January 28, 2010

The Colonel's Tiger

That's the title of a short story by Hal Colebatch in Man-Kzin Wars VII, the popular series based on master scifi author Larry Niven's superb "Known Space" characters.

In a nutshell, in the period (roughly) between the mid-22nd century until the end of the 24th, Earth has enjoyed a "golden age" -- a time of peace and plenty, all the while it has settled worlds orbiting nearby stars. Earth history -- especially anything about wars and violence -- is suppressed among the general public by the ARM, the Amalgamated Regional Militia, the enforcement branch of the UN (yeah, go figure!). Tendency to violence is treated as a mental disease, and can be cured chemically. Those who stumble upon any historical info about past Earth conflicts can face a memory wipe. In 2360, one of our ships en route to one of these colonies, the Angel's Pencil, encounters an alien vessel in interstellar space. The ship belongs to the Kzin, a race of carnivorous humanoid felines that resemble huge tigers. They're pure warriors, and want nothing more than to conquer other species.

The crew of Angel's Pencil eventually (out of survival's necessity!) get over their disbelief that the Kzin vessel is trying to harm them, and turn their laser-drive against the ship, destroying it. (This is all detailed in Niven's first-ever Kzin story from 1966, "The Warriors.") They eventually beam back all the evidence of their encounter to Earth -- to warn them of this horrible threat. But since their message travels at the speed of light, it takes years for it to arrive.

In "The Colonel's Tiger" two ARM agents ponder the Pencil's message, and conclude that, despite all the photographic and visual evidence presented, the crew of the ship is mad -- suffering from some sort of delusions brought about by extended space travel. How can aliens, which have superior technology to humans, be aggressive and war-like? Impossible!! And the crew's "madness" must indeed be severe, as they've "come up with" weapons (via their photographic evidence of the Kzin vessel) that have LONG since been outlawed by the nations of Earth; indeed, 99.9% of the population now hasn't even heard of things like fusion bombs, missiles, particle beams, and the like.

One of the ARM agents discovers evidence from the 1800s of a "tiger man" that was eventually killed by an army colonel ... a creature that was such an anomaly as to defy description. The ARM conclude that the crew of the Angel's Pencil probably concocted an elaborate hoax for some as-yet unknown reason -- perhaps to thwart further space travel, or create a panic on Earth, probably for prodigious monetary gain. Again, what the Pencil sent back to Earth just can't be true!! It just can't!

Can it?

Colebatch scatters throughout "Tiger" appropriate passages from past literary works to drive home his point. For instance, there's this from The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:

It was scarcely possible that the eyes of contemporaries should discover in the public felicity the latent causes of decay and corruption. The long peace, and the uniform government of the Romans, introduced a slow and secret poison into the vitals of empire. The minds of men were gradually reduced to the same level, the fire of genius was extinguished, and even the military spirit evaporated.

Then there's this, from Where Ignorance Is Bliss:

One of the largest of all British local council libraries, at Brent, lately destroyed apporximately 66,000 of its 100,000 books. The explanation which the council gave for this destruction was that the offending books were "books on war, history books and other books irrelevant to the community.

Backtrack about 400 years from the time of the Angel's Pencil and what do we find?

  • A refusal to acknowledge the current enemy of civilized nations -- radical Islam. Terms like "terrorism" and "War on Terror" are to avoided ... to be replaced by "less offensive" euphemisms like "man-made disasters" and "overseas contingency operations." Why? Well, it's more important to not offend anyone rather than speaking plain about a real threat.

  • What have WE done to ... "provoke" people like Osama bin Laden into attacking us?

  • If we didn't "provoke" people like bin Laden, we concocted elaborate schemes to attack ourselves so we'd have an excuse to do ... well, whatever.

  • The Cold War was the result of two countries equally mistrusting and not "understanding" one another. Or, the country that did not imprison and murder millions of its own people bears the majority of blame.

  • We're taught, via "multiculturalism" and "diversity" that no culture is superior to any other ... that they're just ... "different." In the meantime, certain cultures mutilate and scar women for life, force them to cover themselves from head to toe, cut off limbs for stealing ... well, again, they're just "different" whereas nations that have granted women -- and all historically oppressed peoples -- more rights and protections than ever before in the history of humankind ... well, somehow they're the paragons of evil in the world.

  • The only real democracy in the Middle East, Israel, is constantly maligned by other countries in the world for daring to defend itself against terrorism. Why? Oh, well, it's because the Palestinians (whose people never actually had a sovereign nation before, much like their Jewish neighbors, prior to 1948) have a "right" to a homeland, and they're just "fighting back the only way they can." Right. Never mind that this ridiculous argument invokes such revisionist history as to defy description. Like, for instance, how do the Palestinians' Arab neighbors get away blameless (despite overwhelming evidence) for what transpired in 1948? And for that matter, 1967, too?

