You can read this week's story right HERE.
Summary: General Andropov gives a speech, then some people talk about that speech.
Its the 2nd of September, 2004, and Sheria Coreg are the first words we read. She's our protagonist this week, and her story has nothing to do with that of Torako and Starhawk. In many ways, this is necessary: Torako and Starhawk are not, despite being our eyes into the setting a week ago, going to be our eyes every week. Not only that, but they will only be our eyes for a handfull of short stories. This is disappointing to say the least, as a long serialization of their adventures would allow for a structure and common base for those learning about WARS to draw from. We don't get that, and instead we are dropped right into some characters very far from those of last week. Now it is time to introduce the Earthers, in all their mighty militaristic corporate glory.
But what we do have here instead is not what we'd expect for our first outing from the Earther faction. While our first glimpse of Gongen came from a sarcastic used-car-salesman, instead we are shown the Earthers from their own eyes, no second point of view, and yet the view is fundamentally more perverse than the view we got of the Gongen. Like the first story, we're given a quote from the book “The Gateless Gate”, a book from China and therefore fundamentally oriented with with Asia-centric Gongen culture, but not only that buy a Buddhist book. While the quotes will keep coming, the contrast here is notable. Unlike the stories with the Shi or Quay, we can't simply take the comparison between the Mumon Rift and the “Gateless Gate” as a face-value reason to associate the book with them, and though the book was written on Earth within the setting the place it was written in is an irradiated hellhole. But the comparison gets more interesting when we get into the text, because this is a story so fundamentally rooted and conscious of western culture, philosophy, and religion the quote from “The Gateless Gate” hangs over the text ominously, haunting the text like an angry spirit.
“Clinging to the deluded way of consciousness,
Students of the Way do not realize truth.”
– Mumon Ekai
The first thing we're given here is a speech, a speech which takes up over half the story, which sets the mood for the sort of Dogma and Rhetoric we'll be discussing. The speech isn't obvious, it isn't the kind of thing an author would write to make us look at a culture and say, “man, aren't they being manipulated by Dogma?” Its better than that, its fairly realistic, and its not hard to imagine it being read out loud. In fact, try it. If you have a copy of the story go over to a mirror and read the speech out loud to yourself, your cats, or your neighbors. Feel the cadence of the speech, catch the build and slow of the momentum of the words in your mouth. Sheria Coreg listens to this speech, and is driven off to a future of fighting after it, so we should at least give it a listen ourselves.
I recorded myself reading it if you prefer that:
But then the unexpected happens: While Bren's attack on her beliefs is well deserved in many parts, Sheria neither debates him on his own terms, concedes the issue, learns a lesson, or lessens in her belief in the words of General Andropov's speech. Sure, she tries a few routes of attack that fail: such as trying to play on the “honorable” death of his sister, a sleazy move by all accounts. But that isn't the argument that wins her the day, no, the argument Sheria Coreg makes is probably the strangest thing about the story, and its one that has left many readers puzzled after they read the story.
The argument goes like this: we are going to be chasing down the enemies of Earth, and the order we wish to create, and it is impossible to shield the people we are fighting for from the fate that will befall them. We are not fighting to oppress other peoples, but to prevent them from oppressing us in the future. Therefore, because we are trying to protect the people we are fighting for back home, we need to ensure that we die in a way that they are not harmed by our own doubt in the system we are fighting for. We need to die smiling, with honor, so that the people back home are hurt the least by our deaths because they form a meaningful part of the system, and they can still hold onto that system.
Plus, you completed your training, Bren, so if you really doubted this all so much, why did you finish it?
A rousing speech about honor, or how the Earthers would really be bringing the greatest things to the rest of the solar system would be expected, or even usual. This is none of that. Sheria follows the system to a T, past the point where most people would reasonably stop and continues on because after you have invested so much in the system, stopping it hardly seems like the best way to honor all that you have lost. To round it all out, Sheria says our destinies are in the stars, which is very similar to what General Andropov said in the first place.
Believing that humanity itself has a destiny isn't an uncommon belief, different cultures frame the destiny in different ways: for many Christians the destiny is an Apocalyptic one where we are judged at the end of days leading for those worthy to be taken to Heaven in perfection, for many Buddhists it is enlightenment and the perfection of the self, for some it is the perfection of the social systems of the world to provide plenty to all those humans who live, to others it is innovation and the perfection our lives through advancing technology and understanding. But what if the destiny itself didn't matter so much as the individual fighting for it? The ideals Sheria is fighting for are certainly Western ones, and in line with the ideals that made colonialism a thing. But because she believes in them, and has set on the path of fighting for those beliefs, that is who she is, and that is her destiny. Whether or not she is right is really a secondary concern.
The title of the piece is yet again highly relevant, as is the quote. While Earth espouses a meritocracy, it is held up by those who follow its existence devoutly, such as Sheria. But in following ever onward, she is incapable of performing a critical analysis of what she is fighting for. Bren thinks that she will turn rogue because Sheria analyzing her beliefs is inevitable to him. He has thought about Earth's Jingoistic attitude, and come to the conclusion that Phobos was a waste of life that only served to make Earth less ready to fight the Shi and Quay when they incurred into the solar system, and lets be clear here: he is most certainly right. Earth's attempt to retake Gongen is more ludicrous the more one thinks about it, as the cost of the military occupation necessary to keep the planet under control would be immense, and would hardly endear the entire planet towards Earth. It was a foolhardy and stupid move tactically, and one that hurt Earth far more than it helped it in the end. But this is the path Earth has chosen, and due to destiny, it must be followed out now.
In an ideal universe, the Earthers and the Gongen would work something out to fight their common foes, but Earth is too dead set on playing by its own rules. It won't concede, it won't bow down. Gongen isn't perfect either, and lets not pretend their communist state is perfect or beyond reproach: don't think that they're not going to get their own day in the sun to truly let the stench of their Rot waft up. Today is earth's day however, and man are they rotten.
What a way to introduce the Earthers though! We could have gotten a noble space adventure, or an action packed firefight. No, instead we are given a speech and an argument about rhetoric. Its the best possible way to introduce the Earthers because of that though. WARS isn't Star Wars, and for all the name of it is WARS, its more concerned with the ideas behind why someone might fight a war than the wars themselves. The Earthers are the most powerful military in the solar system, with the most brilliant Admiral, Horatio Hicks. They are a corporatocracy, focused on profits over all things, and they wait on Earth as the Rim and Gongen take the front like brunt of the assault and discuss philosophy.
In a lot of ways, Earth is a horribly perverse rendition of the society we live in right now in America in WARS, and that is what makes it truly wonderful.
No one is the hero in WARS. The Mavericks are murderous pirates, the Gongen are socially repressed, and the Earthers are blindly Jingoistic, not to mention the arrogant glass-cannon-gods of the Shi. Every culture we've met has been flawed, nearly fatally so at times. Despite Sheria's dream of mythology, this isn't a word of gods or Jedi. This is a world where everyone is right, and everyone is wrong. To follow one ideal blindly would take a priestly devotion, you would have neither peace nor rest in servicing it for all of your days. So be it, say the Eather cadets. The Gongen proverb hangs over their head like an omen.
Did I fail to mention the best part? The graduation ceremony is at the Colt-Burton academy at West Point. West Point is now essentially the Taco Bell West Point.
Looks like honor died long ago.
Though one of our heroes from last week might disagree with that.