Carved watermelon as Death Star, Windell Oskay (CC BY 2.0)

Carved watermelon as Death Star, Windell Oskay (CC BY 2.0)

There’s a moment in the third season of  “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” where it feels like the writers have run out of war stories. A side conflict about a scarcity investigation is revealed to all be a ruse, a cunning ploy by a minor political figure to undermine a slightly less minor political figure. The Galactic Republic is a vast place, and the Clone Wars span the entirety of it. Following the sideshow to the sideshow, our protagonists are whisked away onto an even more remote setting: a Jedi temple that exists in space but out of time, where an ancient monk keeps balance between his lightside daughter and his darksided son.

In this temple, in the middle of space, is where Anakin Skywalker fails to end the Clone War. The old monk needs a replacement, and the Chosen One will do just fine. Anakin refuses, out of fear for his secret wife, responsibility to his young padawan, and loyalty to his former master. Anakin is a skilled force user, pilot, and general, but he is a terrible Jedi. Faced with an opportunity to sacrifice himself and end the war, Anakin instead opts to leave. It goes poorly for the monk and for the daughter, and the sith-powered son is freed from balance, if not his temporal prison. Skywalker, Obi-Wan, and padawan Ashoka all escape, to return to their endless war.


I am halfway through livetweeting a #CloneWarsRewatch. I never saw “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” when it aired from 2008 to 2014, so my use of “rewatch” here is a bit of a misnomer, but I figured it was a good way to capture that I’m watching the show as a whole after it aired. All six seasons are on Netflix. I just finished season 3, so expect a second post when I finish the show.

I started watching because I wanted to understand how the war worked. I wanted battles, campaigns, daring stratagems and bungled schemes. I got those, and more, but the underlying logic of the universe is almost crippled by George Lucas’ overwhelmingly simple view of good and evil.

Palpatine, like he does in the movies, plays both sides of a great galactic war, urging the Republic to raise a clone army and marshaling separatist forces in secret. It’s a pat summary of evil, but it’s an entirely unnecessary one. We could get a rise to power story for Palpatine without him as the sole origin of everything bad, and it’d probably be more compelling.

This matters for BlogTarkin because I wanted to understand how the war of Star Wars worked. What follows is a brief summation, but it comes from the premise that nothing matters because Palpatine is a heavy-handed cliche.


How The Clone Wars Were Fought

The (likely) strategic objective of the Separatists is to fight the Republic to a stalemate. We get one episode with a Separatist governing body, but Count Dooku and his droid army are the real story, and their objective is terrifying galactic war, so no matter what Separatist-aligned planets hope for, they’re getting war.

The Republic’s objective is peace through victory, though a strong current is debate over peace proposals. These are shot down, literally and figuratively, by the same forces that want Palpatine in power and the war to continue. Throughout the series, we get to meet individuals, sometimes representing small planets or communities, who have strong feelings about the Republic or the Separatists, but all the personal reasons get lost in a giant grinder for Palpatine’s Imperial power.

Here are some strategic objectives fought over in the first half of the clone wars:

  • Listening posts guarding a nursery world
  • A fuel depot
  • A nursery world
  • A magical hole in time that balances the force

And that’s it, really. There are lots of other important places, but nothing with war-ending impact.

In a universe so reliant on machines, its weird that EMPs are a rare experimental weapon and hacking is barely a thing. Also weird: a lot of combat, even space combat, takes place within line of sight. Jon Jeckell has more to say on that, but here are some other observations about the wars as fought:

  • Hyperspace travel means battles always happen near planets, or significant destinations in space itself. So far, no attacks against ships in hyperspace.
  • Many ships can go to hyperspace, but smaller fighters often need a boost to get there
  • Getting to hyperspace takes a few minutes, and must be done outside a planet’s atmosphere, so blockading gunships have a window of opportunity to shoot fleeing vessels
  • That said, the first ship we ever see in Star Wars is a blockade runner
  • Blockades are really common, and must in some form be effective

But space combat isn’t all combat. There’s a lot of battles on the ground, too.

  • Armor that isn’t made of light is mostly meaningless
  • Grenades are very powerful
  • Armored vehicles are useful, and often come as troop transports too
  • Militias with sticks and spears can still defeat blaster-armed attackers
  • Almost all battles have clones versus droids
  • Of those that don’t, clones or droids support one side, so they’re always present. We don’t call it “The Droid War,” though, so I guess winners write the history books

Season 3 ends with the introduction of Captain Tarkin,  a decidedly force-ambivalent character with other ideas about ending the war. I hope we see more of him over the next three seasons.