  • Educationists apply everything but Occam's Razor in "explaining" various "theories." For instance, regarding the so-called "achievement gap" (between white/Asian and [other] minority students), things like white teacher -- or general societal -- racism are blamed, as well as a "lack of cultural understanding." Or, there's not enough "role models." Facets such as sky-high fatherlessness, crumbling family structure, and an overall feeling of disdain for schooling are given no-to-little consideration ... because it's not "polite." To "rectify" such a gap, head-scratching "ideas" like this out of Berkeley High become "solutions."

  • Currently, terrorists are given the same legal rights as any American citizen, even though the "vaunted" Geneva Conventions provide that terrorists -- illegal combatants -- do not have to be granted the same protections as even prisoners of war. The Conventions do provide for basic humane and dignified treatment, but based on the letter of the texts it really only pertains to uniformed members of nation-states (they have to be granted full [POW] protections). Some [legal] precedents have ruled that anyone captured in time of conflict, even terrorists, must be granted full POW-like status. Even though some recent Supreme Court decisions have seemingly gone against much of what the past administration desired legally, enough "wiggle room" has been permitted by the Court to not force the (any) administration to treat terrorists exactly as US citizens -- if both the executive and legislative branches actually would do something about it! Yet, as we've witnessed this past Christmas, that's just what the Obama administration has elected to do.

  • Freedom of speech (and thus, conscience) has constricted, or at least has been attempted to be constricted, by the would-be "guardians of virtue." Supposed "hate speech" directed at "oppressed groups" should not be permissible, in their view. Canada's "human rights commissions" have been frequent "guardians" in this regard, attempting to criminalize even simple letters to the editor that criticized homosexuality, and publication of the famous "Mohammed cartoons." Noted conservative pundit Mark Steyn has been on the receiving end of these inquisitions. "Progressives" worldwide favor such restrictions on speech, and we've recently gotten a glimpse into the current administration's view courtesy of advisor Rahm Emanuel. Oh, and don't forget Obama's FCC "diversity czar" Mark Lloyd! And academia? Home of the speech codes and free speech "zones?" Just peruse FIRE's site for anecdotes of that madness.

In the end, the two ARM agents in Colebatch's story realized that the crew of Angel's Pencil could not have created the hoax in which the agency so fervently believed. (The hoax, that is.) The cold reality was that fierce, war-like aliens were indeed out there in space, and we were going to be their next target. Humanity would surrender without a shot unless the ARM acted -- and acted swiftly. Humans would have to be made aware of their past, and be made aware of what they were capable of doing, if they wanted to survive.

September 11, 2001 was supposed to have been our -- not just the US's, but the entire civilized world's -- wake up call. We've already forgotten a mere eight years later. And before that -- what, World War II? How long did it take before we forgot its lessons?

In closing, and in keeping with the scifi analogy, it's best to keep Jean-Luc Picard's words in mind at the end of the superb episode "The Drumhead":

We think we have come so far ... the torture of heretics and the burning of witches is ancient history... and then ... before you can blink an eye ... it threatens to start all over again.

Villains who wear black hats are easy to spot. Those who clothe themselves in good deeds are well camouflaged.

She [Admiral Satie] -- someone like her -- will always be with us... waiting for the right climate in which to flourish...spreading disease in the name of liberty. Vigilance, Worf. That is the price we must continually pay.

Posted by Hube at January 28, 2010 05:24 PM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

Not bad, Hube! In fact pretty damn good.

I wasn't quite sure where you were going with this one at first, but quoting Gibbon and Picard in the same piece is pretty awesome the way I see it.

This is especially relevant in light of the demise of Howard Zinn, the marxist revisionist historian.


Posted by: Rob Miller at February 4, 2010 09:07 PM

I find it both wholly ironic and loathsome that you use a quote which, hilariously enough, was used not only as a means to promote freedom of speech but basic human rights to claim that those deemed "the enemy" are not subject to "rights."

On top of that, you change the quote completely at the end. For those readers who actually care what the writers of that episode were trying to convey, here's the actual text:

Picard: "We think we've come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches, it's all ancient history. And then, before you can blink an eye, suddenly it threatens to start all over again."

Worf: "I believed her... I helped her... I did not see what she was."

Picard: "Mr. Worf, villains who twirl their mustaches are easy to spot. Those who clothe themselves in good deeds are well-camouflaged."

Worf: "I think, after yesterday, people will not be so ready to trust her."

Picard: "Maybe. But she or someone like her will always be with us, waiting for the right climate in which to flourish. Spreading fear in the name of righteousness. Vigilance, Mr. Worf. That is the price we have to continually pay."

