by Dexter Babin
I miss Star Wars. I miss liking Star Wars, talking about Star Wars, and having nerd freak-outs in public arguing who would win in a fight: Jawas or Ewoks? (The answer obviously being Boba Fett).
With the upcoming release of a new trilogy, which has filled me with a very cautious optimism, I’ve started to see Star Wars in an historical/political perspective.
I was re-watching Episodes IV-VI the other day and found myself wondering if the Galactic Empire had truly found the answer to the sustainability of an empire: THE DEATH STAR.
From the Romans to the British, every great empire in the history of mankind has fallen. While every empire has fallen for a multitude of reasons, usually overexertion of the military and the exhaustion of the imperial economy is a common one.
With the Roman Empire for example, their answer to a problem was usually just throwing enough troops at the problem until it went away. While effective, this way of thinking obviously has its downfalls. You can see this kind of strategy mirrored in The Clone Wars, with both the Trade Federation and the Galactic Republic both basically having a renewable resource of cannon fodder.
NAVY VS ARMY: DOWNFALL OF AN EMPIRE?
Did inter-service rivalry contribute to the downfall of the Galactic Empire? After World War II, the newly organized U.S. Air Force argued that because of nuclear weapons and the advancements in bombing technology, both the Marines and the Navy were obsolete.
Secretary of Defense Louis A. Johnson met with Admiral Richard L. Connolly in 1949 and had a discussion about the future of the navy:
The Navy is on its way out. There’s no reason for having a Navy and a Marine Corps. General Bradley tells me amphibious operations are a thing of the past. We’ll never have any more amphibious operations. That does away with the Marine Corps. And the Air Force can do anything the Navy can do, so that does away with the Navy.
Surely political rivalries existed and continue to exist in the U.S. military, but no way such pettiness could be tolerated in the Galactic Empire, right?
The first instance we see any of the Imperial High Command, they are bickering. In the infamous scene in A New Hope, High Commander of the Army Cassio Tagge and Admiral Antonio Motti, who is later choked by Vader because of his disturbing lack of faith, are both arguing over the strategic vulnerability of the Death Star. The stakes are high for both officers. For Motti, who is an officer in the Imperial Navy, the Death Star is the chance for the Navy to be the dominate branch of the Imperial Armed Forces.
Besides the rest of the galaxy, the Death Star is also a threat to High Commander Tagge, because a large army of stormtroopers and AT-ATs would be redundant after you have a battle station that has the ability to blow up a planet. Surely the Imperial Army would still exist, but both manpower and resources would be redirected from the Army to the Navy to support this new super weapon.
This may explain why stormtroopers are such poor shots, and Jedi mind tricks aside, how Luke, Obi Wan, C3PO, and R2D2 are able to avoid Imperial detection for the majority of the time they are on Tattoine. Either the stormtroopers are not motivated to find the missing plans for the Death Star, or the before mentioned funneling of resources from the Army to the Navy has already occurred and they are just poorly trained or possess faulty equipment.
THE DEATH STAR, THE TARKIN DOCTRINE, AND THE MADMAN RICHARD NIXON
Lets go back to the Death Star itself. The purpose of this moon-sized space station is to enforce the Tarkin Doctrine, named after Gran Moff Wilhuff Tarkin. The Tarkin Doctrine states that the most effective way to keep all the planets in line is with the fear of force rather than an act of force. That is what the Death Star was envisioned as, a symbol: a reminder for the planets to bend to the will of the Empire. But not only does the Death Star need to exist to strike fear into the hearts of citizens across the galaxy, but they must believe the Empire is willing to use it as well. That’s probably why, despite Princess Leia’s pleas that the location of the secret rebel base is on Dantooine, Gran Moff Tarkin destroys her home planet of Alderaan anyway.
In a way, the Tarkin Doctrine is a galactic spin of President Richard Nixon’s Madman Theory. In October 1969, the United States military was ordered to full global readiness alert. As a part of this strategy, three bombers were armed with nuclear weapons and made flight patterns near Soviet airspace for three straight days. This was an obvious indication to let the Soviet Union know that the madman Richard Nixon was loose.
Though Nixon’s planes headed straight for Moscow, his goal was to end the war in Vietnam. Nixon’s reasoning was that if the Soviet Union thought that Nixon was crazy enough to launch a nuclear strike on Moscow, that the Vietnam War was getting out of hand, and the Soviet Union would force Hanoi to return to the Paris peace talks or risk losing Soviet support.
Nixon also furthered his madman theory by increasing bombing runs on the North Vietnamese.
I call it the Madman Theory, Bob. I want the North Vietnamese to believe I’ve reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war. We’ll just slip the word to them that, “for God’s sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about communism. We can’t restrain him when he’s angry—and he has his hand on the nuclear button” and Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace.
– President Nixon explaining The Madman Theory to Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman.
But was Nixon really prepared to launch nuclear weapons? Unlikely. It is more believable that he was just trying to frighten both the Soviet Union and North Vietnam into peace by threatening to unleash a devastating weapon a hundred times more powerful than the one that was dropped on both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the end, Nixon’s madman theory didn’t work. It turns out that the North Vietnamese were willing to accept far more greater casualties than Nixon had calculated.