My storified tweets about #CloneWarsRewatch can be found at the links below:

Part 1.
Part 2.
Part 3.
Part 4.
Part 5.
Part 6.
Part 7.

Ben Denison is a Ph.D. Student at the University of Notre Dame and can be found on twitter @DenisonBe


Terok Nor aka Deep Space 9

Following a prolonged political-military conflict between two great powers, the former territory occupied by the evil empire is aided in its political development by the liberal great power who stood against the evil empire for 50 years. Political and economic aid flows from the liberal power to attempt to help develop the former occupied territory. The goal is to propel their political development forward while drawing the former occupied territory into their alliance to expand the liberal network of defense and political cooperation.

This is where we open the 1993 series Star Trek Deep Space Nine (DS9). The pilot episode shows The Federation taking control of the Terok Nor station from Cardassia following the end of the Cardassian war and the Cardassian occupation of Bejor. However, in 1993, it also describes the situation in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, with NATO and the European Union moving to aid the former Soviet satellite states. Once this connection is made, the first few seasons of DS9 can be seen in a different light as a reflection on the problems the Western world will have in bringing Eastern Europe into the fold and the seemingly simple mission become more complex as political realities become clear.

Beginning in 1993, the initial two seasons of DS9 delve deeply into the difficulties of dealing with a newly liberated territory and their people. This is fascinating turn from prior Star Trek series where the episodic nature did not allow for deep exploration of the political and military conflicts and their ramifications on the shows universe. Now, however, the writers of the show can explore political themes over multiple episodes and seasons into a more sophisticated understanding of the complexities faced in post-conflict scenarios. It is clear that the writers of the show have the previous experience of the Cold War on their minds and use the Bajorans as a useful way to explore the difficulties and struggles that East Europe will face following the end of the conflict. While the end of a conflict is a thing to celebrate, political struggle does not end there and the questions about what to do following a conflict in some ways are even more difficult to answer.

As Bajor emerges from the Cardassian occupation with a fragmented political system that is in transition, The Federation offers aid to the Bajorans in their transition, offering to provide security and assistance to allow the Bajorans to become an independent political system with a growing economic market to tap into. The wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant is stable and the economic growth potential through trade is high, once the political system is adapted to allow Bajor to benefit from the increased trade. Cardassia remains as an ever-present threat, albeit a greatly reduced threat to Bajor. However, most importantly, The Federation sees Bajor as a potential member of The Federation and extends membership to the Bajorans. However, instead of embracing it enthusiastically, some Bajorans are skeptical of The Federation offer and instead would prefer complete autonomy from any of the major powers in the quadrant.

After a 50 year occupation, Bajor does not have a political class that knows how to run independent political institutions and how to handle their new found autonomy. Thus, The Federation with their developed political institutions and economy offers to aid their development and enmesh them in The Federation as an independent planet but operating under The Federations umbrella. This is problematic for many Bajorans as they see The Federation as just a replacement for the Cardassians after they have just won their independence and sovereignty from their tutelage. For example, Major Kira, the main Bajoran on DS9, initially wishes The Federation to leave Bajor alone and allow them to build their own functioning governance structure. However, over time as she interacts with various Vedaks and the political struggle for the next Kai heats up, the it becomes clear that nationalist and anti-Federation political forces are more means to gain political power than actual beneficial policies for Bajor. Instead, the technical assistance that The Federation can provide to help Bajor integrate their economy into the larger economy of the universe and tap into the natural benefits of the wormhole, while also providing political stability is a clear political good for Bajor. In addition, the security provided by Federation presence on DS9 helps keep Cardassia at bay, even when their military class views their retreat from Bajor a strategic mistake. Thus, Bajor is deeply conflicted, benefiting from The Federation presence but also reluctant to cede so much sovereignty after fighting so hard to just win it.

Major Kira is initial quite skeptical of this 'Federation'

Major Kira is initial quite skeptical of this ‘Federation’

EU expansion into Eastern Europe largely faced similar struggles, with anti-EU parties emerging in Eastern Europe to protest EU membership on nationalist grounds. While the US and the EU provided political and economic benefits for moving towards democratic governance and a capitalist economy, EU membership with its benefits, appeared to just replace the Soviet influence of the previous 50 years with Western influence. However, the pro-EU forces eventually won out, but it took until the late 1990s to see these pro-integration forces really triumph. NATO expansion, however, was also contention but largely followed without much resistance in Eastern Europe as former Soviet satellite states feared Soviet reprisals and joined the mutual defense pact they stood against for 50 years. Just as in early seasons Cardassia is unwilling to push back against Bajor due to The Federation’s presence, NATO’s ability to deter Russia from military action against their former satellite states is important.

