Roslin as Female President

Post written by guest writer Audra.

One of my favorite shows, Battlestar Galactica, returned to TV last Friday night for its final 10 episodes. This series is relevant to our times in many ways, but it was especially on my mind last year during the election, because it is one of the few shows ever to feature a woman as president. (I think I can count them on one hand). Inevitably, BSG’s President Laura Roslin has inspired comparisons to both Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin. BSG gives us one of our few TV glimpses at what a female president might look like. So what does it tell us?

First let me say that I got hooked on BSG because of Roslin. She is my favorite character, and the glorious Mary McDonnell is so brilliant in the role that I always care about Roslin even when the writing is not great. Ultimately for me, though, BSG’s representation of a female as president left a lot to be desired.

During the first two seasons of the series, Roslin’s presidency had a lot of promise. She was a strong leader and served as an excellent foil to military man, Adama. I expected her to continue to grow in her role as president, building up the civilian government as a formidable force in the ragtag fugitive fleet. Unfortunately, instead of allowing Roslin to gain power in her own right as civilian leader, the writers resolved the civilian/military conflict by joining Roslin with Adama. She continued to become more powerful, but primarily through her influence over powerful men, rather than her skill in actual governing or winning over the public. The writers have never granted Roslin much legitimate authority as president (which I distinguish from her mystical authority as dying leader). For one thing, she has never been elected: she first rose to the office as the 43rd in line of succession to President Adar (with whom she was having an affair), and the second time through shady backdoor dealings with Tom Zarek. The extent of her behind-the-scenes sway over the Admiral also became even more apparent as their relationship evolved into a romance in Seasons 3 and 4.

The difficulty I have with the way Roslin wields authority is encapsulated in a scene toward the end of the episode Revelations: having finally arrived at Earth, Adama makes a big, emotional announcement that is broadcast throughout the fleet. But why is it Adama and not Roslin who addresses the fleet? She is the one who has been most committed to finding Earth. And more importantly, she is the president, and presidents, not military leaders, give speeches to mark major events. Yet it has been a pattern throughout the series that the Adama men give the big speeches, whereas the camera often cuts off the president just as she opens her mouth to make a speech. Her lack of grandiloquence, in this case utter silence, at significant moments renders her much less presidential than she should at this point in the series.

Of course a big part of the problem is that Roslin is the civilian leader on a series about the military. (If the creators had really wanted to break the gender mold, they would have made Roslin the experienced military leader and Adama the schoolteacher.) Whereas BSG has treated the military and Cylon arcs consistently, it takes on topics within the presidents purview, such as politics and civilian life, only sporadically. Maybe the shows inability to sustain an interest in non-military matters is inherent in its premise, a side effect of its being Battlestar Galactica instead of Colonial One (the presidential ship, where Roslin doesnt even live anymore), but it is unfortunate that the woman in power is of interest primarily in her relation to the military, where she is always second to Adama.

In episodes that do deal with civilian issues, Roslin is often not an especially good president and at her worst is an inconsistently used plot device. Her decision to ban abortion in the middle of a presidential campaign, for instance, suggests not only her ethical weakness, but also her weakness as a political tactician. The writers couldn’t seem to decide whether she instituted the ban for political gain or because she was worried about population decline, and she therefore comes across as ineffectual on both fronts: the abortion ban is no help in winning the election (she loses), and it is of course a nonsensical way to address population decline. If you want to encourage people to start families, you don’t make conditions worse by taking away freedoms–you raise the standard of living for children and give people hope for the future. But Roslin apparently can’t figure that out, despite the fact that she was supposedly an abortion-rights advocate before she became president. Instead, as we learn in Dirty Hands, former Education Secretary Roslin has children doing hard labor like some Dickensian workhouse master. We rarely see her do anything to improve civilian life in the fleet. Instead, especially in later seasons, she often serves as an authoritarian straw man against whom the brave young men of principle (Lee, Tyrol, Helo) must struggle.

Ultimately, Roslin is much more effective in her fated role as dying leader guiding her people to Earth than as president. As in many TV series, female power is associated with mysticism over personal accomplishment (See: Buffy, Sidney Bristow, Starbuck). And now that we know Earth is a wasteland, her major accomplishment is dubious at best. Will Roslin’s presidency be redeemed in the few remaining episodes of the series? Will she pull herself together after the huge disappointment of finding Earth and step up as a leader? Or will Lee have to swoop in to save the day? I sincerely hope that she at least has a noble end, since much like her real-life counterparts in politics, Roslin has brought me such hope–and frustration.


  1. says

    Great post!

    On the whole, I’ve thought Rosalin has been a middling president albeit in an incredibly trying circumstance. I do think it’s worth noting that Baltar and Tigh both proved to be far inferior civilian leaders, pretty much across the board. I think Helo, who I love, is probably a bit too much of a boyscout to play politics effectively and it’s reflected in the episode out people who refuse medical treatment for religious reasons. For the record, I think Starbuck would also be a bad leader, but for the same reasons Tigh has problems when Adama isn’t around.

