Defending Democracy — Be Careful What You Wish For
“Out of Darkness” follows a story in which teenaged Mandalorian revolutionary Sabine Wren begins to express her discontent with the secrecy surrounding a covert contact apparently aiding the rebel cause, but whose intel doesn’t always engender the accuracy that would abate her anxiety. Though Kanan and the rest of the male crew appear to not share in this dubiety concerning “Fulcrum,” instead affixing their trust to Hera’s judgment, Sabine’s enigmatic past experiences at the Imperial Military Academy on Mandalore will not avail a healthy dose of skepticism. It is quite clear that these rebels are champions of democracy, as they poignantly fight a dictatorial regime in an attempt to restore a representative system it replaced. Yet, this episode illuminates the very infirmity critics of such a bureaucracy often target: In an effort to champion the ethos of free speech and individual liberties (the worth of every person’s intellectual volition), the sheer volume of these opinions, coupled with the vested interest in the “right to know, and be informed” particularly when capital investments (such as that person’s own life) are on the line, the great democratic machine bogs down. Though a bit of secrecy, even among team members, bears some consideration, if victory is to be achieved, simply relying on “faith” in leadership, which is Hera’s appeal to Sabine’s angst concerning the identity of Fulcrum, can be just as destructive, if the fruits of that leadership prove to be unwise, or not grounded in some universal sense of morality.
One of the reasons totalitarian regimes often sprout from major crises in leadership stems from the need to make sound decisions quickly and efficiently in the name of avoiding chaos. Analogous to an airplane experiencing a critical emergency, where there is no room for debate — only calm, rehearsed and decisive action — people are often willing to give up their liberties if they believe their trust resides in a person wise enough to steer them clear of oblivion. And history, on many occasions, bears this out. The Great Depression of the 1930s elicited a pandemic outbreak of dictatorial rule, probably to the posthumous delight of England’s Civil War survivor, and early Enlightenment thinker, Thomas Hobbes (1651) — who once mused in Leviathan that humanity, without a governing power that had a ruler with total decision-making authority, in possession of the mythic sea monster’s tenacity, would devolve into a morass of “…every man against every man.” He wrote,
Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. (p. 78)
In his view, only through the giving up of one’s personal volition to a strong leader, thereafter dubbed the Social Contract, would humanity gain the security of civilized society, despite its “natural” tendencies to barbarity. In Attack of the Clones, Anakin Skywalker appears to agree with certain aspects of the Hobbesian approach to governance. While secretly protecting his future wife on her home planet of Naboo, in a setting reminiscent of The Sound of Music, he lays out his prescient support of Palpatine’s dictatorial rule:
ANAKIN: I don’t think the system works.
PADME: How would you have it work?
ANAKIN: We need a system where the politicians sit down and discuss the problem…agree what’s in the best interest of all the people, and then do it.
PADME: That’s exactly what we do. The trouble is that people don’t always agree.
ANAKIN: Well then they should be made to…
PADME: By whom? Who’s going to make them?
ANAKIN: I don’t know, someone…someone wise.
Much of the success behind Germany’s strength — following a calamitous bout with Treaty of Versailles sanctions post-World War I (in which they were billed $33 billion to the coffers of Britain and France for war damage, not to mention stripped of the very colonies that could’ve assisted in meeting that demand) added to the ruinous effects the Depression brought — centered around Hitler’s incessant desire to ensure his power of decision absolute. This was true of many other European and Asian societies of the 1930s, as General Franco of Spain, Mussolini of Italy, Tojo of Japan, Stalin of the Soviet Union, and Ioannis Metaxas of Greece worked to stave the effects of the viral economic storm. Though World War II officially thwarted the Depression for all, quick decisions — sans debate and inquiry (albeit for nefarious purposes) — to put people back to work afforded recovery faster in these locations. Conversely, the democracies of the world (the chief of which, the United States, propagated much of the Depression’s origin) struggled to survive amidst debate as to who was responsible, and how to go about prosecuting a solution.