The Federation acts as a EU/NATO hybrid uniting formerly warring and distant planets together into one confederation with a common foreign policy. However, their offer of membership to Bajor is a reminder that there are clear costs to joining such a federation, namely a reduction sovereignty, something that is tough to give away after fighting for it for so many years. While two seasons in, it does not appear prospective Federation expansion to Bajor will make the Cardassians recoil as Russia recently has with the proposal for Ukrainian NATO/EU membership, if The Federation were to expand to include the colonies in the DMZ between Cardassia and The Federation this could happen. But these similarities ultimately show the political context that the show runners of DS9 were operating under and their view of the difficulty of transitional political structures. Looking back now, integration of Eastern Europe into Western political and military institutions appears per-ordained. However, the context in 1993 and 1994 were much more contingent, as current debates on Ukraine remind us, and makes DS9 a fascinating case in examining the politics of the post-Cold War era.


Both Star Wars and Star Trek featured people with the ability to hack the human psyche. Star Trek featured many kinds of psychological manipulation, most famously with the Vulcan mind meld. Both the Jedi and Sith in Star Wars are able to manipulate and control others from a considerable distance, though we see little evidence of any other method of mind control.

Meanwhile, living beings in both the Star Wars and Star Trek universes also rely heavily upon advanced computer systems and autonomous robots in their endeavors, and their tasks would seem impossible without them. So it would seem ships and defense systems would be highly vulnerable to electronic warfare (EW) and cyber-attacks and that human vulnerabilities would be very minor given the diversity of alien cultures and biological makeups both environments exhibit.

Force users (the Jedi and the Sith) have a telepathic power that is nearly universally effective against all species and works across great distances. While Jedi and Sith contend with a far more diverse biological and psychological panorama of species than Starfleet, these species have been in contact with each other for thousands of years and have mutually intelligible languages without the aid of computer translation. The Force is allegedly a universal phenomenon that affects and permeates everything.


Figure 1: R2D2, tappin’ that.

All combatants extensively used electronic warfare and various forms of cyber attacks. The Empire used malicious software to cripple the hyperdrive on the Millennium Falcon in The Empire Strikes Back, R2D2 routinely gained unauthorized access to many computer systems throughout his career to obtain valuable information, and gain control of critical systems for the Old Republic and the Rebellion. Unknown agents surreptitiously deleted information from the Jedi Archives about the existence of the location of a secret cloning facility. Both the Rebels and the Empire also extensively used electronic warfare to jam or spoof sensors and communications, most famously during the blockade at Naboo and at the climactic Battle of Endor.


Yet most of the time the damage was limited because of the manpower intensive, seat-of-the-pants manual control exerted by crews. Computers seem to be relegated to a background role in Star Wars, with manual control by humans as the norm. Certainly they still serve some important functions, like controlling hyperdrives, storing information, restricting access, and automating maintenance functions, but most functions seem to be run manually by a human. Although computers and droids play an important role, crews predominantly fight by looking out the window.

Meanwhile, on the bridge of the Super Star Destroyer Executor...

Figure 2: Never mind the trillions of dollars of RADAR, sophisticated sensors and computers, or the hundreds of crewmembers on the bridge running it all. I’M LOOKING OUT THE WINDOW AND I SEE A….oh, never mind.

So you’d expect humans would be the weak point in the system, easily swayed by known Jedi and Sith telepathic capabilities. Although Jedi and Sith were never common even in the heyday of the Old Republic, their power was inconceivably strong and known to be effective against large groups. Even so, this technique did not seem to be a prominent method for combat. This may seem odd because most battles involve large numbers of ships at relatively close range. Certainly we’ve seen Force users manipulate others on a few occasions, including at least two obvious examples with Obi Wan Kenobi and one with Luke Skywalker. This power, used subtly, constantly, and pervasively was instrumental to Palpatine’s manipulation during his rise to power. In fact, this is the leading theory explaining why the Imperial Fleet scattered upon his death. Except for two of the aforementioned occasions involving Jedi, this technique was always subtle and used for strategic effect with small nudges, not outright control. Neither the Jedi nor the Sith were ever observed to use it in combat, nor any of their other powers beyond melee range. Perhaps this indicates that Palpatine heeded the dictum “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

Starfleet crews totally depend on computer systems to understand and interact with the situation around them. Crews in Star Trek would seem particularly vulnerable to cyber and EW since their whole view out of the ship is fed through the main viewer and computer screens. They cannot even move the ship at all, even simply going straight forward at low speed during an emergency without the main computer operational. As for social or psychological vulnerabilities, Starfleet crews are constantly bumping into new species humans had never encountered before. Paradoxically their vulnerabilities are precisely the opposite of what we’d expect.