    I think part of it is that Ron Moore seems to have a fairly good grasp of politics but not so much of governing. Part of it is that the series really doesn’t handle economics which means many of her decisions are nonsensical.

    That said, in her defense, more rights for women does tend to raise the birthrate, in much the same way that forcibly moving sending city-dwellers to the country-side would. They’re just both really bad way of doing it. Better living conditions for kids is good in its own right, but I’m not aware of any statistical correlation with birthrate, rich countries have lower rates after all. If you want to raise the birth rate, you need to raise the standard of living for parents versus non-parents. But that’s economics and Ron Moore doesn’t go there. That’s said, the ending really was a total cop out, her grandfathering an abortion for the woman in question only works at all because it’s the political issue of the week and it never comes up again on screen while it would be a regular problem in real life.

    On the balance though, I think you’re right to be a critical. The really solid leaders in the series are Adama, Lee, and Tyrol. Adm. Kain could theoretically qualify, albeit on the evil side, but that is undercut by Razor. That said, in Razor everyone was making bizarre military decisions, so you kinda need to grade on a curve. And aside from Lee, Kain was the only one capable of running the Pegasus, her two male replacements went down fast.

    Lee does seem to be displacing Roslin, although I would bet money that she’s still getting a noble end. I just hope that in the political battles to come, she gets some of the victories rather than passing them all on to Lee.

    This whole discussion makes me miss Kat. She wasn’t as good of a pilot as Starbuck, but I think she’d make a better wing commander. She also lacked the vicious streak of Kain or Roslin so would be an alternative model.

  2. Charles RB says

    “But why is it Adama and not Roslin who addresses the fleet?”

    Because she’s having a nervous breakdown in her room after discovering (or so it appears) that she’s _not_ the fated dying leader guiding her people to Earth, she’s a just someone with cancer leading people to a dead rock after years of pointless hardship. She’s given up, everything she believed and focused her self-image on just got shot away.

    I do agree the show’s making her out to not be a very good President, but personally I don’t see that as a flaw: it’s more interesting this way, it grates less than the canonisation of Adama, and it makes a lot more sense than if she was great at it. A lot of heads of state were crap at their job, and they weren’t ministers forced into the position due to an incomprehensibly vast genocide, having to maintain order against heavy odds while suffering from terminal cancer. In retrospect, it’s obvious Roslin is going to have problems.

  3. says

    The whole “raise the birthrate” thing was nonsensical from the beginning: if you’re focusing on survival as a group, if species propogation is your real goal, then what you do is you *defer* breeding in times of danger and privation, because a) it is a HUGE energy drain on the adult members of the herd/pack/flock, first in terms of simple health, and secondly in terms of limiting the ability to hunt/gather/get-the-hell-outta-Dodge when predators show up, and b) BECAUSE it is such a huge weakener of the adults, most of those offspring aren’t going to make it, if this is a time of famine/drought/increased predation as a result of other environmental pressures.

    This is why “prey animals” have breeding seasons as they do – their biology is timed to make sure that the young are born a) at a time of maximum food availability, and also maximum travel ease (which is connected to both food and escape) and b) born at the same time so that they will have safety in numbers – which is a euphemistic way of saying so that there will be enough of them that lots of them can get eaten by predators or die of disease but there will still be enough to allow the herd to survive. This is why many animals (not just rabbits)reabsorb embryos when there is not enough food or there is too much other stress in the early stages of a pregnancy.

    Humans have different biological paradigms, but the idea that we can’t afford to have kids when we’re on the run or fighting for our lives is as old as the hills. Native American women using contraception in times of poor harvests and bad winters was recorded by Colonial writers in the 1700s, frex. And the idea that if we don’t devote our resources to having as many children as we physically can right now we will go extinct is particularly absurd given how long it takes for humans to reach even the lower end of sexual maturity, not to mention how great a hit the human population can take and bounce back within a few generations – q.v. the Plague.

    It was a stupid argument when my parents boasted of “outbreeding the liberals” by having 6+ kids – which they couldn’t afford to feed or clothe without the assistance of relatives/friends/neighbors who didn’t have more than the average number of children. It was a stupid argument when Allied women were being encouraged to try to “outbear the Hun” to replace the casualties on the Western Front (and likewise on the other side of the lines) and it was stupid for Roslin – I guess whatever subject she taught, it wasn’t history or biology – to make it while they were on the run, with limited space, foodstuffs, and fuel to acquire more resources, too.

    But hey, it allowed for a bit of “topical” wangst, so wotthehell…

  4. SunlessNick says

    Great post. Unlike Bellatrys and Greg, I don’t have anything insightful to say, but I do want to offer you props.

  5. says

    After reading bellatrys comment, I wanted to caveat my original thoughts on that episode. I didn’t really say anything about whether a breeding strategy makes sense in the first place and bellatrys convincingly argues that it doesn’t.

    You do consistently see breeding strategies in longer term ethnic conflicts, but those have a longer time horizon. If the fleet gave up on finding a home, I could see a space breeding strategy, otherwise it really does make sense to wait until you get somewhere.

