Monday, October 09, 2006

Battlestar Galactica

I watched the opening episode of season three, Battlestar Galactica on the Sci-Fi channel on Friday. A few thoughts:

Seasons one and two were, in my opinion, the best dramatic series available on basic cable. They are therefore a hard act for the series to follow, even for itself. The opening episode of season three was solid, but not as outstanding as I had hoped.

The writers pushed the alleged parallels between the occupations of Iraq and New Caprica pretty hard − too hard. Since the Colonists are given the role of the peace-loving Iraqis who were minding their own business when the Cylons/Americans showed up to occupy them and maintain a puppet government, the contemporary parallels heavily detracted from the show’s merits. For one thing, overt politics can be the death of any artistic effort, even a television series. For another, a lot was left out. Where, in Battlestar Galactica, do we find something analogous to the following:

  • Saddam Hussein;
  • Saddam’s chemical warfare against the Kurds and Shiites;
  • Saddam’s torture chambers, “rape rooms,” and children’s jails;
  • Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait;
  • The terms of the 1991 ceasefire and subsequent U.N. resolutions demanding Iraq cease production of WMD.;
  • First-ever free elections in Iraq;
  • Iranian and Syrian efforts to destabilize Iraq.;
  • Islam

  • Did I miss anything? So, in fact, reality of Iraq is much more complicated than television’s New Caprica.

    But I will allow this: the show does make some parallels that are entirely valid. The Cylons show up on New Caprica with a vision of how to establish peace between themselves and the Colonists, much as we had a vision of how “Iraqi democracy would transform the Middle East.” The Cylon vision is a little vague, but seems to involve putting humans and Cylons together and forcing them to live in peace − or else. Like us, the Cylons are confronted with an insurgency representing a tiny fraction of the population. Like us, they are forced to balance a desire to win the hearts and minds of the occupied with the means necessary to combat the insurgency.

    So what do they/we do?

    There are perfectly good reasons to conduct a counterinsurgency: preserving an empire; protecting settlements; protecting client governments; etc. But to the extent the goal of the counterinsurgency is to make people love you or to transform people to be like you, then the counterinsurgency is on a fool’s errand.

    Update: Galactica Blog articulates the moral inversion of the Colonists' undertaking suicide bombing:
    The suicide bombings going on in the Middle East actually makes a perverse sense in the logic of fundamentalist Islamics, because they take advantage of the moral abiguity of the west. Insurgents can be put down with hardline tactics. Saddam Hussein kept his country orderly because he had secret police and executions of dissidents. I don't know why the human resistence think that Cylons would be sensitive to these issues. The Cylons just killed twenty billion humans. Based on the past behavior of the Cylons, the obvious conclusion is that pissing off the Cylons seems more likely to result in the destruction of everyone on the planet rather than any sort of victory. Maybe the Cylons have some strange mysterious "plan" which makes them extremely reluctant to destroy the planet, but Tigh and the resistance can't possibly know about that.
    I would add here that as Friday's episode develops, Tigh does develop a reason for continuing the campaign: it distracts the Cylons from the Adama's imminent rescue mission. But this was not his original justification. Indeed, he didn't have a justification other than, in his word, "payback." Now, reprisals have their place, but they are extremely risky when the only thing stopping your enemy from annihilating you is his own self-restraint.

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