Figure 3: The Chief Engineer playing Jenga with control chips, completely immobilizing the ship as a nearby star is about to explode. Not surprisingly, you never see this guy again. Seriously, do you even remember his name?

Computers are integral to Starfleet’s ability to even see outside the ship, much less control it, target weapons, or analyze their environment. It would seem that the perfect way to attack a Starfleet vessel would be to hack the computer into opening all of their airlocks or to shut down the antimatter storage confinement. But for all the total dependence on it and the sophisticated sensors feeding it, and the commensurately high potential electronic warfare and cyber hijinks, the crew seems to be the biggest vulnerability—by far. There were certainly some examples where hostile powers jammed Starfleet transmissions and a few examples of spoofed transmissions and transponder codes (how the Enterprise was able to penetrate Klingon space to rescue Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy from the Rura Penthe penal colony). There were also occasions where another species penetrated their computer systems and shut the ship down or ransacked their records.

But this pales in comparison to the sheer frequency at which the crew itself was the attack vector in all of the series and movies. Nine episodes of the first 14 involved the entire crew or key leadership becoming incapacitated or controlled by outside powers. The times an unauthorized power took over the computer is insignificant compared to the scope of human vulnerabilities. The sheer depth, number of incidents, and myriad ways the crew or leadership of Starfleet vessels were controlled, manipulated, tricked, addicted, drugged, gas-lighted, and turned into sock puppets through strong forms of outright mind control should cause Starfleet to rethink how these systems are managed. Although many of these situations entailed the commanding officer making dubious decisions under the influence of an outside power over the objections of the crew, there were also many instances where the entire crew was affected. The best and brightest of Starfleet naïvely picked up strange androids, devices, and objects, or were careless about letting strangers obtain physical access to computer systems. Unauthorized outsiders (and often insiders) seized control of the ship or key decision makers regularly and didn’t even have to go through the trouble of taking control of the hardware themselves. This does not even include the galling number of times Starfleet personnel misappropriated or commandeered ships or other Starfleet property for their own purposes or engaged various levels of treasonous, mutinous, or well-meaning actions.

But nearly all of these relatively small numbers of incidents boiled down to going through a vulnerability of the crew. For example, Data spoofed Captain Picard’s voice authorization code to feign granting complete computer access to the Borg Queen when they failed to gain access themselves. The Borg could not gain access even with knowledge of the systems from humans they assimilated. This incident is even more troubling since Data’s ability to do that was itself a known vulnerability in the computer’s access controls. The Binars provide another rare example where outsiders gained full control of the computer and hence the ship. But these were Starfleet’s own contractors, and were authorized physical and root access to administer upgrades. The Binars performing the upgrade used their access to cause computer systems to falsely report that the engines were going to explode. They gained complete and uncontested control of the ship when the crew evacuated. But even this was ultimately attributable to social engineering because they were completely authorized for access and were granted clearance. Even Cadet Kirk’s famous hack to beat the Kobayashi Moru scenario was possible because he was familiar with the system had some level of access to the system as a student. He probably acquired the access controls by ahem socially engineering a member of the faculty.

Even Starfleet offensive operations targeting the enemy psyche are more effective than trying to penetrate their computer systems—even with species as dependent on them as the Borg. The Enterprise crew planned to use a cognitive virus comprised of an unsolvable geometric formula to attack the Borg. This approach was inexplicably abandoned and the captured Borg they planned to use as a carrier returned to the collective. But “Hugh” developed an individual personality, which spread like a plague through the psychological side of the collective and threw them into disarray anyway.


Figure 4: Data was going to send over this bizarre Escher-like puzzle to the Borg to keep them busy, but instead, LaForge sent over a copy of Rage Against the Machine and copies of Kierkegaard, which gave them a fatal case of existential angst and mother issues. Data still doesn’t get it.

So it appears that human factors remain the greatest vulnerability to computer security centuries from now, just as they are today. These examples did not even touch upon deliberate misuse or commandeering of Starfleet ships or equipment by Starfleet personnel for their own purposes. It seems that Starfleet still suffers with the same information security issues we face today with human vulnerabilities and insider attacks. More distributed command responsibility or checks on the commanding officer’s authority will not necessarily help, and will cause potentially deadly delays in time-sensitive decisions. Clearly Starfleet needs to rethink command and control of their vessels and organizations, and how their personnel and automated systems can work coherently to bring out the best in both while protecting the other’s vulnerabilities.

Fear of Autonomous Systems:

Perhaps the marginal role and oddly circumscribed capabilities of computers and droids in Star Wars indicates past, even multiple past tragedies with artificially intelligent systems.

