Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The "Missing Insurgency" of Babylon 5's Final Seasons

The "Missing Insurgency" of Babylon 5's Final Seasons
by Van Allen Plexico

One thing I think J Michael Straczynski got wrong--or at least didn't explore nearly enough--in the "President Clark/Earthwar" segment of the Babylon 5 storyline was the way that Earth basically welcomed Sheridan and his alien allies after they defeated Clark's military forces defending Earth and overthrew his regime at the end of the fourth season of the show (which aired 1993-1998). 

Considering at least two major factors, I think many (if not most) people living on Earth at the time would've been at least very skeptical if not downright hostile to Sheridan and company. Possibly skeptical enough to create an "insurgency" against Sheridan and his Earth allies that could've lingered for many years. 

Those factors are:

Factor 1) Earth had only recently suffered another attack from space by hostile forces in the form of the Minbari invasion, culminating at the Battle of the Line. That traumatic event occurred in 2248. Sheridan's campaign of "liberation" from Clark happened late in 2261, only thirteen years later. No matter who the attackers/liberators were, it's hard to imagine everyone or even a majority of the people on Earth switching over to their side against the Earth defense forces. 

It's not like Clark was making life hard for most people on Earth. Sure, he was giving aliens (and people who disagreed with him) a hard time, but it's not like he wrecked the economy (as far as we know) or instituted some deeply unpopular legislation or took the planet into a pointless war. As far as could be told, being a run-of-the-mill human living under Clark was not all that horrible in one's daily life--assuming one toed the Clark/Nightwatch line. (Of course, if you were an alien, or someone branded a "sympathizer"/"enemy of the state" or a political dissident, things were infinitely worse for you.)

So it's difficult to imagine a huge number of people rallying to the Sheridan banner under those circumstances--especially when Sheridan's invasion must have actually appeared to many people on Earth to be proving Clark correct in his prophesies about the aliens "coming to get us!" And speaking of the perceptions of the people of Earth with regard to Sheridan v. Clark, that takes us to:

Factor 2) President Clark had his very own "FOX News" at his disposal, beaming out pro-Clark, anti-Sheridan propaganda 24/7. Or at least he did after his jackbooted security forces stormed the ISN building and arrested all the honest and neutral (read: anti-Clark) journalists who worked there. 

Surely some portion of the Earth's population--and likely a very substantial portion--would've been all too willing and eager to buy into the Big Lie and the Easy Answer (Sheridan is evil; aliens cause all our problems), especially with (what was apparently) the only major news outlet on the planet (ISN) beaming out that message round-the-clock. Even after Sheridan's victory over Clark, there still should've been a vast number of humans who were utterly convinced that John Sheridan and his army represented an evil, conquering force that should be resisted unto death.

Instead, as we saw, Sheridan's forces were actually "greeted as liberators" (to borrow the words of a guy who, like Clark, was at one point an ambitious Earth vice-president, and who also helped lead an invasion under the stated banner of liberation-- Dick Cheney). It was as if the entire populace of the planet cast aside everything they'd been told about Sheridan and his compatriots in an instant, once Clark was dead and his forces were defeated. Cheney could only wish things had gone so smoothly in Iraq.

Furthermore, in the episode "The Deconstruction of Falling Stars," we see a later era in which Sheridan is debated by a roundtable of several supposedly influential members of the media--and debated not in terms of whether Sheridan and his actions were "good or bad," but whether he deserved all the credit history had given him. In other words, "Just how great of a hero was he really?" and not "Was he a hero at all, or a villain?" 

Surely ISN could've found at least one unreconstructed Clarkist (Clarkite? Clarkian?) who would've been thrilled to argue that, to borrow the phrasing of Delenn on that episode, "Morgan Clark was a good man" and then added, "that alien sympathizer Sheridan with his extra-constitutional invasion caused all these problems we face today." Not only would that have been fun and interesting to see-- it would've been very likely for some if not many to hold that belief. (Even in a society with apparently only one news media outlet! Yes, we are looking at you, ISN. Of course we are. You're the only channel on our future-TV, apparently. Thank goodness you're "Fair and Balanced!")

It may have been that JMS simply didn't have room or time to explore this aspect of the story. Still, one feels he might have dropped at least one or two references to it into the series or the spinoffs or at least into the tie-in novels that came afterward--particularly the Psi Corps or Centauri novels by Greg Keyes and Peter David.

Perhaps one day someone will novelize the entire Babylon 5 saga from start to finish, in a Game of Thrones-sized series of books, and the situation on the home front can finally be given the attention it deserves. And perhaps our own experiences in the years since Babylon 5 was produced can inform that story and make it even more true-to-life than it already was.
Van Allen Plexico is an award-winning SF/adventure novelist and non-fiction writer and podcaster, as well as an associate professor of Political Science and History.

You can read Van's own interstellar saga of politics, religion and cosmic warfare in "The Shattering" from White Rocket Books, available here. The third volume of the Legion trilogy recently won Novel of the Year in the 2015 Pulp Factory Awards.

He's on Facebook as Van Allen Plexico
Follow him on Twitter:  @vanallenplexico

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