Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Baltar decision

Warning: Contains spoilers for the first three seasons of Battlestar Galactica. 

There was a moment in Gaius Baltar's life when all the ego-trips and selfishness hit the wall. After being elected president at the end of season 2 and giving the order to settle on a gastly heap of rocks dubbed "New Caprica", the people happily left their ships to breathe unfiltered air again and to feel some real ground beneath their feet. In the beginning it was all great, but the climate wasn't exactly a good one, and living in a tent becomes tedious after a time. Additionally, people got demanding, felt entitled and even founded a union. All that stuff made Baltar as unpopular in the span of just a year as George W. Bush after Katrina hit New Orleans. But then came the defining moment of his life, when his image of the weirdo scientist turned president went just out the window. Would "Battlestar Galactica" have been written by George R. R. Martin, everyone would refer to Baltar as "Gaius Turncloak", but bereft of such eloquence they had to settle to pronounce his name with real disdain. After that one year, the Cylons came back. 

Vote Baltar for benevoltent occupation.
After having failed to exterminate the whole of humanity, they faced their own internal debate (which is worth its own article here and likely to get one in the future) and decided by majority vote not do wipe out the helpless remnants of humanity on New Caprica, but rather to live with them. Cooperation sounds like a great idea, but the Cylons came with a clear distinction of the future food chain and made Baltar to surrender, French style.

Germans can be rather resentful.
After forcing Baltar to give over the colony, they erected an occupational regime and tried to rule the humans (because that's the concept for "peaceful coexistence"of Cylons and Germans alike). That went extraordinary well in the broad definition of that it didn't, and the humans soon founded a resistance movement (which is worth yet another article) and beginning to bomb the crap out of Cylons and the collaborators alike. I will not make another inappropriate comparison to certain events in World War II, but you get the picture. 

After a while, the human fleet (which had fled the scene) conducted a risky rescue operation that went largely succesful, while Baltar exiled himself on a Cylon basestar. Later, the humans captured him and, being the morally superior race, put him on trial. Like every movie trial, this one was decided by an inflammatory speech, too, but that's not the issue here. The thing is, Baltar was guilty of a whole lot of awful things, first and foremost letting the Cylons gain access to the Defense Mainframe. But he was prosecuted for surrenderin on New Caprica, and they seriously wanted to flush him out an airlock for that. 

Ripley kindly set the precedent for that.
Now, the decision to surrender New Caprica was of course yet another product of the many character flaws of Gaius Baltar, mainly that he simply isn't able of selfless acts like sacrificing himself for the greater good, which later leads to his infamous signature under the execution orders that will almost break his neck in trial. But let's seriously consider his choices for a second. When the Cylons marched into his office, accompanied by some Centurions certainly not programmed to be protocol droids, Baltar could either surrender unconditionally, as he did, or he could have given them the eloquent equivalent of "Frak you" and die a hero's death. Comprehensibly, he chose the former. 

Now, we know what happened later. But let's consider for a moment he hadn't surrendered. The Cylons would have given him a bullet for his troubles and then put the same choice to next leader the humans could come up with. Rinse and repeat. 
And wouldn't that be shame; he already has the wetlook or pure sexy awesomness.

Provided Baltar's successor's didn't budge either, humanity would face its end one way or another. The Cylons made that clear enough. No way they would let the humans go free again. They would either submit to Cylon rule or go extinct. Baltar quite simply had no other choice than to accept their occupation. 

To call decisions like that "not easy" is grossly understating things. It is clear that if you ever are in a position such as this, you will get the blame for it. People will henceforth call you names that let "Turncloak" look like praise in comparison. You will get the fall even for stuff that's way beyond your control, like the executions the Cylons began to conduct on a regular basis. The occupiers were smart enough to keep Baltar around as puppet, like a blame magnet. When shit started to hit the fan, he was positioned well to get stuck with all of it. 
Pictured: the heroic defiance of everyone else.

It's not like there aren't examples in history for such things. Most of the times, leaders that found themselves in such tight spots were very well aware of what their choices and their ramifications were. Baltar, we have to assume, was not, taking into account the amount of pot and whores he was having prior to the invasion. That doesn't change a bit, however, because the consequences of such a decision write themselves deep into the collective mind of a society. Before I get to the specific point for colonial society, let me give you a real-world example of how something like this can work out. You will have guesses, there's a black-and-white-picture of angry Germans involved. 

So, in fall 1918, Germany had lost World War I. The problem was, if you want to call it that, that as an amateur, this couldn't be seen as clearly as when you were a pro. No allied soldier had set a foot into Germany yet. Germans soldiers still occupied large stretches of France and Belgium, and Russia hat surrendered to them only half a year ago. It didn't matter, of course, because you can take it as a rule of thumb that once American soldiers arrive on the mainland, you're pretty fucked if you're Germany. So, the generals came to the conclusion that they sorely needed someone to blame. Being right-wing conservatives, that someone couldn't be the Kaiser, their supreme leader. Instead, they blamed the democrats in parliament. The parliament was fairly powerless in imperial Germany, but thy had had the sense to demand a peace as early as 1917. And having sense is a dire crime in German military circles, so there you have it. 
Pictured: many angry Germans in black-and-white
The German military, displaying sense for the first time, told the democratic politicians that they had to make peace now. Suddenly, they found themselves in the position to end the war they had not started and take the blame for it. They saw that clearly. But the alternative was to fight on and let the fatherland be destroyed (since we Germans need to try out every stupid decision, we did just that in 1945). So, they made peace and took the blame. But their taking blame allowed everyone else to point at the frontlines and yell "The war's not lost yet!", form up a military resistance and fight the new government they regarded as illegitimate. We know how well that ended for Germany.

Baltar is in a similar situation. He forfeits his honor in place of everyone else. His submitting to Cylon rule allows everyone else to get clean. Saul Tigh, for example, used this to mobilize a resistance movement that bombed civilians "for the greater good". They hid weapons under a temple, because the Cylons respected its sanctity. They committed horrible acts. Yet they were allowed not only to clean, but as undefeated heroes, because the blame was stuck to Baltar. In contrast to the historic example above did he earn the scorn, just not for the thing they scorned him for. That's irony of fate if there ever was one. 



  1. Very nice connection between historical events and Galactica, I enjoyed reading your article.

  2. i enjoyed all of battlestar though the new caprica occupation in some areas just didnt flow as good as it could have. The cyclons ruling ruthlessly wihtout knowing what to do next, seemed "foolish". i love in season 2 when Pegasus come into the fleet and the conflict that ensued.

  3. I loved that they didn't know what to do. Their whole plan was stupid from the start. They wiped out humanity...why exactly? When the question is put by the Sixes and Eights, no one can really answer it, so trying something new seems the way to go. Remember, the whole race is 40 years old - they're bound to make mistakes. Many of them. I thought that was rather consistent.