  6. says

    I think part of it is that Ron Moore seems to have a fairly good grasp of politics but not so much of governing. Part of it is that the series really doesn’t handle economics which means many of her decisions are nonsensical.

    Greg, this is a good point generally regarding sf – one of my flisters has gone into how Borsk Feyla is presented as a villain in the EU novels – and yet, when you look at his “villainy,” it consists of his a) opposing Our Heroes, because b) he is passionately devoted to the interests of the people who elected him – ie, he’s an “ambitious politician,” not a Hero. And yet, as the poster pointed out, objectively he *is* heroic, in the sense of doing his duty as he sees it – he just happens to oppose the Skywalker clan when he thinks their plans are bad for his planet. The authors don’t seem to have a good sense of what governance *is*, good or bad, when it’s not Tyranny – apart from something that inconveniences Our Heroes and allows them to have thrilling adventures! And Star Trek – oi, I can’t get started, I’ll never stop.

    (This is, of course, because genre fic, like all fiction, just reflects the wider state of a culture. The functional plausibility of the politics in pretty much any action movie are, well, lacking…)

    If the fleet gave up on finding a home, I could see a space breeding strategy, otherwise it really does make sense to wait until you get somewhere.

    This gives me an idea how the plot could have been made to work, btw – suppose they had taken the opposite tack, with women being *forbidden* to get pregnant due to the limited resources aboard ship, and something happens and this girl ends up pregnant anyway and the captain of her ship orders an abortion, against her will.

    And this could pit Roslin against both the whole “sea captain’s rule is absolute” thing AND against Roslin, too, in the “survival of the species is all that matters” – with her principles of individual freedom being put into conflict with national discipline there. Kind of a “Starry” Vere situation, if you know what I mean. (Plus providing a neater contrast between the Cylons trying to run their mysticism-driven hybrid-breeding project than they actually pulled off, mostly.)

  7. says

    Bellatrys, just read his summary on wookienet. He also seems to have a dangerous interest in civilian control of the military, the gull of some politicians!

    I really like your alternate version of that episode. It would have been more interesting and would actually get into the full meaning of reproductive rights. And, as you say, at the same time it would give Rosalin a chance to be in the right in a way that addresses Rouse’s points above. Missed opportunity there.

  8. says

    Greg, the rejection or questioning of the very idea of civilian control of the army – without recognizing that such a state is *exactly* the kind of “banana republic” or junta (way to Other something thro’ language, huh? even if we do it, it’s still not really “us”) that as Americans they despise and mock – is *very* common and not just among avowed right-wing authoritarian types. And Hollywood has done a hell of a lot to feed that belief, that only Strong Men With Guns have a right to determine the fate of nations, too, and silly civilians should just shut up and let the Big Strong Men With Guns protect us…

    One thing which is interesting to me is that I stumbled across a novelization of the *original* BSG pilot from ’78 – which I never watched as a kid except in snippets at friends’ houses (and wasn’t very impressed with what I saw of it) so I can only say it *presumably* follows the plot faithfully – which is a complete Cold War Paranoia fantasy without ANY ambiguities or moral grays at all, it reads EXACTLY like “WOLVERINES IN SPAAAAACE!” with the naive hippie-dippy liberal peaceniks celebrating their Day of World Peace in fulsomely-vapid ways, just to point up how ironic it is that they’re about to be attacked by Ruthless Alien Invaders.

    You can see where the Reagan Revolution came from, IOW, if you look at late Seventies’ pop culture, and why there would be such a landslide two years later. Avalanches don’t happen in a day.

    And it’s pretty ironic that thirty years later and the consequences and revelations of such a surrender of government amply demonstrated over them (not that there wasn’t plenty of such already in 1977!) the best that “liberal Hollywood” can do is to tepidly, feebly suggest that MAAAAYBE giving over everything to the Generals without a struggle isn’t the best idea…

    Missed opportunity there.

    Hah, thanks – I think that shows that are *partly* good are more aggravating than shows that are just horrible, because you can see all those missed potentials – it’s impossible not to be composing “patches” and fixit-fics on the fly when you’re watching a show you *like* go increasingly off the rails. (Books likewise.)

  9. Charles RB says

    “Greg, the rejection or questioning of the very idea of civilian control of the army… is *very* common”

    Not to mention superhero comics, where politicians, media, the courts, police etc – they’re getting in the hero’s way! And that’s [i]bad[/i]! Which leads to Marvel’s Civil War, where effectively you have writers saying it’s bad for the government to try and regulate a form of law enforcement or be against vigilante activity (so they threw in Evil Secret Prisons and supervillain wetworks teams to make their point).

  10. says

    Which leads to Marvel’s Civil War, where effectively you have writers saying it’s bad for the government to try and regulate a form of law enforcement or be against vigilante activity (so they threw in Evil Secret Prisons and supervillain wetworks teams to make their point).