Managing an infant rebellion against a superior authoritative power certainly bears comparison to a crisis like the Great Depression or World War II, where the giving of executive privilege merits efficiency. Still, it’s often ironic when the champions of democratic principles wish to eschew those very values when deemed inconvenient. How is one to ascertain the validity of the decision-making of a “wise” leader if their decisions cannot be questioned? After all, what is often considered wise and virtuous leadership carried out the unjustified internment of Japanese American citizens post-Pearl Harbor, and the firebombing of millions of civilians in an attempt to appeal to the “humanity” of a maniacal regime in both corners of the globe. Father George Zabelka, a chaplain to the crew of The Great Artiste that dropped the atomic bomb over Nagasaki, in his interview with famed oral historian Studs Terkel (The Good War, 1984), mulled the morality behind the firebombing of Tokyo, and the nuclear attack upon Nagasaki, lamenting the lack of desire to question such decisions:
We were living on an island where every day hundreds of planes were taking off, dropping blankets of napalm, burning out hundreds of thousands of people…We had read about Dresden and Berlin…A whole city destroyed…Instead of a feeling of horror, which I should have felt as a Christian, as a priest, it just went by me. We had heard from other pilots who came back from raids how they saw firestorms in Tokyo, hundreds of thousands burned to death. We should have felt horror then that these were civilians. We had gone through the “just war” theory of Saint Augustine: ‘civilians were not to be harmed.’ Yet it never occurred to us…We never got into the morality of the bombing. I guess we all felt it was terrible, but necessary. Remember, we demanded unconditional surrender. This is also against the principles of Saint Augustine’s “just war” theory: you cannot continue fighting when the other party is ready to capitulate. It doesn’t mention unconditional…We would have lost a million soldiers invading Japan. But, as a priest, I should have considered: We’re killing little kids, old men, and old women, burning them to death. I don’t recall any feeling of guilt at the time. I must say that there was a little difference in my feelings when I found out that Nagasaki was a Catholic city….[the atomic bomb] was dropped within a few hundred meters of the central church. It was an almost totally Catholic settlement. Saint Francis had come four hundred years before and brought the faith into Japan…Here was Charles Sweeney, a good Boston Irish Catholic, piloting the plane, dropping the bomb, killing our fellow Catholics. Brothers and sisters killing brothers and sisters…(p. 534-535).
Terkel also interviewed retired Los Angeles music teacher Dellie Hahne, where she balked at the appellation “The Great War,” as is often affixed to World War II. While coming out of college at the outbreak of the conflict, she later criticized the rampant propaganda used within American society that fostered a sense of patriotism and energy toward the war effort, but often painted a horribly inaccurate picture of the Allied governments involved, their enemies, and of war actions at large — especially those that didn’t make it past military censure.
The good war? That infuriates me. Yeah, the idea of World War Two being called a good war is a horrible thing. I think of all the atrocities. I think of a madman who had all this power. I think of the destruction of the Jews, the misery, the horrendous suffering in the concentration camps. In 1971, I visited Dachau. I could not believe what I saw…I know it had to be stopped and we stopped it. But I don’t feel proud, because the way we did it was so devious…I feel I’m standing here with egg on my face. I was lied to. I was cheated. I was made a fool of…If they didn’t hand me all this shit with the uniforms and the girls in their pompadours dancing at the USO and all those songs — “There’ll Be Bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover” — bullshit! (p. 118)
So what is Sabine’s “nightmare” she lived through on Mandalore that causes her to question Hera’s decision to trust the enigmatic Fulcrum in this episode? I’m sure subsequent iterations of Star Wars: Rebels will reveal those secrets. But one is almost compelled to consider that Sabine has a lot in common with Father Zabelka and Dellie Hahne — forced to engage in, and/or justify, the actions of horrendous conduct in an effort to preserve the chain of command. What Star Wars equivalent to Saint Augustine’s “just war” theory (perhaps one that comes from former Duchess of Mandalore Satine Kryze) plagues the young warrior’s conscience in these moments — impelling her to inject her perceived wisdom into Hera’s covert activities, in an attempt to avoid the nightmarish road once again? And once the dust has settled, assuming Sabine survives the galactic conflict, will she look upon her sojourn on The Ghost with the musings of an enthusiastic and patriotic veteran, or akin to the sardonic commentary of a Dellie Hahne? Rumblings surrounding the break-up of the Ghost crew, upon the completion of Season 1, have already permeated Twittersphere — a “shatterpoint” surrounding the identity and credibility of Fulcrum. Perhaps future events will cause Sabine to preempt falling into yet another trap, where secrecy and blindly following orders paves a path to questionable morality, and she will voluntarily leave the team. Perhaps she will be joined by Zeb — after all, the strong-willed Lasan’s feelings have already been overruled by Kanan surrounding the sale and use of the very disrupters responsible for the destruction of his race. Perhaps later issues amplify this development, leading Zeb to join the young Mandalorian, until Hera and Kanan can trust the rest of their team with collaborating in the decision process.
