The 40th episode of Legend of the Galactic Heroes takes Julian and the viewer on a journey through the history of humanity in space. Through primary and secondary sources of the timeline, Julian learns just a little bit about what has driven Yang over years of historical study. In addition, just a little more insight is given into the founding figures of the Empire and the Alliance and how each began to take a turn for the worse. An exposition filled journey awaits…
The episode begins as Julian reflects on his first time away from Yang in four years. With time on his hands, Julian thinks about how Yang has always said his decision making is grounded in history. He inserts a disk into a computer and a documentary history of mankind’s advancement in the galaxy begins to play.Wagner’s Der Meistersinger von Nürnberg overture is the musical selection for the opening part of the episode. An overture would make sense as it is the beginnings of the struggle that now engulfs all of humanity. The story of the opera also works very well with the story. Wagner devised the comedy where a third party helps a knight defeat a clerk over a mutual love interest.
The history begins in 2801 AD, where the United Stars Galaxy (USG) is established as mankind began to expand throughout space. A modern historian says this came after a period of stagnation for mankind, and this new period of expansion marked a Golden Age for mankind. However, space pirates became a problem for the USG to the point where expansion was halted on the frontiers. In SE 106, the USG began to tackle the problem of pirates through the efforts of Admirals Cuffren and Wood, which enabled the expansion to continue.
The pirates were not completely defeated, so the large military force that was built up would continue to remain an issue. There was some concern that the buildup would lead to the same problems that plagued Earth, and there was wide spread distrust of the military leadership. The two centuries that followed were largely defined by peace and prosperity, however. Worries about stagnation remained as expansion slowed and scientific discoveries did not happen. The democratic form of government that guided the USG was beginning to crack as mob rule began to set in. Moral decay began to set in as well, which another historian says is similar to what happened after religion declined on a unified Earth after mankind realized that no divine being was going to save them.As Julian commented that it seems true of any age, I began to think of the USG as essentially the Roman Empire. The expansion and military conquests followed by peace and stagnation seem to fit. I was also thinking of Francis Fukuyama’s “The End of History” at this stage at well, but I will get back to that later.
As life in the USG shifted to hopelessness and despair, some people at the time had an idea about what was wrong. Instead of thinking about it long term and renewing society, they went for the quick option which had unintended consequences. Thus begins the rise of Rudolf von Goldenbaum.
Rudolf was a top military officer who became the one who finally defeated the pirates using harsh methods. Those who approved of Rudolf far outnumbered those who criticized him. This allowed him to retire from the military at age 28 to begin a career in politics. He created the National Reform Alliance party with a base of other young politicians hoping to change the system. Electoral success followed and eventually he was voted both President by the people and Prime Minister by Parliament. Tradition dictated that he should decline one of the two posts, but Rudolf declined and said there was no explicit law saying he could not be in both positions simultaneously.
With absolute power, Rudolf cracked down on free speech, declared himself President for Life and established the Galactic Empire. His rise is explained by one historian as being a rare case of society rejecting the responsibility that comes with thinking. The people largely wanted Rudolf, who cracked down on corruption and on the moral decay that drove voters to him. In the 9th year of his reign, Rudolf introduced the Inferior Genes Exclusion Law which forced sterilization on many and euthanasia on others who were deemed to be handicapped including the poor. Rudolf’s remaining critics in Parliament began criticizing him directly which led Rudolf to dissolve Parliament. Rudolf appointed Ernst Falstrong to go after any political dissidents, not on the basis of law, but on Falstrong’s own opinions. Four billion people were killed in the subsequent purge, but as that represented a small percentage of the Empire’s total population, they could still publicly declare moral supremacy.So Rudolf is essentially Adolf Hitler. Also, the Holocaust-like images of Rudolf’s eugenics campaign are disturbing, but probably not in the way I would have liked them to be.
Meanwhile, Rudolf had created a class of aristocrats who would serve the Imperial House. This class all happened to be white with German names. Later, Falstrong was assassinated and Rudolf executed 20,000 people he alleged were conspirators.
Finally, after 42 years of rule Rudolf died, but with four daughters he did not have an heir. He did have a son with a mistress in his later years, but he was born with genetic defects. Though the Empire’s records did not record this fact, Rudolf had every person involved with his son’s birth to be executed.
Sigissmunt I came to power as the 2nd Emperor, and opponents immediately saw this as an opportunity to rebel. However, the infrastructure that Rudolf had built up made it easy to defeat the rebels. 500 million people were killed for participating in the rebellion and billions were stripped of citizenship and forced into serfdom.
In Imperial Year 164, a man forced into labor for his family’s participation in the rebellion was inspired by children playing with ice boats on water. Ale Heinessen organized the construction of many spaceship hidden under the dry ice surface of a planet until they were able to flee. The journey was tough and as they passed through what would become the Iserlohn Corridor, there was an accident that claimed Heinessen’s life. Guen Kim Hoa took charge of the mission until the reached a life-sustaining planet that would become Heinessen. The Free Planets Alliance was born that day, and over the next 100 years would grow quickly.
Some years later, the Empire would come across the Alliance. Their first contact was in the form of a space battle which saw the Empire defeated handily. With the Alliance’s victory came a flood of refugees from the Empire seeking better lives. Unfortunately, these also included former members from the Imperial Court who did not have democratic ideals in mind for leaving.
Periods of war followed by false peace occurred regularly and out of this came Phezzan. Ruled initially by Leopold Laap, a man born on Earth who tirelessly campaigned for self-determination, he sought to control through economic strength. While it is just a single planet, it controls a disproportionate amount of strength relative to its population.
The episode ends with Julian’s ship arriving in Heinessen. With the Alliance seemingly having lost its way and with reforms in the Empire, does there remain a reason for the Alliance to continue to exist?
Thoughts: The Francis Fukuyama point came up as it seemed early in the episode that unified democratic societies were stagnating and eventually reverting to mob rule. It does explain some of the fervor of the members of Yang’s inquiry, but it seems the historians here were doing nothing but implying that peace is terrible for society as a whole. Fukuyama argued that liberal democracy could be the end of mankind’s sociocultural evolution which seems to be the case repeatedly in the Legend of the Galactic Heroes canon before mob rule descends again…The fake documentary angle used is pretty interesting. I’m not too sure about the history of its use, so I can’t say for sure that it is ahead of its time, but it hasn’t reached the point of being cliche nearly 20 years later…Also, I’m trying a new format so comments points of interest in the episode are in the middle rather than being jammed down here.