The 23rd episode of Legend of the Galactic Heroes sees the end of the Galactic Empire’s civil war through a mist of atrocity, plausible deniability and political execution. The result is an episode that casts the end of the conflict on the decision of one man, neither Reinhard nor Braunschweig, but Oberstein; and with it the unimaginable moral dilemma he strips from the man he pledged absolute loyalty.
Tired of tyrannical rule by the nobility, a series of populist uprisings began in the Empire’s frontier region. Of special significance is the uprising on Westerland. It was a planet controlled by Braunschweig himself, but his nephew Baron Scheidt, was unable to put down the rebellion with military force. He was killed in the struggle, and the people of Westerland were free to decide their own destiny, or so they thought.
Word of the rebellion reaches Geiersburg, and Braunschweig wants the rebels dead. The entire planet. Dead. So he orders a nuclear strike on Westerland to wipe every living person on the surface out. Ansbach is shocked at the order as nuclear weapons have not been used since a “13 Day War” that nearly destroyed all of humanity. Ansbach asks that only the leaders of the rebellion be prosecuted, but Braunschweig is having none of it. It is his planet, and if he wants to nuke it, he can nuke it.
As he walks away, Ansbach states aloud that the Goldenbaums are finished if they resort to actions like this. Jakob Hauptmann hears this in the corridor and is quick to report it to Braunschweig. Flegel says he should be put to death for treason, but the order is merely to arrest him.
Meanwhile, Oberstein informs Reinhard of dissent in the Lippstadt ranks as far as the arrest of Ansbach and the marginalization of Merkatz. Reinhard then asks Oberstein to send a force to Westerland to prevent Braunschweig’s attack. Oberstein, however, suggests that Reinhard let the attack happen as a demonstration to rest of the Empire on how the nobles treat their own people. They will lose control of the civilian population and most soldiers will abandon them he believes.
Reinhard can hardly believe what Oberstein is asking. He asks if Oberstein wants Westerland to die. Oberstein responds by saying that Westerland incidents will become common if the nobles were to win the civil war. Reinhard says that it is obvious which way the war is going, so they should not have to think about allowing it to happen, but Oberstein is quick to point out they have no strategy for taking Geiersburg. Reinhard wants to continue to cause unrest in the fortress, which could take time and deplete resources Oberstein points out. This is a perfect opportunity to end the war now.
Reinhard furiously states that there are 2 million people on Westerland, women and children included, that he is being asked to sacrifice. Oberstein asks him to look at it logically as surely more lives will be lost if the war drags on. Reinhard says that lives cannot be calculated by that, but Oberstein asks him to think of it like a ruler and that there are times that sacrifices must be made. Reinhard knows that it is Machiavellian logic, but he has to make a decision. The 25 billion citizens in the rest of the Empire or the 2 million on Westerland.
Reinhard asks when the attack will begin, Oberstein tells him 6 hours. Reinhard asks for the fleet to be on immediate alert for dispatch as a way of buying time to make the decision. Reinhard is left wondering what sort of decision he would have made had Kircheis been there to help him. Oberstein leaves, but asks for a reconnaisance probe to be sent to Westerland in four hours.
Four hours later, the citizens of Westerland are celebrating their first night of freedom from Braunschweig’s rule. They believe they will have to ask Reinhard for protection, but believe it to be no problem as has a reputation as a man of the people. Unfortunately, the nuclear strike arrives and in the end all 2 million people on the planet are dead.
Reinhard receives word of the attack and Oberstein has a live feed from the probe ready for him. He tells Reinhard that the attack came earlier than expected, but Reinhard immediately knows Oberstein lied to him about the timetable. Oberstein says the images will be beamed to the rest of the Empire, and everyone will know that the nobles have conceded the right to rule.
Reinhard says that he did not order the fleet to be sent out to prevent the attack from happening. Oberstein says that they did send out a fleet, but the attack was too quick to stop. Reinhard curses Oberstein for his plan to let the attack happen, though Oberstein says there is no point in complaining about it now. There must be justice for the 2 million killed.
Elsewhere on the frontier, Karl Steinmetz informs Kircheis of the continued success in pacifying 17 sectors. Steinmetz also tells Kircheis that he has heard a terrible rumor regarding Reinhard. That being Reinhard allowing the incident at Westerland to occur for the sake of propaganda. Kircheis says the official report was of the fleet not arriving in time, but Steinmetz points out the probe was there in time. Kircheis, though, puts the matter to rest by saying he will ask Reinhard the next time he meets him.
Kircheis still worries about Reinhard. He feels that their own visions of justice have split and that will only be confirmed once he talks about Westerland with Reinhard. Kircheis remains unsure of what he will be able to do next.
The images of Westerland end up being transmitted throughout the Empire for all to see, and just as Oberstein predicted there is a rush of support for Reinhard. The incident has effectively transformed him from a young leader of the Empire’s fleet to a leader for the Empire and its people. The incident also had an effect at Geiersburg, where troops show defiance and sabotage out in the open. Nobles who once supported Braunschweig begin committing suicide knowing their probable fate under Reinhard.