    That’s not what most readers took away from Marvel’s Civil War – the general consensus was that it was a lot more ambiguous than that (not *all* of which was deliberate, most seem to think as well) and in addition to the deliberate grayness and the incidental, plothole/OOC-for-the-sake-of-plot graying of morals, much of the reader commentary on Civil War has people disgusted with (or at least arguing over) the apparent vindication of government registration and the extent to which this is a betrayal of the old Marvel premise of equal rights/human diversity good/innocent-until-proven-guilty of the ’60s and ’70s.

    The “Tony Stark Is Always Right” thing – no matter what decisions the writers make him take, like lending all his resources to the mutant/mutate roundup – has likewise backfired from what I’ve seen on multiple boards, causing a lot of Iron Man fans to fling up their hands in disgust (or snark) as they are NOT inclined to say “Oh well, if Tony Stark says it’s all right then I guess it MUST be so, and Cap and Spidey and Sue ALL must be wrong…”

    But hey, when you got Author On Board syndrome, any ambiguity flies out the window. According to this, you’re simply quite wrong about what Marvel was trying to do, given the words of the the author who helmed it:

    What’s funny when you read the main book is that it’s pretty much Tony’s side that gets the better rep all the way through. A lot of the tie-ins were interesting because the other writers chose to go against registration, but I don’t believe for a second people would feel that way in the real world. Would you really want these guys to be unlicensed? Vigilantes don’t have super-powers and they’re outlawed. Superheroes would be a nightmare. I’d be leading the march to Washington DC for the Sentinels to crush the bastards because I don’t like seeing buildings come down and, as we all know, this happens at least once an issue these days. So I was backing Tony all the way. What the other guys did in the tie-in books demonized them a little, but I think that made it interesting as Tony’s victory at the end was much more of a curveball.”

    Marvel not being a monolith, (and having an editorial department which seems to be perpetually out to lunch these days) explains a lot of the book-to-book inconsistencies of viewpoint. But that’s what the main writer, Millar, said about his story…

  11. Charles RB says

    “Iron Man Is Always Right”? I don’t remember that – I remember most books that weren’t Iron Man or Millar Civil War having him as either wrong, dangerous or misguided.

    And then Iron Man succumbed to the Oh Noes Civilian Cliche and had civilian authorities (both US and the UN) getting in Tony and SHIELD’s way and restricting them from saving the world, which Tony heroically ignores and circumvents…

  12. says

    I’ve been tempted to read Civil War just so I can do my own political read of it. That said, I’ve heard so much about people being horribly out of character that the appeal has diminished greatly. Maybe I’ll borrow it from a friend some day.

  13. Shayde says

    RE: Roslin as “weak” President to “strong” military Adama clan.

    I do not see it that way. She was in a position that was presumed to practically never be in a situation to become President. Yet, she did, she, for the most part, kept her head, worked out a powersharing deal with Adama that was mostly successful in most cases. You also have to remember Adama was really “old school” form the previous Cylon wars. He knew what it took to beat or atleast match them and was adamant about that. Given that he nearly alway capitulated to Roslin’s Presidency, at least to some extent. Because he really truly believed that his position was to be a servant to the civilian government. He only went off and took control in very few instances. Some he was right and Roslin gained new respect for him, and in some he was wrong and he gained respect for her. To be honest, in that situation I doubt any of the lat 30 years’ worth of presidents could have pulled off what she did. Especially our current one. I think practically all of them would find someone more loyal to the office than the military commander and have the entire senior officer corps “off’d” before the pilot episode was over.

  14. Shayde says

    RE: Breeding program.

    Several of the argument “seem” fairly well thought out but I’m not for sure they’re relevant to the BSG situation.

    Remember, the fleet is out there so far out of the way that they honestly have little “real” idea of where they are. The have some idea of a destination but until very late in the series they didn’t have any idea how long they would be in space. Adama came and went on his belief in the whole “Earth Myth” and I think he wanted to be a true believer, but the practical side of him probably said, “it’s nice to dream about whn we get to Earth, but we really have to think about the possibility we’re never gonna find it or it won’t be what we expect it to be or they won’t want us.” I can only imagine talks in private between Adama and Roslin with him urging her to “hope for the best but plan for the worst.”

    And in historical terms, the argument is absolutely not valid. The Huns, The Franks, The Visigoths, The Lombards, The Vikings, The Saxons, The (how many do I have to name) all, were plagued by any one or all of the problems facing the Colonial Fleet. On the run, driven from oneplace to another into foriegn lands and climates, having little food or other resources, harsh living conditions, facing starvation and in-fighting, constantly harrassed by much greater military forces than their own, and yet they, for hundreds of years at a time grew in populations and every single one of them ended up overwhelming theior opposition at some point, partly because they didn’t “suspend their breeding.” Go back and look how many times rome got sacked by some of these people or how long the Vivkings terrorized every body and how the Saxons, technically, still occupy Britain. (Hope I didn’t open a can of worms on that one)

    So, sorry, but history backs Roslin up on that one.