There’s evidence of this with killer robot and bounty hunter IG-88, allegedly a leftover from a smoldering droid/AI uprising. Although droids are capable of complex reasoning, tasks, and even emotion, their capabilities seem strangely circumscribed in many ways. R2D2 and C3PO are capable of fully autonomous action, complex reasoning and performing wide ranges of tasks, including many they were never designed to perform. Yet the first generation of Battle Droids fielded by the Separatists were kept under tight central control. They completely shut down in the middle of battle after Anakin Skywalker destroyed the central control ship. Later generations of Separatist war droids operated independently, but demonstrated severely constrained levels of intelligence compared with even the child-like intelligence of R2D2 and C3PO.

I mean, people may own slaves on this planet, but I'll be damned if I will let a kid drink.

Figure 5: “We don’t serve your kind here!” “Oh, you mean the droids?” “No, this is a bar, you idiot. We don’t serve MINORS! This may be a hive of scum and villainy, but even we have our standards.”

There is also a palpable disdain and distrust for droids, particularly in the aftermath of the Clone Wars. Written records cryptically mention that it is standard practice to wipe droid memory regularly. We know this only because Luke Skywalker insisted on making R2D2 an exception from this practice. This may also explain the ancillary role computers are given in operating ships and reveal why ships and fighters have such abysmally poor weapons targeting despite the power of computers and sensors.

Meanwhile, Starfleet has had several brushes with dangerous artificially intelligent systems, but has so far averted a catastrophe and embraces the use of complex and powerful computers and software. But there is a shadow of fear this may occur that casts a pall over the way some treat an android named Data. Data constantly had to defend his loyalty and very existence as a person throughout his career because of his potential and superhuman abilities. Moreover, as a computer that can have its hardware and software modified, he could be easily coopted (in theory). Yet although he too succumbed to manipulation and control, he actually fell under control much less than his human colleagues. Moreover, on several occasions he was the only thing standing between his crew and complete disaster because his mind works fundamentally differently and was not vulnerable to the same attack. Data’s twin, Lore, was certainly hostile, but mostly served to highlight the hazards of programming artificial intelligence with too many of the worst qualities of human intelligence and emotion.

There are a few other potentially dangerous artificially intelligent agents in Starfleet records. This includes one of Earth’s lost Voyager probes, which returned as V’Ger, but it became benign once it began to understand humanity and its mission better. Generally, every encounter Starfleet had with an existing or emerging artificially intelligent being ended satisfactorily, with the agent taking on a benign outlook, or were rendered safe. Generally Starfleet experience seems to indicate that intelligence is an intrinsically good thing, and only computers or androids with limited degrees of intelligence or understanding were dangerous.

For example, autonomous weapons systems with very limited intelligence in “demo mode” wiped out the population of an arsenal planet that produced them, as well as anyone else who stumbled upon the planet. These, and similar systems that doggedly and unreflectively followed their instructions with limited understanding of intent clearly showed something can be dangerous without coming close to human level intelligence, much less surpassing it.

Epilogue: A Staring Contest With An Unblinking Eye


Even when defeating hostile computers and malevolent AI, Kirk still used a social engineering approach.

Kirk defeated malevolent AI by using illogical prompts to cause it to break down.

The opposite is demonstrably more likely to be true.


We are approaching the 21st anniversary of one of the most disruptive holiday attacks in our history — the incident the media has dubbed “The Nightmare Before Christmas”. While many see it as the opening salvo in the War on Christmas (some even calling it a Christmas Pearl Harbor), it is important to understand the full context from which it emerged. Re-analysis of primary sources from before the attack show that the Nightmare Before Christmas (NBC) was driven as much by the domestic political and economic conditions of Halloween Town as anything else. With unprecedented threat of a “rebooted” attack, it’s important to look back and understand how the previous one came about.

Halloween Town was not a constitutional monarchy in the European mode. While it did have an elected mayor, the king, Jack Skellington, retained an immense degree of direct authority. The mayor was involved in civic planning but endowed with very little power, and was largely responsible for coordinating the citizens for town meetings and other events. He was in a precarious position, elected by the people but utterly subordinate to the king. In fact, our primary sources indicate that at one point he was heard to exclaim: “I’m only an elected official here! I can’t make decisions by myself!”

The mayor of Halloween Town addressing his lack of authority

The mayor of Halloween Town addressing his lack of authority

King Jack’s town meeting has also led to misconceptions about the Halloween Town regime. A leader assembling his citizens to harangue them about social reform certainly bears the hallmarks of totalitarian regimes in the model of Fidel Castro’s Cuba, or the Stalin-era Soviet Union. However, these governments were also highly bureaucratic, in a way that Halloween Town’s was not. The king exercises his authority over the citizens directly, giving them orders one at a time. Thus, Halloween Town must be understood to  have operated as a feudal state or even a pre-state chiefdom, albeit with some contemporary trappings.

