wrote some short stories after writing (most of?) the novels. A guy shoots at Bond, which was not unexpected, and Bond kills him. I say "not unexpected", but he hadn't discussed it with anybody or been targeted: he was just on a job, and killing somebody was what he was doing at that stage of the job.

Fleming got a bit looser with his characters as time went on. I've got just a vague suspicion that at the same time the British government was getting a bit looser with it's characters.
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Old 07-17-2019, 11:59 AM
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Did Fleming really write that? I thought that sense of "hardly" was archaic.
I don't think it's archaic in British usage, or at least it wasn't 50 years ago.
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Old 07-17-2019, 12:19 PM
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In the first book, "Casino Royale", Bond describes how he got his Double 0 number and what it means:

I like how they handle it in the Casino Royale movie:

Quote:

[Dryden, an MOD director, comes into his office late at night. After sitting at his desk, he finds James Bond sitting in the shadows]

James Bond: M doesn't mind you earning a little money on the side, Dryden. She'd just prefer it if it wasn't selling secrets.

Dryden: If the theatrics are supposed to scare me, you have the wrong man, Bond. If M was so sure that I was bent, she'd have sent a 00. Benefits of being section chief, I'd know if anyone had been promoted to 00 status, wouldn't I? Your file shows no kills, and it takes...

James Bond: Two.

Dryden: [pulls a gun and points it at Bond] Shame... we barely got to know each other.

[pulls the trigger, but nothing happens]

James Bond: [holds up the clip from Dryden's pistol] I know where you keep your gun. I suppose that's something.

Dryden: [lowers his gun] True. How did he die?

James Bond: Your contact? Not well.

[cut to a scene of Bond savagely beating a man to death in a bathroom]

Dryden: Made you feel it, did he? Well, you needn't worry. The second is...

[Bond pulls his gun and kills Dryden]

James Bond: Yes... considerably
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Old 07-17-2019, 03:09 PM
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This article is a pretty interesting read - it discusses what a real-world 007 career path might look like (and touches on the question about the "license to kill".
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Old 07-17-2019, 03:15 PM
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I like how they handle it in the Casino Royale movie:
I guess I've watched Bond since I was so young I didn't "get" what was going on, how the world worked. But I just accepted it. And never considered the implications, the mechanics, of it.

I guess I just figured shooting double agents or assassinating spies was just "another day at the office". MI-6 would just "clean up the mess" and Bond would continue on. It's just housecleaning. Why would the police care? They might not even know.

It never occurred to me that THAT is what a license to kill meant. not that the police department would let you go when you showed them your double-naught card, so much that your boss would smooth things over. It's not the killing that needs the "license", it's the aftermath.

Though now I'm wondering what happened after a lot of scenes in the movies. Dead guys in hotel rooms, bodies in trees, guys that fell through roofs from airplanes. Do the police ever figure out what happened? Or are there tons of unsolved homicides in Bond's wake, clogging the open case files?

There was a news item several years back about a van with four people that crashed and all were killed. None had IDs, and as far as I know, nothing ever came from it. AFAIK, they were never identified, no arrests made. They could have been undocumented aliens, most likely, but part of me thinks they were henchmen, killed in the middle of some real-life Bond movie, and us civilians none the wiser. Could be!
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Old 07-17-2019, 03:56 PM
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Man, that's arrogant of Dryden, to assume that if the boss was on to him, she'd let him know about the guy coming to kill him.
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Old 07-17-2019, 04:32 PM
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He doesn't think that. It's just that he already knows Bond, and knows that Bond has never killed before. He therefore assumes that Bond isn't about to kill him.
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Old 07-17-2019, 06:39 PM
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Do you have to start with a learners permit to maim?
Mad magazine claimed he had a license to kill, "but only a learner's permit to make out", because "the English don't mind violence, but they're a little stuffy about sex".
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Old 07-17-2019, 07:58 PM
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But he also assumes that if Bond had killed, he'd have found out about that.
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Old 07-18-2019, 12:52 AM
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The UK release of License to Kill was Licence Revoked, so yeah, there's a provision to limit his reckless behavior.
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Old 07-18-2019, 01:11 AM
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Not quite, License Revoked was the working title during early development. By the time they started shooting, it had been renamed as License to Kill, and was released as such in all English-speaking markets.
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Old 07-18-2019, 04:29 AM
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I don't think it's archaic in British usage, or at least it wasn't 50 years ago.
The OED has it marked as obsolete, and I’m pretty sure it would have been at least obsolescent when Dr No was written. Certainly not usual, or capable of being used without likely being misunderstood.
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Old 07-18-2019, 06:51 AM
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I remember that I found it jarring when I read it over 30 years ago. Certainly not standard British usage then or now.
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