Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Playing for keeps

Warning: Contains spoilers for the second season of Battlestar Galactica. 

When the Battlestar Galactica encountered the Battlestar Pegasus in the vastness of space, the joy soon turns bitter for the crew of the Galactica, as they have to face that the Pegasus is something like a jagged, dark mirror image of their own. Pegasus is what would have become of Galactica if Adama would have had his way back in the pilot episode, where he wanted to go to war against the Cylons and was only persuaded by President Roslin that he needed to protect what was left of humanity. Pegasus went through this initial thought and forced everything under a very narrow interpretation of military needs, going so far as to putting people against the wall and shoot them to force valuable personell to leave their families to die in ships stripped for valuable parts. Admiral Cain, the commanding officer on Pegasus, sees herself as fighting a war, and in war, the needs of the few must submit to the needs of the many. Unfortunately, there are not that many left, but Cain acts under the illusion that there were and that humanity needs to, somehow, strike back and bring the fight to the Cylon. If you would ask her why, she would tell you something about war and how war works, but the truth would be that she doesn't know. The logic of war has swept away all other considerations. 

Just one Battlestar between salvation and oblivion.

After it nearly came down to a shooting war between Pegasus and Galactica, Adama and Cain meet with Roslin on Colonial One and form a shaky truce. After Cain left, Roslin tells Adama that "Cain is playing for keeps", and that he needs to do the same in order to survive. Sometime later Cain talks to Starbuck about the resistance of Caprica, revealing a plan to go back and liberate the Twelve Colonies, to which Starbuck gleefully reproaches it would be the best thing she heard in a while. The exchange is telling. Retaking the Colonies is a fool's quest if there ever was one. Not only are Pegasus and Galactica 241 jumps away from Caprica, as we learn in the opening of "Pegasus"; even if they'd survive the journey and somehow surprised the Cylons there, there is no way they could actually win the battle against the whole Cylon army. For me, there is only one explanation why Cain comes up with such a retarded idea, and why people like Starbuck embrace it to the point of declaring, the fleet was "safer with her than without her", as Starbuck does in her eulogy after Cain's death.
The answer may be found here.
It's, quite simply, what they do. Neither Cain nor Starbuck can think outside the military terms. The mindset of both Adamas is strange to them, alien really. This is because the thinking of both Adamas is very complicated. They consider ethical values, political practicabilities, moral questions and the long-time survival of humanity, as does Roslin. There can be no clear, easy answers on these grounds, however. The question of right and wrong is one you have to find time and time anew, and no military regulation is going to help you with it. The situation the fleet is in doesn't allow for much military protocol decision making, however.

A lection he sadly never understood.
Instead, the leaders of the fleet need to weigh their actions against very complicated considerations and to do one thing military despises naturally: compromise. The military cannot compromise. There is a chain of command, and it has to be adhered, even if it's stupid. The results of this could be seen on Kobol, where Crashdown nearly led his crew to death over the question. When Cain wants to play for keeps and start an assault on the Colonies, she also wants to force military logic - the logic she knows and breaths - back onto her own situation. She cannot be a member of a civilian fleet, under ultimately civilian command. She is made for war, and the fleet is not at war, but on the run. Wanting to change that is natural, but it would lead to their death. In a blaze of glory, maybe, but still, in the end, they would die. This is the reason for the proverb that "war is too important to be left to generals". The military tends to force everything else under their rules, and sometimes, this may be the right thing to do. In situations as this, it leads to certain doom, and a more complicated set of thinking is required. And for that, the military is ill-suited.


  1. "There is a chain of command, and it has to be abhored, even if it's stupid."
    I think you mean "adhered". "Abhor" means to hate ;)

    A good article. The limited mindset of military leaders seems to be a recurring theme in sci-fi. I remember several episodes of B5 and Crusade with similar conflicts.