3. The Mechanics of War
Space: Above and Beyond is not basically a science fiction show, it is mainly a show about war; about the nature of war, about its cruelities, about its consequences, about the ones fighting in it, about the emotions causing war and aroused by war. The mechanics of war are being dictated by a level of necessity - conventions are a very nice and necessary thing, but at the end war knows no rules. War is ruthless, war is organized killing. But who is to be made responsible for it? Which side is to blame?
War is about the responsibility of command. There are decisions to make, risks to take, justifications needed. But what then is a justi-fication? Can anything be made just, made to be right? Isn't a justification (by the very etymological definition of the word) always a construction, serving a pragmatic agenda? Everything can be justified - but that doesn't make it right, doesn't make it just. The product of justification is not something which is just but something which has been justified, has been given a mask of righteousness. This holds true for any kind of war, performed with weapons or in any other way. War is a fight of aggression and defense; it need not be fought with what is usually understood as weapons. The most effective weapons then are propaganda and economy; and the truth - which would but have to speak for itself for we do not know it entirely.
There is nothing like a "neat" and "tidy" war - for war is aimed at producing casualties, aimed at creating a victorious and a defeated party. War is the most direct and most obvious creation of artificial structures; it is most obviously an act of force, a violation of truth, a manipulation of reality under a certain premise. The justification needed will be created according to the nature of the party organizing its war, which will also determine its range of options. A dictatorial or totalitarian regime will always be much more ruthless and aggressive than a liberal democratic state; for a totalitarian state is already a construction working against diversity. Despotism is much more difficult to justify; a war led by such a regime would have to be fought at two fronts and its aim would always be to justify itself, to defend its barbaric nature. Liberal states then would in reality be much more stable, their economy much stronger. It might take a while to arrive at decisions, but in the long run a democracy will always be the superior system.
War, as soon as it is started, develops a dynamic of its own, arising from the fact that - apart from the leadership behind - a military unit and a military commander will always have to adapt to the circumstances. At the lowest level, there are human beings, basically trying to survive. Shows like Space: AAB or North and South and movies like 'Saving Private Ryan' show those situations quite extensively; they also show the tragegy of killing; the burden of killing. But soldiers are not murderers; their function is to defend the people against an enemy; whatever intentions their commanders might have. The single individual is forced to act as a weapon; a single soldier would not be able to make a difference. Responsibility only becomes an issue when there is a possibility.
The victims of war are both civilians and soldiers. Whatever side effects war might have, might it be that armament increase the speed of technological progress or support the economy; - those positive effects are not there because of war but in spite of it - war means destruction; after destruction creation will (or should) follow. But this can never be a justification for war. The pain, the sorrow, the crime, the hatred, the desire for revenge, the ensuing political instability cause more trouble than can be dealt with. The catastrophic conditions in former European colonies, the conflicts in Israel, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and wherever else are to a great extent resulting from power plays of former colonial empires or of the Cold War. The inheritance of war lasts longer than the event itself - just as Vietnam is still present in its survivors, in the entire nation even; just as the Holocaust and the terrors of the Nazi regime are still present in those who had to suffer from it or have in some way dealt with it. The terror of religious zealotry is still visible, still a dark chapter of all denominations and religions. The legacy of slavery is still dividing society. The sins of the past are still demanding attention - is that what original sin would be about? Here comes the question of guilt again - but blaming someone responsible does never restore the lives of the victims.
November 1st, 1998