  15. Shayde says

    RE: Civilian control of the Military.

    Since I’m new to this topic and site, any of you can call me whatever you would like for what I’m going to say, because I think I’m about to offend people no matter what they think about it.

    Basically, the whole idea of a civilian controlled Military (as in a civilian controlled government controlling the military) is just about as pure dee old horse hockey as it gets.

    What oyu get when that happens is either a fascist state or a socialist state (possibly devolving into communism) both of them using the Military as much on its own citizens as on it’s enemies. We have a pretty good example of that from our last president. I’d like to think he was just “trying to proctect us” but what he’s done has really damaged our freedoms, possible for decades or hundreds of years or more. He has done things right wingers were all scared the lefties would get done, and the right wingnuts all cheered for it when it was their president, even though they all said the left leaning president was the anti-christ when he wanted the same things.

    Anyway, the founding Fathers had it right from the beginning. They studied how the greatest of civilizations rose and fell and decided a few things. (read your constitution and the Frederalist Papers if you think I’m wrong here)
    1) The central government should have absolutely NO dealings with individual citizens beyond their participation/employment/service in the central government. Only States would deal directly with individuals.

    2)It was imprudent for the central government to have a standing army, because if it has one it will subdue the populace. Not a single nation in history has seen itself completely clear of that threat. Look at Egypt, peacful and prosperous and basically free (if you were willing to blend in) for thousands of years, then they got conquered, threw off their conquerers, and decided no more. They built and army and navy and shackled their own people first and then went to take the rest of the world. Greece, Rome, Britain, Spain, China, India, all of them. Same story. And we, my friends, are staring right down that same path now. Caesar came to power amidst the threat of foriegn attackes of Roman soil long thought safe, and during some of the roughest economic times to date.

    3) No position or branch of gov’t should have total power

    Caesar convinced the Senate that total power should be vested in him, not just temporarily(emergency war powers act of Rome sortof), as Roman law stated, but as long as he lived, and part of the reason is because he was a freakin political ROCK STAR! Previous consuls had brolen down Rome’s resitance to what would have previously been seen as draconian means and loose econmoic policies and Caesar capitalized on that and took over and the people were so used to it and worried about ther own finances all they wanted was someone to “fix” teh problems the previous consuls had caused and they wanted CHANGE, no matter what that change was. Hmmm dictatorship. that’s where we’re headed. And the fact that it is…er…I mean was illegal didn’t make a difference. Things got so bad the people would support anything as long as it was a CHANGE. We now have a President screaming about the people mandating CHANGE. On the surface it looks like he’s doing it, but dig into his policies and he’s doing the same crap the previous guy did by making sure his buddies who helped him get elected get billions of taxpayer money as a reward. They’re getting it in earmarks and oddly worded pork. Just like the whole Halliburton trash. Except it’s now ACORN and friends.

    Well, who should control the military?

    That leads us to the solution devised by the Founding Fathers.

    They realized that the situation at the tiome definitely demanded some sort of standing army. And later it was made official and a true standing army was created. But they also knew that even without one, returning militry commanders could very easily come back and take control. (Remeber Rome anyone?)

    It took some time because so many delegates thought the constitution already protected individuals. But events immediately after ratification by some giv’t authorities convinced the then Congress to add an amendment. The Second Amendment to insure the populace was able to defend itself.

    From who?

    The “well trained militia” clause used by lefties was actually inreference to the fact that they preferred NOT having a standing army. But in the case of a standing Army, that army could very well be off somewhere fighting to protect us and if the bad guys come, who will be here to fight them off? The populace would, that’s who. And what about if the army comes home and the Generals don’t like whats going on at home (Rome? Greece? Vikings? Huns?) they might decide to take over. Who’s going to stop them? The populace. And what happens if the army is gone somewhere and they have no desire to take over the homeland but in the absence of the army some polititians decide to play a little hanky panky with the law and take over with some force of their own. (It was common in Rome for Senators to have private armies made up the persons for whom they were patrons or by mercenaries or local military units comanded by a friend or familt member). Who’ll stop them? Again, the populace. But only it it is well armed. Watch the TV Show Jericho. It’s a remarkably well thought out premise. Given, the current events, add that to the shows rabid fan base and it makes you wonder who actually got the show cancelled. Maybe it too close to home for some politico’s comfort.

    Now don’t anyone say, “oh yeah, I’m taking my hunting rifle out and gonna defend my house against F-22 Raptors, Humvees, Satellite guided missiles, bunker busters, cluster bombs, unmanned aircraft, nuclear subs and atomic bombs.”

    Because that’s just a dumb argument.

    If enough people standup, are prepared and fight, it will become more and more apparent to the rank-and-file soldier exactly what’s going on. There will be a critical mass where they hear that their entire familiy was arrested, killed ofr treason and they can’t do it anymore. The soldiers and their commanders will at some point rise up against their comanders.

    And if they don’t, what do you think would happen if a few million US military personnel (most only barely trains with weapons but hwo never even carry one) realized they were going to have to face down 260 million of their brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, cousins, sons and daughters? All of them armed, and knowing how to handle their weapons.