The Paradox of Leadership
That champions of democracy would eschew those same ideals while prosecuting a movement, and stop to question and argue those decisions, further adds to the relevancy of this episode. Even without her past, one can certainly sympathize with Sabine’s skepticism surrounding, not only Fulcrum’s authenticity, but the organizational paradigm within The Ghost’s quest to take down the Empire. After all, why shouldn’t those who risk their lives be privy to the complete business the ship’s crew undertakes?
One of the greatest arbiters of modern democracy was the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Yet, within the earlier stages of the movement to resist legally-sanctioned racial segregation and disenfranchisement, King adhered to a traditional model of leadership that required, not a democratic committee of opinions, but a central authoritative leader that was strong and charismatic enough to convince all willing participants their vision was the correct path to victory. In essence, the organizations that worked to change American culture would be structured in the vein of the church, with King as the minister to all ministers. To challenge this conventional thinking was the older, and politically seasoned, Ella Baker. Born in 1903 to a Southern family that touted a rebellious slave preacher, Ella was a valedictorian graduate of Shaw University, and moved to Harlem, New York in 1927 at a time of considerable political and cultural fermentation. Over the next 30 years, Baker would build an extensive resume surrounding the logicality and practicality of running legitimate organizations fostering social change within various communities. According to The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement by Aldon Morris (1984), between the years of 1941 and 1942, Baker was the National Field Secretary for the NAACP, where she attended 362 meetings and logged 16,244 miles developing new branches and conducting membership drives throughout the South (p. 102). In 1943, she became the Director of Branches, attending 157 meetings during membership campaigns, and logging 10,244 miles between Birmingham, Alabama; Mobile, Alabama; and Tampa, Florida. That, along with stints as president of the New York chapter of the NAACP, as well as a position within the New York YMCA, afforded her a wealth of organizational experience and contacts someone like Dr. King could exploit. However, at the outset of establishing his Southern Christian Leadership Conference, in the wake of the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott, King chose to use Baker in a more administrative management position — operating mimeograph machines, writing correspondence, and other secretarial tasks. Rarely did they entertain her enlightened positions on engaging the community to affect social change. Morris writes,
Here was a woman, twenty-five years older than most of the SCLC’s leadership, who possessed a solid organizational background, entering an organization controlled by black ministers. During that era men in general, and many black ministers in particular, were condescending toward women and could not envision them as full-fledged leaders. This stance of the ministers was bound to generate friction with Baker, who was self-directed and did not feel that women should automatically defer to men (p. 103).
In addition, Baker was a firm believer in sharing leadership responsibility throughout the community — a view that clashed with the ministers’ charismatic leadership paradigm, something Georgetown professor and minister Dr. Michael Eric Dyson (2000), in I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr., characterized as, “…the top-down and personality-driven leadership” (p. 204). Instead of one person, a male specifically in her day, expressing that vision to the masses, the community at large should be empowered to direct the movement as the community saw fit. In an interview in 1978, Baker said,
Instead of “the leader” — a person who was supposed to be a magic man — you would develop individuals who were bound together by a concept that benefited larger numbers of individuals and provided an opportunity for them to grow into being responsible for carrying on the program (Morris, p. 104).
Once the newly-minted SCLC had grown to success throughout the South, Baker continued to work within the organization, eventually gaining a few accolades, though they continued to ignore her organizational expertise. The increased tension between Baker and SCLC leadership was further dismissed by SCLC activist C.T. Vivian, saying, “She wasn’t church” (Dyson, p. 206). Nevertheless, Baker’s success as a community organizer saw the leadership among students effloresce. She developed a large contingent of college-aged activists but refused King’s directive that they be integrated into the framework of SCLC. Rather, Baker believed they should form their own organization to encourage their own path toward affecting change in the South. This development conference of student leadership led to the formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC — largely responsible for the massive Sit-In, Freedom Rides, and Freedom Summer voter initiatives, which became some of the most successful, albeit the most violent, encounters in the Civil Rights Movement.