However, Braunschweig continues to live a charmed life at Geiersburg. The parties continue while other nobles plot to bring him down. Those that are plotting against him realize that the parties are just a facade to avoid reality. The remaining nobles are left with a choice: die fighting, take their own lives or flee with Phezzan the likely destination with the desperate option of surrendering also on the table. In order to do that, they will have to offer Braunschweig’s life in exchange.
At the same time, the small number of nobles still loyal to Braunschweig have an idea of their own. They will challenge Reinhard to one final battle. The surely drunk Braunschweig thinks its a good idea as well. Disagreeing, however, is Fahrenheit, who correctly points out that waiting it out in the fortress is their best option as it will force Reinhard to use up their supply lines. Braunschweig thinks nothing of the suggestion and dismisses it as cowardly.
Fahrenheit then chases down Merkatz, who says he is also joining in the battle. Fahrenheit is confused as to why Merkatz would join in an undesirable and unwinnable battle. Merkatz replies by saying that he has served the Goldenbaum dynasty for 40 years and he intends to share the same fate. He also tells Fahrenheit he should not sacrifice himself for a dying dynasty and it is his duty to continue living. Merkatz departs saying it is unlikely they will ever meet again.
The final battle begins with a longer than expected stalemate between the two sides. However, the tide turns when Reinhard orders the fleets of Mecklinger, Kesler and Müller to charge simultaneously. Reinhard also has his own ship charge into the fray. On Geiersburg, skirmishes break out between rebels and the remaining loyal forces. Leading the rebels on the fortress is Ansbach, who uses Westerland to convince men to change sides and pledge loyalty to Reinhard.
Flegel, meanwhile, wants to challenge Reinhard to a duel as he has finally realized their forces will never be able to win. However, Reinhard will only accept unconditional surrender. Leopold Schumacher tries to convince him to flee, but Flegel insists on dying gloriously in mortal combat. Schumacher mutinies, and Flegel tries to kill him, but the other soldiers on the ship assassinate him. Schumacher assumes control of the ship and plans on escaping to Phezzan even if it means living out life as a farmer. The rest of the men want to follow him, but he says they should let any man who wants to stay to do so.
Merkatz’s fleet is cut off from Geiersburg, and sensing the end looks to take his own life. However, Schneider will not let that happen. He says he had taken the ammunition out of Merkatz’s sidearm while pulling a clip out of his pocket, but Merkatz’s gun was in fact still loaded. Merkatz says living on will only bring shame and he is too proud to surrender to Reinhard. Schneider says that they should escape to an area where Reinhard’s influence does not reach to fight another day. Merkatz knows he does not mean Phezzan, but the Free Planets Alliance, a nation he has spent most of the last 40 years fighting. Schneider says they can rely on Yang Wen-li to take them in. He’s decided that Merkatz, and Merkatz alone will be his commander.
Back at Geiersburg, Ansbach confronts Braunschweig. The prince wants to make peace with Reinhard and believes he can convince the nobles who supported him to support Reinhard as well. He also thinks he can have Reinhard marry his daughter so he can take the title of Kaiser without ending the dynasty. Ansbach tells him that the suggestion is pointless as there is no longer any need for Braunschweig or the other nobles. Braunschweig realizes this means his life is also pointless now even if he was well respected by the other Imperial nobles, which is why Ansbach says he cannot be allowed to live.
Ansbach tells Braunschweig that Westerland has become a symbol of the brutality of the nobles, which has made Reinhard pledge to clear out the nobility because they exploited the people. Braunschweig accepts that he has to die, but pleas for Ansbach to do anything he can to prevent Reinhard from taking the throne. Ansbach says he will do anything he can to send Reinhard to Hell.
Ansbach has already prepared some poison for Braunschweig, who begins to back off the acceptance of his death. He offers Ansbach all of his wealth and territory to save his life. Ansbach, though has him restrained and forces him to drink to poison after asking him to accept death like a man. The prince dies and with it the Goldenbaum dynasty.
The civil war is now over though it remains uncertain that a Lohengramm dynasty will replace the Goldenbaums. On Geiersburg, Mecklinger and Reinhard’s other admirals work to save the works of art left on the fortress while the remaining nobles are rounded up. Reuenthal and Mittermeyer are surprised at how pathetic the high nobles now appear. The latter says it’s a wretched end for an old era for the nobility.
Thoughts: Not quite 2000 words as I thought but a little over 1900 before this sentence. Still my longest post by some distance…Where to start with Westerland? There is some temptation to say that the decision to stop the attack is similar to the one supposedly presented to Harry Truman before the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However, the decision had already been made by Oberstein before he even presented it to Reinhard. It still remains a much different and probably harder decision than the one Truman would have made. Oberstein chose to sacrifice 2 million supporters of his side for the greater good, while Truman would have thought of the Japanese civilians as enemies…And to counter that serious point, I have to ask why they needed the poison to be presented on a platter.