  16. Charles RB says

    “What oyu get when that happens is either a fascist state or a socialist state (possibly devolving into communism) both of them using the Military as much on its own citizens as on it’s enemies.”

    What you get is every democratic nation currently in existence, as the elected government’s do control the military. They set the budgets, hire and fire the top-ranking generals, decide how to use them, and have specifically designated ministers/secretaries and govt bodies.

    And it generally works, unless you’ve got evidence of the Republic of Ireland evilly using the Irish Defence Force on its citizens.

  17. Shayde says

    “And it generally works, unless you’ve got evidence of the Republic of Ireland evilly using the Irish Defence Force on its citizens.”

    Even I wouldn’t argue that it work for a while. Generally works, as in, for a while.

    You mention the IDF.
    Óglaigh na hÉireann, is a relatively new construct (historically speaking), owing nearly all of its history to just the sort of thing I was talking about. They inherit a lot of tradition, and attitudes from the IRA and other groups that fought for the independence of Ireland. The fact that much of Ireland still isn’t “free” (and neither are their cousins in Scotland) is a reminder to many of its members that they must be vigilant in preventing that oppression. That I’m sure would be a deterrent to using the very instrument of freedom to take it away so soon after freedom has been won in some measure.

    There is also the fact that Ireland is situated far to the Northwest. Though a lovely place, with great people and much to offer the world, ther is not a compelling reason to just go take Ireland anymore. They were basically neutral in WWII BTW. Britain itself was taking the hammering and everyone knew America was about to rush headlong into the fray.

    “the elected government’s do control the military. They set the budgets, …blah blah blah”

    The elected governments DO NOT control the military in the so called “democratic” nations. the elected officials do. That’s the problem. Take the US for example. Budgets are proposed and voted on without ever being scrutinized, unless it is to 1.make sure my state gets a fair share of the budget or 2. I can find a way to challenge a proposal of an opponent and screw him and his state. I do not remember the exact percentage but I think it was basically 99% of the US Congress admitted to not reading the Patriot Act. My own congress person has never been able to answer a single question about military budgets. Some of them don’t even have security clearances high enough to see everything they’re voting on. What all did teh Democratic leadership in the US Congress claim that W. did that they didn’t authorize. They voted in massive budgets, didn’t have oversight, threatened to cut off funding and got hammered by public opinion while W. rode the “I’m pertectin Americer” wave. Teh Patriot Act itself authorizes military actions previously illegal within the borders of the US, and despite the claims of its proponents, very much allows teh listening in on US citizens, even with no discernable ties to overseas terrorist, and does not specifically mandate that a communication must be in progress with a know/suspected terrist overseas. Hundreds of wiretaps have been done and never reviewed by the supposed controlling courts, hundreds, maybe thousands more though requested and executed were not even turned in for approval and evaluation, and the said agents still are not disciplined and the taps continue.

    My point is that to make assumptions based on the 20th century is really short sighted. Man, we have over 6000 years of recorded history. And it all points to a well armed, well trained citizen militia, activated by the state for short periods of time for defense and continued training. Thousands of years of Eqyptian, Greek, Roman, Asian and even South/Central American of records say that. The problem begins when you begin to have a permanent armed forces. Especially if you begin to curtail the ability of the populace to resist aggression independant of the standing force. If that force was born in the attempt to defend or free itself from the conquest of another, then you have a few years, maybe 100-200 at the most before it starts to fall apart. That is only because the soldiers and the next couple of generations still identify themselvs as having freed themselves. The collective memory of oppression is still fresh.

    But I reiterate that history is full of examples of this if the world will just try and be a little more responsible for what it does and learn from history we wont succumb to that madness that repeats themselves over and over. And that madness is doing the same thing again and again expecting a different result THIS TIME.

    As great as it might be the IDF does not constitute proof that teh civilian government should “control” the military. Their goals are not the same. They are complementary (when balanced) but not the same at all. Thousands of years of proof says otherwise. Thousands of years of proof says that it is only a matter of time.

    Ah but I am rambling too much. I’ll just concede the argument and put away 6000 years of proof and say that yeah, you’ve got a great point their. The 20th century is the perfect example of the peace and proserity, human and generous treatment that civilian control of the military can bring. No atrocities to speak of, no large invasionary forces, no establishment of a 250K strong (with on going training with the goal of eventually reaching about 1-3 million) homeland security strike force designed to take, subdue, pacify and hold up to 2 dozen or more major domestic population centers (that’s read “civilian population centers”) simutaneously, with extra troops for heavy counterinsurgency efforts (again domestically). Nope that didn’t happen. They aren’t trainng these guy fro urban warfare to be used on other countries my friend, these people are being trained in the local traditions, culture and biases of the populations in US cities.

  18. Charles RB says

    “Even I wouldn’t argue that it work for a while. Generally works, as in, for a while.”