Though there may be merit in Hera’s belief to make critical decisions without having to explain everything to Sabine, sometimes blind faith in one person alone isn’t enough to satisfy the direction of the movement. Sabine understands, as they all should, that placing blind faith in one person is what led to the issues on her home world, and within the Galactic Republic at large. As with Baker, Sabine is beginning to venture beyond conventional reasoning that affords too much trust in one person or entity, who especially suggests that, We can’t tell you critical secrets in case you get captured by the Empire, as they have the capacity to compel you to divulge. Instead, the more she risks her life, and the more this “Fulcrum” entity passes along faulty intelligence, the more she will be committed to the notion of a shared leadership responsibility within the greater mission of the ship — perhaps even a separate path aligned with Hera and crew, though one in which Sabine’s own ideas are brought to fruition, just as SNCC continued the path to freedom alongside, though not under the purview, of SCLC.
- Effective Revolutionaries. One cannot look upon “Out of Darkness” without recalling the cacophony of arguments surrounding the marketing campaign for Star Wars: Rebels action figures this past spring. In addition to an Episode VII principle cast announcement that was initially castigated as anemic concerning diversity two months later (see O’Connor, 2014; Marcotte, 2014; Dunc, 2014; Newitz, 2014; Ratcliffe, 2014; Baker-Whitelaw, 2014; Faraci, 2014; Thompson, 2014; Burton, 2014; Barr, 2014), the Disney marketing campaign for Rebels emphasized a traditional and archaic marketing archetype that emphasized the toy isles of young boys — essentially rolling out the only two female figures in the principle cast last, during San Diego Comic Con. Amy Ratcliffe (2014) and Tricia Barr (2014) each joined Teresa Delgado and others in expressing their dismay at Disney and Hasbro’s announcement, wishing benign neglect to not become a recipe for Star Wars moving forward. Indeed, as Her Universe creator and Clone Wars actor Ashley Eckstein often reminds, approximately 40% of all Star Wars fans are female; a fact that suggests these corporate entities could learn something from the marketing team of the Dallas Cowboys’. That war and armed rebellion is the providence of men is an old misconception often not congruent with the real world. As this blog post is too minuscule to account for the entire military record of women serving in combat, at large, I wish to glance over a few models that serve to inform Star Wars female characters. I was recently informed of Hera and Sabine’s Kurdish counterparts in the war against ISIS in Syria by NBC’s Richard Engel (2014). 26-year-old Viyan Peyman and her other female and male compatriots are the only troops that prevent the other half of Kobani from falling to ISIS. Already shot twice (in the leg and stomach), this former teacher holds a sniper position with a rifle and box of homemade hand grenades, firing on ISIS fighters whenever they appear. The two women highlighted in Engel’s written and video piece, aired last week on NBC’s Nightly News, are not the exception, but the rule, as visually documented by photojournalist Erin Trieb (2014) last August. In the vein of myriad noted historical figures like Joan of Arc and Hua Mulan (of which the Disney character is based), world history is replete with female combatants, particularly when necessity called for everyone to take up arms in defense against a marauding hoard or state, but also as a matter of utility. In the tradition of Sabine and Bo Katan of Mandalore, and by extension Ahsoka and Asajj Ventress, consider the all-female warrior corps of the Dahomey Kingdom of West Africa (Dash, 2011). Called the “Black Sparta” by some because it was the duty of this fiercely militaristic society to strike fear into the hearts of its neighbors, Dahomey’s all-female warrior group (called Amazons by the French) trained by climbing fences full of thorns, and had to execute prisoners of war prior to ever serving in combat. Deadly with knives, swords, and firearms, they became legendary over a 200 year period in the region, often parading the severed heads of their enemies. French troops, who conquered the zone during the Age of Imperialism, complimented their bravery, their ferocity, and discipline while, “…[fighting] with extreme valor, ahead of the other troops.” Even after the successful French campaign, these “Amazons” would often hide themselves among the many concubines serving officers, wait for the invitation to their tents, and slit their throats at night. In the tradition of Hera, women have been flying in service of self and to country since the early days of aviation. Famed pilot Jacqueline Cochran