 Nor was the king wholly unopposed. There can be no doubt that the majority of Halloween Town citizens took part in preparations for the NBC attack. However, Sally, in King Jack’s inner circle, expressed open dissent. While she was sidelined and her advice ignored, she suffered no other repercussions. More significant was Oogie Boogie Man, the king’s main domestic rival. Jack was clearly aware of the threat posed by Oogie Boogie, as he specifically attempted to keep him away from the Christmas preparations. Nevertheless, he was not known to have made any other moves to suppress Oogie Boogie or remove him as a threat.

Oogie Boogie, in fact, already had his own power base in Halloween Town: the three covert operatives Lock, Shock and Barrel (LSB). Initially, they too were excluded from Christmas preparations, before Jack asked them for help. Their mission, which Jack classified top secret, was to kidnap and hold “Mr. Sandy Claws”. Since Jack was fully aware of their association with Oogie Boogie, we must conclude that there was nobody else in Halloween Town with the requisite “craft, cunning, mischief” to conduct the operation. Like many leaders, King Jack was both wary of and dependent on his secret service.

Jack Skellington's OPSEC

Jack Skellington’s OPSEC

Examining the LSB also helped clarify how King Jack maintained power. While most of the citizens at least appeared loyal and happy to serve, LSB declared that if they kill ‘Sandy Claws’ instead of taking him alive, they “may lose some pieces / And then Jack will beat [them] black and green”. Not surprisingly, Jack’s power relied at least in part on the threat of force.

Which finally brings us to the key question: what was the motivation for Jack Skellington and his Halloween Town’s unprecedented attempt to disrupt Christmas? Contrary to claims at the time, it was clearly not motivated by a hatred of Christmas or of those who celebrate it. Instead, consider that Jack starts to plan the Christmas operation soon after returning from a fact-finding trip abroad to Christmas Town. Unlike Halloween Town, Christmas Town had high-quality housing, a healthy populace, and a regimented political-industrial system generating wealth for the paramount leader and the population at large. Jack’s goal was not to disrupt Christmas out in the world, nor take over Christmas Town — instead, the NBC incident was a side effect of Jack’s attempt to reform Halloween Town itself to resemble Christmas Town. Like many leaders of developing countries before him, King Jack tries to force-march his population from a low-skill economy based on scaring to the organized, wealthier industrial economy he observed in Christmas Town — with ultimately tragic consequences.


Night time lights can be used as an indicator of economic development.

Night time lights can be used as an indicator of economic development.

There are operational lessons that can be learned from the NBC incident as well. Certainly, there were warning signs. Halloween Town’s unprecedented industrial espionage against Christmas Town was one. More significantly, before kidnapping Santa Claus, the Halloween Town LBS mistakenly kidnapped the Easter Bunny before quietly releasing him. If those dots had been connected properly at the time, the entire incident could have been prevented. While during the incident itself there was admirable inter-agency cooperation between the police and the air defense forces, there was no adequate counterattack, and Santa Claus only escaped due to infighting in Halloween Town itself.

However, as our occupation finally comes to an end and the last combat troops withdraw from Halloween Town, we cannot only prevent future attacks via counterterrorism tactics alone. We must be proactive in helping economies like Halloween Town’s develop and grow peacefully and in a controlled way, without dangerous attempts to force instant and destabilizing changes.

Quote  —  Posted: December 13, 2014 by David Masad in Uncategorized

"That's all that's left - butter and grime - as the Shattuck Safeway in North Berkeley closes for remodeling." photo by Joe Parks, via Wikimedia Commons.

“That’s all that’s left – butter and grime – as the Shattuck Safeway in North Berkeley closes for remodeling.”
photo by Joe Parks, via Wikimedia Commons.

Seth Ariel Green is in his second year of a Political Science Ph.D at Columbia.

I’m loathe to admit it, but The Walking Dead is often not a very good show. The dialogue is at times wooden, the characters irrational or inconsistent in ways that only make sense in terms of advancing the plot, the philosophical discussions pretty empty. And yet some 10-17 million of us continue to watch. Recently the show has made it easy with Carol’s freaking sweet evolution into an action move star, but cold-blooded: Anton Chigurh style. And the setting moves now, unmoored; we are watching a group of highly competent people navigate an apocalypse. Seeing Carol get rolled into the evil-hospital a few weeks ago, a million possibilities open up, but the one I was banking on is her murdering everyone within to rescue Beth. What can I say? The part of my mind that responds to fiction is savage.1 The show appeals because it is as well.

