Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Death Star and Deterrence

            There’s a lot of crap going on right now, but frankly I don’t feel like talking about it. I need a fifth blog post, but I don’t want to get angry or depressed over Christmas break. So today, I’m going to be talking about Star Wars instead. *ahem*
            The Death Star was the most feared weapon in the Galaxy, yet the Empire ultimately failed in the proper application of its superweapon by ignoring its own counter-insurgency doctrine. This would have catastrophic results for the Empire, and eventually lead to the overthrow of the Palpatine regime. Although the Death Star would eventually be destroyed by a precision strike by Rebel X-Wings, the usefulness of the Death Star was essentially nullified weeks earlier by the destruction of Alderaan.

            The Death Star was the ultimate symbol of the Tarkin Doctrine, which stated that fear of the Empire’s overwhelming might would ultimately render violence unnecessary. The Death Star was meant as a tool of deterrence which would cow potentially rebellious star systems. Parking the Death Star in orbit around a planet would be enough to cow dissent, as citizens had everything to lose by fighting the Empire. However, by ignoring his own doctrine and destroying Alderaan, Tarkin nullified the effectiveness of the Death Star as a deterrent, as it then appeared to many citizens that they had nothing to lose by joining the Rebellion.

            While Senator Leia Organa was engaged in illegal pro-Rebellion activity with the knowledge and consent of high-ranking officials in the planet’s government, Alderaan was nonetheless a peaceful world with no standing military which nominally submitted to Imperial authority. By obliterating a planet of pacifists, Tarkin created a narrative opposite to that which he desired. So long as the Death Star was simply used as a deterrent, obedience to the Empire was seen as a strategy for survival by potentially rebellious worlds. However, with the destruction of a planet which posed no major threat to the Empire, joining the Rebellion seemed to many to be the only logical survival strategy, as the Empire had shown itself to be arbitrary and needlessly cruel.

            The effects of this were immediate and dramatic. Many worlds rallied to the Rebellion, and scores of highly trained military officers defected from the Empire, bolstering the Rebel ranks with much needed numbers and professional expertise. Within four years, the Rebellion was no longer a mere insurgency, but a peer competitor to the Empire. The Imperial Navy suffered a decisive defeat to the Rebel Fleet at the Battle of Endor, which would lead to the death of the Emperor and ultimately the fall of the regime. Had the Empire employed the Death Star with more restraint, it is entirely plausible that the Rebellion would not have won the Galactic Civil War. 

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