    It’s worked for decades, and is still working, in multiple different nations; it shows no sign yet of stopping to work; your example against it is the US, which is one nation. Your premise is flawed.

    And for some reason you view elected government and elected officials as different things, when the former is composed of the latter.

    I’m also not aware that there’s thousands of years of proof that liberalised capitalist democracies, next to and trading with many other liberalised capitalist democracies & being the dominant powers, turning militaristic against their own population because the government commands the army. In fact, I cannot think of a time when there were this many such nation-states with this much power at one point in time.

  19. Shayde says

    THE LONG VERSION (skip it if you want just the meat)

    My concern, being a US citizen, is primarily for the fate of my nation and then the world as a whole and a secondary concern. Sorry about that, but that’s my view, so when I see the trash happen here, like it did in Germany, in ancient Rome, Greece, Egypt … etc. I cannot help but wonder why it is that my people cannot see it happening. I take it personally. So I use the US as an example because it is first hand. But to say the US is the ONE country that it is happening to or has happened to in the past few “decades” is myopic at best.

    REad the article here :

    Though I do not agree completely with this guy, he identifies some interesting parallels between the rise of fascism in Germany and recent events in US History.

    Let’s list some others:
    Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, Pakistan(even the recently assasinated and belove former Prime minister was suspected/known to have used rather lethal means of nogtiation during her time in office), Somalia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, and Cote D’Ivoire, and even Kenya.

    There are problems even in the great nations of the US and those in Western Europe. Each of these western style democracies has their own, shall we say, flavor they have added to democracy. The direct democracies of Greece eventually lead to an “aristocratic” democracy (mainly the wealthy landed or business owners or military leaders) that is practiced in western culture in great extent. But even back tehn it was achkonowledged that support of the “people” was necessary for even the most powerful.

    Now it might not be fair to lump the failed democracies of Africa and Asia, or those I didn’t mention of Central and South America in with the “successful” ones of Europe and America. Those other countries are still dealing with the “tribalism” that Europeans dealt with a thousand years ago. Nationalism isn’t a “Real” concept for them as a people yet.

    But, I’d say that it all goes back to your extremely short termed view. You cannot count a few decades back in time and say “see, it never happened.” I am talking about all of recorded human history and you’re talking about maybe 50 years. No comparison. Because you can take ANY area of the world and find a 50 year span and say, “See government system ??? works!” Talk to some cubans and they’ll tell you their system works. Most of the world would disagree, I think, and many of their own people would too, but a significant number of them thinks things are fine, enough so that the regime continues.

    Let’s all just start to qualify our arguments here. You talk about having “so many” ” liberalised capitalist democracies” at one time living and trading with each other etc.

    Well, just because you are “not aware” of the condition or the history does not mean it hasn’t or doesn’t exist. I gave you examples, tried to point you in the direction of someplaces to start so oyu can develop your own sense of history, its ebbs and flows.

    Go read the histories of the Greek or Roman city states. REad about the nations of the middle ages. Read about the tribal politics of Ireland, Scotland and Britain. REad about all those groups I listed earlier. REad about Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, and though there is much to admire of their history read about France in the last 150 years.

    If you do you will see some startling hints at what is going to be happening to our “liberalized” democracies over the next 100 years or so if the people do not wake up and see the train wreck that is coming.

    Oh, and I just love this comment :
    “In fact, I cannot think of a time when there were this many such nation-states with this much power at one point in time.”

    Power is relative my friend. Just because most of the “liberalized” democracies of our day have the A-bomb or ICBMS or computers or telephones or TVs or International corporations doesn’t mean that changes the fabric or nature of power. There was a time when only the rich nations had large seige engines, or armored mounted cavalry, after Rome only her successor states had good plumbing and water ditribution systems. (BTW, a lot of those successor states chose leaders not unlike our current democratic or republican systems. they just used titles like duke, cheif, warloard, king and held little real power other than that given by their people) And those numbered in the dozens. Then there are the several dozen Greek states that were all comparatively equal in technology.

    But even to day, that power is ralative. The US economy might be more than a bit rocky right now, but it still has enough power, both economic and military, that it holds a decidedly dominant position. Even the entire EU cannot match the economic power or military power the US could project, in a pinch. But the US is locked in an internal struggle right now. The populace has been drifting more towards a “democratic” (some might say libertarian) view than the far right or far left. And as such both the left leaning and right leaning parties are panicking. the left has enacted legislation aimed at buying the votes of the academic/socio-elitist and the lowest quarters of our society. The right has focused on the industrial-military power brokers. Each is trying to make them selves seem palatable to the middle class. But it is precisely that middle class (both lower and upper) whose interests can never be served by either group. so now each of our “parties” are lock in a power struggle desperately trying to damage the US and point the finger at the other in the hjopes that they will be able to retain power long enough to make things a bit better after their ploys have worked.