But there’s something else there, that I think appeals more subliminally. The show works as a very dark fairy-tale – not that the original fairy tales were anything but – with a feel-good, political message at its core. A Straussian reading of The Walking Dead suggests that it is about a group of well-meaning people in a brutal world attempting to establish a safe, just society that stands as a bulwark against the ever-present threats of anarchy and tyranny. It is, in other words, a retelling of the story of America.

The show starts out just like 28 Days Later2: main character, likable straight white age-indeterminate masculine man (Rick Grimes) wakes up from a coma and discovers that society has collapsed amidst a mysterious, zombifying epidemic. Rick meets up with his wife and son and some survivors and some soap-opera nonsense ensues. The season culminates with the group seeking shelter in the CDC, and discovering there that the last remaining employee plans to kill himself and blow up the building. He does so, and the characters move back into the fog of anarchy.

Here, the key concerns are Hobbesian. This is what life is like without the government; as Christian Thorne writes, “If you reflect on the earliest stages of human history, you’ll see that it must have been hard to stay alive. Anybody could have done to you anything they wanted. The only thing standing between you and every passing rapist was your own fist.” The zombies, and Merle Haggard, are this: the passing rapists, the unthinking men and women who will eat you alive. Again, Thorne: “Zombie movies are always going to be about crowds. People-in-groups are the genre’s single motivating concern.”

As the series progresses, the problems change. After some pointless in-group fighting in season 2, the group settles down in a prison in season 3, and by season 4, is growing vegetables, largely safe from zombies. But a new threat emerges: The Governor, a violent man with an army3. His motives, as befitting a not-very-good show, are unclear and often poorly spelled out, but in the end, what he really wants is the safe haven the main group has established, and to kick the group out because he hates them. “I’ve got a tank,” he says, brandishing one. “What else is there to talk about?” He is a tyrant, looking to exercise right by might. Michonne kills him, in a moment resplendent with melodrama. The group moves on, looking for the next sanctuary.

Running through all of this is a group-internal discussion about how they should organize themselves. After some carelessness leads to deaths, Rick declares: “This isn’t a democracy anymore,” and the group marches to his drum. A season later, he recants in a (what do you know!) moving paen to democracy: “What we do, what we’re willing to do, who we are, it’s not my call. It can’t be. I couldn’t sacrifice one of us for the greater good because we are the greater good. We’re the reason we’re still here, not me. This is life and death. How you live how you die– it isn’t up to me. I’m not your Governor. We choose to go. We choose to stay. We stick together. We vote.”

Do you see where I’m going with this? The group is America, 1789 to present, trying to establish a safe, democratic space – multicultural to boot, with a slew of ex-Wire characters accumulating over time4 – against the threat of tyranny on one hand (The Governor/George III/Hitler) and anarchy on the other (zombies/the wilderness/the elemental fears of intergroup contact that lead America to split increasingly into “Belmont and Fishtown”). We root for Rick’s group because we want to root for ourselves, for the project of America. The myths the show weaves are fundamentally our myths.

A strong anti-libertarian bent runs through the story. Libertarians see even well-functioning states as often behaving like “organized gangs of criminals;” TWD starts from the premise that the state is what keeps us safe from each other. When groups of characters encounter one another, they almost always seek to dominate each other or to keep their distance; it seems to never occur to them to trade. To my memory, the only time when characters from different groups even propose anything resembling a contract is when Rick’s group negotiates a strategy for removing Walkers from the prison with the men holed up there, which the leader of the other group promptly betrays the first chance he gets. It’s a repeated Prisoner’s Dilemma in which everyone except Rick’s group always defects. What’s the deal? As best as I can tell, the show’s perspective is that man is by nature evil, and only a society formed by the just few can hold that at bay.

It didn’t have to be this way.  Consider two alternative pieces of apocalyptic fiction. 28 Days Later sets you up to follow protagonists in a zombie apocalypse who seek shelter with the military (“Of course there’s a government! There’s always a government! They’re in a… a bunker, or a plane!”), only to find that their saviors are marauding rapists. Thorne writes: “the underlying scenario is straight out of Heart of Darkness: The last outpost of civilization turns out to be a whirring freak show.” The characters break free, and then recover somewhere in the country, safe both from the zombies (re: the mass public) and from the government that betrayed them.

More to the point, I think, is the YA novel The Girl Who Owned a City5. A virus kills everyone over 14, and a group of children reconstruct civilization by occupying and defending a school, and securing a food supply. They have to fend off other gangs of children, but end the book well on their way towards building a new society based on voluntary cooperation, justice and interpersonal respect. It is the anti-Lord of the Flies.

