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Cylons and Preventive War (significant spoiler content)

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In the last episode of BSG, we learned that, some three years ago, a Colonial recon ship crossed into Cylon territory where it was discovered, destroyed, and its pilot captured. The Blame the Colonies First Crowd has apparently decided that this means that the Colonial Fleet precipitated the genocidal Cylon attack that nearly destroyed humanity. Let’s review that claim, shall we?

The Galactica timeline indicates that the recon mission took place roughly a year before the Cylon attack on the Colonies. If the mission precipated the attack, this would mean that the Cylons must have decided to attack and developed the capability to attack within this timeframe. Given what we know about Cylon decision-making, it’s entirely plausible that they could have decided to attack and and begun to develop plans in such a short period. Given that the Colonial Fleet possessed over a hundred battlestars, it’s also plausible that the Cylons would have constructed numerous Basestars and Raiders during the truce period. Thus, the material requirements for what we’ve seen seem well within Cylon capabilities. The more twitchy question involves the Cylon infiltration of the Colonies.

We know that the Cylons infiltrated the Colonial Fleet and associated groups (most notably a civilian corporation working on the computer defense network) well prior to the attack. The fact that Sharon Valerii, presumably among others, managed to achieve a position in the officer corps of the Colonial Fleet suggests that this infiltration began well prior to the recon mission. Indeed, the Galactica timeline indicates that Caprica Six began her infiltration mission a year before the recon mission, and that Boomer joined the Galactica a year before as well; this would indicate that Sharon had been in the colonies for quite a considerable time period before the recon incursion. What does this tell us? The Cylons had broken the Treaty considerably prior to the Colonial mission. The suspicions of Colonial Admirals were justified; Cylon incursion into Colonial space preceded Colonial incursion, and thus it is rather tendentious to claim that the Colonial mission serves as a legal justification for the Cylon attack.

However, it’s possible that, while the Cylons clearly violated the Treaty, they had not planned to attack and destroy humanity prior to the Colonial incursion. Perhaps Cylon infiltration was essentially defensive in nature (security dilemma dynamics having prompted action), and the Colonial incursion convinced the otherwise peaceful Cylon that the Colonial Fleet was dedicated to their destruction. The ensuing war could then be understood as the tragic consequence of misunderstanding between two essentially status quo powers. There is some supporting evidence for this interpretation. Cylon theology seems to suggest a belief that humanity is incorrigibly aggressive, implying that war between the Colonies and the Cylon was inevitable, and making Cylon action essentially defensive. Given the difficulty of controlling human populations on old and New Caprica, a campaign of genocide might have appeared the only way of dealing with the Colonial threat. On a couple of different occasions, Cylons have claimed an essentially defensive justification for tracking down and destroying the remnants of humanity. Left to their own devices, it is argued, even a tiny residue of humanity would reconstitute its military power and return for revenge in the future.

However, I believe that there is more evidence to suggest that the Cylon planned and waged their war with aggressive intent, with defensive motivations playing only a trivial role. Although it’s difficult to distinguish between a genuinely preventive war and an outright war or aggression (which is why, under almost any theory of international law, preventive war is prohibited), internal Cylon discussions, and conversations with Colonial interrogators, suggest that the Cylon had positive, aggressive intent. We know that the Cylons attacked shortly after Caprica Six had achieved full infiltration and compromise of the Colonial defense network. Although this doesn’t necessarily contradict the defensive explanation, it is more consistent with a longer term aggressive plan, and implies that the Cylon infiltration before the recon mission was designed to lay the groundwork for an attack, rather than to determine Colonial intent. Following the conquest, the Cylon did not destroy all of humanity, but rather initiated a Cylon-human breeding program in an effort to create some sort of hybrid. This does not imply a defensive motivation, but rather a religiously motivated effort at genetic engineering. The initial Cylon decision to occupy the conquered Colonies also suggests a war of aggression rather than of defensive motivation. Finally, Cylon theology seems to suggest that, above and beyond their belief that humanity was an incorrigible threat, the Cylon understood themselves as Gods tool for the destruction of humanity, and thus that the cause of the war was divine inspiration, rather than defensive survival.

In summation, the argument that the Colonial recon mission into Cylon space constituted the legal justification for the Cylon campaign is simply implausible, and is an argument unworthy of consideration by a Colonial officer. Futhermore, while it can plausibly be argued that Cylon motivation for the war was essentially defensive, the weight of the evidence heavily favors an interpretation of the war as an aggressive campaign of conquest.

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