When Picard was speaking of villains who clothe themselves in good deeds, it was not of the terrorists or Mr. Obama who he spoke of... it was of people like you. When he spoke of vigilance, it was not of the enemy he spoke, but vigilance against those who would subvert freedom or due process of law in the name of fighting "the enemy".

Here's a better quote for you from the same episode, Mr. Hube. And since you took the liberty of editing the original quote in your favor I believe I'll do the same - that is, change a few words to reflect the common conservative argument against those who "defend terrorism" by promoting basic human rights:

"How dare you! You who consort with terrorists, invoke my father's name to support your traitorous arguments? It is an offense to everything I hold dear! And to hear those words used to subvert the United States of America! My father was a great man! His name stands for integrity and principle! You dirty his name when you speak it. He loved America! But you, Mr. President, corrupt it! You undermine our very way of life! I will expose you for what you are! I've brought down bigger men than you, Obama!!"

Posted by: SadAmerican at March 28, 2010 10:00 PM

Oh, and perhaps, before using Star Trek as a source of quotes to defend your side in the future, you might wish to know that Star Trek was a vision of a completely socialist future in which mankind worked for their mutual benefit rather than the pursuit of wealth. It doesn't really fit well with the rest of your agenda.

If you want to see what the Enterprise crew thought of people who think the way you do (the 20th century mindset), check out episode 126 (The Neutral Zone).

Posted by: SadAmerican at March 28, 2010 10:09 PM

Sad: Obviously, you didn't even begin to comprehend what's behind this post. You ascribe "an agenda" to me, when in fact it is you who has an agenda and is merely upset that I supposedly cherry-picked (I didn't) ST quotes for my "own benefit."

First, based on the content of this post, what precisely in Picard's quotes to Worf are not pertinent? BTW, I found the quote(s) on the 'net ... are they inaccurate? (After reading yours above, I suspect some of the terms may be.) If they are not precisely what was in the episode, it was not b/c I edited them. Indeed, I copied and pasted them from a Googled transcript site. Nevertheless, if what you quoted is the actual (accurate) quote, I suggest you read it again ... b/c it doesn't change my point whatsoever!

Second, on what basis do you imply that I am anti-free speech and/or against basic human rights -- basic human rights even for terrorists?

Third, you supposedly "correct me" on my knowledge (or lack thereof) of Trek, yet your claim of ST being "a completely socialist future" shows that you don't know very much about Trek.

Fourth, in "Chain of Command" (where Picard was tortured by the Cardassians), I know of no one -- including myself -- who would attempt to justify those actions by the Cardis (against Picard). But here's the real issue when comparing the Federation and the Cardassian Union to the contemporary West and, say, the Islamic world: Very few folks I know who've seen that episode had a problem with Picard, Worf and Crusher leading that clandestine operation into Cardassian space (y'know, violating their sovereign territory) because the intel concluded that the Cardassians were working on a biogenic weapon, very destructive -- genocidal, even. And not only that, it's because we know the Federation to be inherently peaceful and non-confrontational, and it abides the rule of law, etc., while the Cardassian Union is a military junta predicated on expansion and subjugation.

Now, what would be your reaction to, say, Israel sending in a crack team of commandos to destroy Iran's nuclear capability? Since you seem to know my "agenda," let me invoke similar characteristics towards you: Your reaction, I'd wager, would be one of utter outrage against Israel, not against Iran for constructing the nuke and its continuing genocidal rhetoric against Israel and the West.

Continuing, why in the world does the Federation maintain Section 31? As a result of its existence did not the Utopian Federation [implicitly] condone torture -- and even genocide (against the Founders) -- as a response to [an] extraordinary threat[s]? I am not saying that you condone this group's actions (or even its creation), but it is beyond naive to presume that NO society -- even one as Utopian as the Federation -- would not have such "contingency" plans to preserve itself and/or prevent catastrophic attacks. Or, as the saying goes here in the US, "The Constitution is not a suicide pact."

And in conclusion, Admiral Satie's quote can easily be thrust upon the "guardians of virtue" like those Western nations other than the US who do not (unfortunately) have a First Amendment (as was mentioned in the post. Again.).

Posted by: Hube at March 29, 2010 03:26 PM

Glad you like "The Colonel's Tiger" but things have moved on a long way since it was published. The third generation of post-contact humans and Kzin have, in a few cases, established co-operation. Of course, TCT was written long before 9/11 though it did try to warn against the perils of an overr-complacent society. Vol XII was published not long ago.
Best wishes,

Hal Colebatch

Posted by: Hal colebatch at September 15, 2010 01:05 PM

Many thanks for stopping by, Hal!

I'm a big collector of the Niven-verse, so I am indeed aware of how things stand now between humans and kzinti. While TCT is truly a superb story in this universe, I was, as you could probably tell, quite enamored with its "message."

Posted by: Hube at September 15, 2010 03:04 PM