successfully persuaded the Roosevelt administration, and Lt. General “Hap” Arnold, to form the Women’s Ferrying Auxiliary Squadron, given the success of her volunteer missions of ferrying bombers to England as part of the “Wings for Britain” program (when she became the first woman to pilot a bomber). Later, she would also spearhead the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) along with Nancy Harkness Love, heading up their ferrying division — which provided an absolute necessity during the war, as new airplanes would need to be transported from the factories of North America to the combat theatres in Europe and the Pacific. In 1953, given her close friendship with Chuck Yeager, she became the first woman to break the sound barrier and to land on an aircraft carrier — some 24 years before any moviegoer would never see a woman pilot a starfighter through the trenches of the Death Star. In 1993, Jeannie Leavitt became the U.S. Air Force’s first female fighter pilot, serving aboard an F-15E Strike Eagle, and later commanding an attack wing with over 300 combat hours in Afghanistan and Iraq. Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour, serving in the United States Marine Corp, became the first black female fighter pilot while serving two tours in Iraq. Even a college acquaintance of mine, Nicole Washington, flew Blackhawks in Afghanistan, and at one point commanded a mission with an all-female flight team in the air. And who can forget the UAE’s Major Mariam Al Monsouri, who not only became their first female fighter pilot while flying her F-16 into Syria against ISIS strongholds, she was the commander of the mission. Yes, the problem is not with a lack of female representation in combat or armed rebel initiatives, the problem is a lack of acknowledgement once the wars, and the rebellions, have been prosecuted.
- Who is “Fulcrum?” There has been a lot of discussion as to the identity of Fulcrum — the central focus of the conflict for this episode. Some have weighed in that it might be Ahsoka, some have said it might be Lux Bonteri or another of the Onderon rebels as seen in Season 5 of The Clone Wars. There’s quite a bit of traction for this being Bail Organa (though I believe this to be the least likely candidate, particularly considering the fact that we’ve seen him in the show already). While each of these shares a degree of plausibility, I feel that this character is a new one, as I feel the creators of the show wish to construct a unique framework for storytelling — and the best way to do that is with brand new characters. After all, though Anakin and Obi-Wan had a rather strong presence in The Clone Wars, and we really got to know them better from the exploits of their sojourn through that world, the vast majority of its audience became primarily attached to two or three characters: Ahsoka, Ventress, and Rex. As these beings had no attachment to any of the films, and because Filoni and company took considerable time fleshing them out in interesting ways, we were left in suspense at various points in the course of the show — and to this day, we are still awaiting the final outcome for these characters (to the point of “chasing ghosts,” as is my opinion that Fulcrum is Ahsoka or another character from the upcoming “Empire Day” is Rex because he is voiced by Dee Bradley Baker). So, in the spirit of believing that the Fulcrum character is a new one, my belief is that it is Brent Spiner’s exiled Senator Gall Travis, the guy who continues to interject himself into the Holonet to instigate messages of rebellion and discontent against the Empire. He seems the most likely candidate if Fulcrum is a character we’ve already seen. After all, you don’t hire someone like Spiner if his character is a one-and-done presence on the show (particularly via hologram rather than “in the flesh”). Second, he’s new, which means that as we never see him in the films, his fate is unknown, and therefore his story is original. Third, the largest issue for Sabine is that Fulcrum’s intel is shoddy at times, leaving the team in jeopardy. Travis was first seen providing information concerning Luminara Unduli’s fate at the hands of the Empire — imprisoned on Stygeon. While that turned out to be true at one time, what was not included in that message was the fact that she’d already been executed prior, and that the Inquisitor used this bit of information as a Jedi trap. I’m seeing a pattern with this guy. He discovers whatever he feels is useful for dissidents, and then “informs” those who are willing to listen, but his information isn’t properly vetted — most likely because he’s constantly on the run, and doesn’t have the time (or resources) to properly vet the information. Time will bear out as to whether I’m correct or not, but my chips are on Travis as Fulcrum right now.