Such an outcome is next to unimaginable for TWD, and not just because the source comics are unrelentingly bleak. It just doesn’t fit with the show’s vision of human nature. These people aren’t going to find peace with each other unless they’re forced to. The only possible endpoint is that Rick and his group will become so overwhelmingly strong, like America, that no one can take what is theirs.

This is the emptiness of the show’s vision, as appealing as it is superficially. It’s not just that we find the story of a powerful, democratic group of do-gooders establishing peace against the forces of darkness alluring. It’s that they can only get there through force, never through cooperation. And that makes me sad. I’d like to believe better of people.

1.As I reread Harry Potter in adulthood, all I could think of was how inefficient, how non-lethal, their magic was. If you can enchant a car to fly you can probably enchant a gun to never miss! Fire it at Voldermort!

2. It’s the best zombie movie of all time, and by a long-shot; the proponents of Romero’s movies are caught in nostalgia.

3. He is a familiar archetype in apocalyptic fiction.

4. How’s that for an idealized retelling!

5. People on the internet claim that O.T. Nelson wrote the book to spread Ayn Rand’s ideas to children. I don’t remember any Jon Galt type speeches in it but they could be there.

Screenshot, Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens Official Teaser Trailer #1

Screenshot, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens Official Teaser Trailer #1

War. War never changes.
The Old Republic waged war to preserve order and commerce. The Separatists built a counter-empire from their lust for wealth and territory. Palpatine shaped a battered Republic into a Galactic superpower.

But war never changes.

Screenshot, Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens Official Teaser Trailer #1

Screenshot, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens Official Teaser Trailer #1

In the last century, war was still waged over the resources that could be acquired. Only this time, the spoils of war were also its weapons: force users and conscript-able populations that could control them. For these resources, the Empire would destroy Alderaan, the Rebel Alliance would annex Hoth, and the far fringes of the Old Republic would dissolve into quarreling, bickering feudal states, bent on controlling the last remaining resources in the galaxy.

Screenshot, Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens Official Teaser Trailer #1

Screenshot, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens Official Teaser Trailer #1

After the Battle of Yavin, the storm of world war had come again. In four brief years, most of the galaxy was left unmoored, adrfit from a broken Empire, not yet part of the New Republic. And from the ashes of total galactic devastation, civilization would struggle to return as it once was.

Screenshot, Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens Official Teaser Trailer #1

Screenshot, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens Official Teaser Trailer #1

In this chaos, a few were able to cling to power. The Sith been declared dead and ranks of the Jedi reduced to one. That, alone, was change, and it would not last. Power abhors a vacuum, and from among the scattered remnants of the reeling Empire and the growing edge of the Republican frontier, a new chapter in Galactic history would be written, echoing that of its forefathers.

Screenshot, Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens Official Teaser Trailer #1

Screenshot, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens Official Teaser Trailer #1

For a select few, life in the Galaxy is about to change.

Watch the new Star Wars trailer below:

Text adapted from the Fallout: New Vegas intro and best read in a Ron Perlman voice.

In Klendathu Fields

Posted: June 27, 2014 by kdatherton in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

In Klendathu Fields
 (Apologies to John McCrae, no apologies to Robert Heinlein)

In Klendathu fields the dust mites teem
Between the scorch marks, beam by beam
That mark our fight, and down below
Their corpses writhe from blow after blow
Drowned out by our victors screams

We mourn our dead, mere moments past
Who covered us well, with laser blasts
Dutiful and duty done, now they rest
In Klendathu fields

Continue on our citizen’s quest
Taking up their fallen tools
The task, be ours to do it best
To honor those unlucky fools
If we fall short of those who passed
Other citizens will complete the task
In Klendathu fields

The badlands of Hell's Half-Acre in Natrona County, Wyoming. In The Starship Troopers film, this is where they filmed the Klendathu scenes. Photo by Mark A. Wilson (Department of Geology, The College of Wooster)

The badlands of Hell’s Half-Acre in Natrona County, Wyoming. In The Starship Troopers film, this is where they filmed the Klendathu scenes. Photo by Mark A. Wilson (Department of Geology, The College of Wooster)

John McCrae’s original is below, and far worthier for this occasion than my riff above. 

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

“'If Ye Break Faith — We Shall Not Sleep'. Buy Victory Bonds.” Poster depicts lone soldier standing in a field of poppies at a grave. By the Department of National Defence, Ottawa

“’If Ye Break Faith — We Shall Not Sleep’. Buy Victory Bonds.” Poster depicts lone soldier standing in a field of poppies at a grave.
By the Department of National Defence, Ottawa