    It’s a pattern that has recurred over the entire history of mankind. The advent of the EU is not unlike many acquisitions made by Rome or Greece or by the British Empire. But the power strugles and problems facing our young democracies are serious. We have a majority of “democracies” that have largy disarmed their populations now. The benefits they touted have not come to pass and violent crimes and now terrorism are even more prevalent in those nations, because perps have no reason to fear retaliation if even caught in the act. Now that the population are disarmed, they have no way to resist domestic oppression. If you do not have the capability to resist does it make sense to believe you are really free? All you need is some elected official who decides he doesn’t want to step down at the end of his term. If he had enough influence and support to get there in the first place he/she probably has powerful supporters that can help him stay in power if it benefits those powerful supporters.

    Just do some research. Past and current events are eerily concidental.

    • says

      Hey, I love spirited debate, guys, but let’s avoid getting too personal here. I’ve debated this sort of topic in the past, and let me assure you: it doesn’t matter how many examples one presents of a government working or not working or resembling fascism or not, because someone else may look at that very example with a completely open mind and still totally disagree about what it signifies. Sometimes you have to agree to disagree.

  20. Shayde says

    SHORT VERSION (at least compared to the above)

    “It’s worked for decades… Your premise is flawed.”

    Drawing conclusions based on evidence of a few decades is not as reliable as drawing conclusions based on thousands of years.

    “And for some reason you view elected government and elected officials as different things, when the former is composed of the latter.”

    Name me one thing that is composed of multiple components in which a single component IS the larger composite item.

    “I’m also not aware that there’s thousands of years of proof that liberalised capitalist democracies, next to and trading with many other liberalised capitalist democracies & being the dominant powers, turning militaristic against their own population because the government commands the army.”

    Just because one is not aware of conditions contrary to their own personal views/experiences does not mean their own personal experience is only valid determinant to the existence of conditions.

    Study some history. Democracies and republics of the ancient world were not that different from those of today. Modern society, especially europeans, are so full of themselvs that they seem to think they are all smarter than everybody especially the people in the past. People then were just as economically and politically astute, shrewed and conniving as they are now. The sad truth is that our curent forms of gevernment are not that different than those of the ancient peoples. Travel, communication, and manufacturing are faster. It’s justa matter of what technology was available now versus then. People then paid attention to what affect them the most and we do the same thing now. People, leaders, governments and officials are the same now as then. Why expect anything different when we take no precautions to prevent the same types of people from getting placed into the same types of powerful positions?

    “In fact, I cannot think of a time when there were this many such nation-states with this much power at one point in time.”

    Power is relative, and distributed among nations of similar strength at the time with usually 1 or 2 dominating entities and usually resulting in one dominant entity after a few decades of economic/military huffing and puffing. Once that happen there will be a brief period (a few decades) of economic groth and prosperity and then something will happen. Bad policies, greedy officials manipulating economies for their own ends, made up wars, it doesn’t matter what happens it will. That country will eventuall bite off more than it can chew, will either suffer the consequenced, fix things and go on a few more decades. Or they will begin to head down either a socialist or fascist path. The closer to a democracy you get the more likely you’ll head towards socialism and communism. The more republican your government the more likely it will head to a fascist state. Either might easily go full circle into the other.

    But that’s why the US Founding Fathers set up a hybrid system and a system where the central government is not supposed to be able to trump the State governments, especially when dealing with individual citizens. Infact the original plan was fro each State to maintain a militia and contribute troops to teh national defense under a shared command…

    And that’s why I disagree that the central civilian government should control a standing army. Read the histories of teh nations I mention. REad the Federalist Papers. Read the debates in Congress when they were deciding these things. Those men deliberately studied ancient republics and democracies and the then modern governments when trying to formulate the constitution.

    That’s why I say the current political states we “enjoy” are not viable in the long run. History will repeat itself until we learn from it.

    And truth be told, those democracies you cite as being so successful are not only very young (most of them) but have not been partucularly stable except in the most liberal of estimations. Sadly enough the US has really been the most stable until very recently.

  21. Renae says

    GREAT post! Thanks for articulating the vague discomfort that I found with the character Roslin in whom, as my favorite character, I had held such hopes as a powerful female character in an excellent show.

  22. Rebekah says

    “As in many TV series, female power is associated with mysticism over personal accomplishment (See: Buffy, Sidney Bristow, **Starbuck**). ”

    Starbuck’s authority over the other pilots in BSG stems entirely from her skills as a pilot. She goes almost the entire series using nothing more than that as her means of influencing other people. It isn’t until her death/resurrection that mysticism even enters the Starbuck equation, and even then she loses more influence and authority because of it than she gains. The ONLY reasons Adama gave her the ship to go hunt for Earth come from his respect for her as a pilot, and his love for her as his once-future-daughter-in-law.

    I personally take a little offense to her being dropped in with that lot.

  23. Maria says

    As early as the first season, Starbuck’s flirting with mysticism, like when Roslin tasks her with finding that arrow, and you see her apartment Delphi, where she’s got the paintings and the poems whose themes forebode the rest of the series’ themes. Plus, she’s one of the members of the crew that’s the most explicitly spiritual, since she has those moments where she prays to the little icons she keeps in her locker.


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