Nixon’s bombings eventually crossed international borders, with Laos and Cambodia being heavily bombed. Instead of the further fear of force causing the Vietnamese to surrender, it just radicalized them as anti-American sentiment spread throughout the region.
This is similar to the Tarkin Doctrine. In a way, the Emperor has to be seen by the public as a madman to destroy an entire planet over the actions of a few. But unlike Nixon’s Madman Theory, the Tarkin Doctrine was mildly successful.
In A New Hope, after the destruction of Alderran, and the near destruction of Yavin IV, The Empire Strikes Back begins with the rebels retreating to Hoth, an uninhabited frozen world.
Now, the rebels could have gone here just to keep their base even more of a secret from the Empire, but why would they pick such a hostile planet on which to hide? Is it because after the destruction of Alderran, and the near destruction of Yavin IV, that every other planet was afraid to take the rebels in, even after the destruction of the Death Star?
But there are flaws in the Tarkin Doctrine. In order to keep the galaxy on its knees, planets must be destroyed. Besides the human cost, which I’m sure wasn’t an issue, there is a financial cost at stake as well.
I’m not sure how the financial system of the Galactic Empire operates, but I’m sure Alderran was paying some kind of tax to the Empire, either in credits or in natural resources.
So every time you destroy a planet, you destroy a source of income. Now, depending on the value of a planet, its destruction may be worth the cost to avoid a more costly war later if the influence of the rebel alliance spread.
Perhaps the largest flaw of the Tarkin Doctrine is that it had an opposite effect of its intention. The destruction of Alderran may have caused planets to hesitate to give the Rebel Alliance sanctuary, but it did not destroy the alliance. If anything it only strengthened their cause that the Empire would destroy a peaceful and innocent planet such as Alderran.
THE GALACTIC EMPIRE: DOOMED FROM THE START?
In his book The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, Dr. Paul Kennedy says:
Great powers in relative decline instinctively respond by spending more on “security”, and thereby divert potential resources from “investment” and compound their long term dilemma.
Earlier last year a White House petition was started for the construction of a Death Star by the United States. In a response, the government estimated that it would cost $852 quadrillion dollars to build a Death Star; their source probably being this study done at Lehigh University.
I’m not sure of the exchange rate between USD and Galactic Credits, but I think it’s safe to say that a Death Star is one hell of an investment. An investment that could have been redirected elsewhere.
Since the construction of the Death Star began at the end of Revenge of the Sith, it wouldn’t be fair to say that it was built when the Empire started to decline, but rather at its birth. Unless the Galactic Empire was failed to doom at its inception.
The Empire not only survived, but remained prosperous during the years between the end of Revenge of the Sith and the start of A New Hope, despite the majority of the galaxy not knowing the Death Star existed. The Empire was still able to force the planets to step into line without blowing them up.
Ok, Emperor, so your Death Star blows up. You’ve lost quadrillions, along with the untold amount of men who were stationed on the Death Star. What’s your next plan? Build another freakin’ Death Star. Not only are you going to waste more money on a another Death Star, but you’re going to try to destroy the rebel fleet by luring them towards your battle station, which safety depends on the same fleet that couldn’t protect your first Death Star?
Now it’s obvious that the construction of the second Death Star was the direct cause of the fall of the Galactic Empire, and it was all done because of “security”.
Instead of spending an untold fortune on the construction of a second Death Star, the Empire should have trained its army to repel an attack from a cuddly horde of teddy bears.
Darth Vader chokes people. That’s what he does. Though it is particularity bad ass, it’s not the best way to manage people. If the consequence for making a mistake or questioning the orders of your superior is death, then you tend not to do it.
For example, in Empire Strikes Back, the Empire is about to descend upon on the Hoth system for a surprise attack on the hidden rebel base. Admiral Ozzel brings the Imperial Fleet out of light-speed too close, so the rebels were able to detect the Imperial attack and prepare their defenses. Alerted by a General that the fleet has come out of light speed, and that the rebels have an energy shield surrounding the planet; Vader decides this is the Navy’s fault, skypes with Admiral Ozzel, and then force chokes him to death.
He then tells Ozzel’s second in command, Captain Piett, that he is now Admiral Piett, and given command of the fleet.
Vader’s promotion of Piett is probably what led to the rebels escaping Hoth. Not only was Piett thrown into a new leadership position right before a major battle, but everyone down the line was as well. This could have thrown the Imperial Fleet into chaos, as nobody had any idea who was in charge. Also, if the only way to get a promotion in the Empire is for your boss to make a mistake and get killed, then its in your best interest for your boss to make a mistake.
So like The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (The masterful work by Edward Gibbon, whose title I ripped off for this article), the Galactic Empire also had a decline and fall. And much like the Roman Empire, the Galactic Empire fell for a multitude of reasons.
Inter-service rivalry, sexism and xenophobia in the armed forces, poor leadership, insane domestic policy, and lastly the Death Star all lead to the downfall of the Galactic Empire. I would say that the Empire only lasted only 23 years, but the Empire doesn’t necessarily die with Palpatine and Vader. There are plenty of Moffs, Generals, and Admirals that can all decide that they are the rightful heirs to the Empire, and throw the galaxy into a civil war within a civil war as the remains of the Empire turn on itself.