September 11thPosted: September 12, 2005
Yesterday was the fourth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. And how did I spend it? Watching old episodes of Battlestar Galactica. Before you protest (naturally), I should point out that The New York Times did a piece on the show a few months ago, entitled “Retooling a 70's Sci-Fi Relic for the Age of Terror”. I'm going to have to discuss the piece from memory, since I don't feel like (a) paying for it or (b) rereading it. So here's the lowdown:
Battlestar Galactica takes on a lot of hard questions and issues that are particularly poignant and relevant after 9/11. Some of the issues it brings up are trust, religion, sacrifice, civil rights, leadership, and ethical dilemmas, all of which we are dealing with today. For example, any character can potentially be a “sleeper” Cylon agent, and they may even be programmed not to know that fact. That makes them so convincing that they can move freely among the humans and do massive damage. This whole situation causes tension and mistrust throughout the human fleet. Civil rights is also an issue it brings up – what kind of government should be set up when the entire human population numbers 45,000, and is under constant threat of attack? What sort of rights should the people get?
But for me, one of the most powerful themes in the show is the nature of leadership. Commander Adama, the military leader, often has “turf” issues with the civilian President, but they almost always resolve their differences in a professional manner, and above all, in a way that's best for the people they serve. When I watch the leaders on Battlestar Galactica, I feel more than a tinge of regret that we don't have such leaders today. Cronyism and greed are the rule these days, not the exception. And it's pervasive – at the top of almost all major institutions, the highest priority is to milk the public as much as possible while giving back (in terms of quality of services or products) as little as possible. Maybe it has always been like this, but taking a page from Battlestar Galactica, we need principled, dedicated, selfless leaders. Unfortunately, it looks like that's only happening in fiction.