What the New Republic Should Have Learned From the Old Republic

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Any good government should learn from the mistakes and the successes of its forebears: in this case, after the defeat of the Empire, the New Republic should have copied the successes of the Old Republic without copying the mistakes that allowed Palpatine to take control so easily. The Old Republic, mired in controversy and stalemates, was easily manipulatable and powerless to stop its own corrosion, even though it was easily seen by every party involved.  When all of the supplementary material for The Force Awakens was launched, I was shocked to see that the story of the New Republic was closely mirroring the story of the Old Republic. Stuck in a stalemate, the New Republic couldn’t decide how to move forward in terms of dealing with a shadowy organization that posed a pretty clear threat to it. I was afraid that we were seeing that the New Republic hadn’t learned the lessons it should have from the Old Republic and might prove itself to be in just as bad a place as the Old Republic. Bloodline seemed to explore the New Republic more critically, from Leia’s point of view, asking: what can a stagnant governing body do? For Leia, the answer was rebel against her own government…again. Which lessons did the New Republic not learn, and fail to learn so disastrously that Leia had to leave that which she helped create? And did their failure to learn these lessons make the New Republic worse from the start?

It may not come as a shock, but the biggest issue to address in the New Republic is its view of the military: what should the role of the military be in the new government? Should it be as large as it was under the Republic? An idealistic Mon Mothma begins demilitarization efforts on Chandrila only a few months after the Battle of Endor! I don’t think that this type of thinking can save the galaxy. Eventually, the fighting must stop and some sort of treaty has to be formed—you can’t kill an ideology just by killing a lot of people (something Leia has learned by 34 ABY). It is my opinion, though, that the New Republic reduced their military far too soon. Remember: this effort started before the Galactic Concordance was signed, so the Imperial Army and Navy was still intact! Between Endor and Jakku, you’ve got at least the four invasions of Naboo, the heavy blockade of the Anoat sector and Kashyyyk, and the continued plight of Ryloth. With these as just a few examples of Imperial aggression, it’s hard to figure out what made Mothma confident in de-escalating the war so early.

Can you actually end a war without fighting an armed opponent? Can one ideology break another by words alone? If not, this wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen the failure of a determined idealist. I think the Old Republic’s involvement in the Death Watch’s takeover of Mandalore should have been a clear lesson to the New Republic: pacifism does not adequately meet the needs of an oppressed people group in wartime. As Satine tried to deal with the rising threat of Death Watch, acting nonviolently, she was silently consenting to the use of violence by her allies from the Republic. Had she truly had a problem with their violence, she would have asked them to bow out. Instead, when push came to shove and Maul, the Death Watch, and the Black Sun came down on Mandalore, she specifically asked for an invasion! What Mothma would have thought of the Duchess is up for debate, but the history of the Republic signals that violence may be the best answer to free certain systems.

RebelVictoryAtCoruscant

Pictured: not Kashyyyk

The New Republic’s response to the oppression of Kashyyyk proves that idealism quickly turns sour for people presently in trouble. When Han and Chewbacca were working to liberate Kashyyyk from Imperial rule, Mon Mothma was quick to write the system off as inconsequential enough to not waste resources from her dwindling army on. Rather than take action to end violence, Mothma seemed content to sit by and worry about them later, once stability was found on other systems. This is partly due to the fact that Kashyyyk was still tightly under Imperial rule (after having very open access in the months after Yavin), but also because it didn’t have the utilitarian value for the NR that another planet would have. The rebellion built on hope had already become too pragmatic to help the species that might need its help most. Even Twilight Company changed course to save people (though their change of course did change the tide of the war by opening Sullust to the Rebel fleet). And the Old Republic stepped in during the most egregious cases: one remembers Onderon, Mandalore, Geonosis, Mon Cal, and other systems that had problems too big for the local government to handle. The Old Republic had to raise its debt limit and increase the army size to accommodate this change, but it shows some concern for their well-being. The New Republic has a military, but it stands down in the face of present danger! Is it too much to wonder how the New Republic became too useless for half of the Senate, and a lot of the galaxy, so quickly?

It’s easy to point out that the Republic’s colonization efforts both led to its takeover by the Emperor, and subsequently caused all of their systems to be placed under Imperial rule. If the New Republic continued to fight, what would distinguish it from the Empire? Maybe the idealism was misplaced. Maybe the New Republic’s military could be used to end heavy blockades and defend NR controlled space, and let the systems rebuild on their own. But would a treaty have ended the oppression of the Wookiees, or would these extremists have required more aggressive negotiations to remove anyway?

It may be easy, having seen the devastating effects of Starkiller Base, to say that the New Republic could have held on to its military for a bit longer. After several years of war (even if the Rebellion didn’t really begin to openly oppose the Empire until only three or four years before Yavin), it would be easy to think that the galaxy might be tired of constant warfare, and in PR terms, Mothma might have been right to end the war swiftly. But, in contrast to the Old Republic’s initial hesitation in taking action against a secret threat, the New Republic removes its army in the face of a growing and present threat and ignores the people it was sworn to protect! Pacifism and peace are great ideals, but, in my opinion, were adopted far too early. Could a new government, unable and unwilling to help the galaxy’s most oppressed be a better solution than one that would oppress them? Yes, but only slightly.

7 comments

  1. AdmiralNick22 AdmiralNick22 says:

    While I do agree that the NR was to quick to disarm post-Jakku, I do think you’re being a bit harsh on Mon Mothma. Especially in regards to her decision to not send a fleet to liberate Kashyyyk. She correctly notes, and I quote “Kashyyyk is one world among the thousands we are trying to reach- and thousands more beyond that to come.” It really comes down to Mothma’s realism vs. Leia’s optimism. Both views aren’t right or wrong. It is a much more complicated issue they are dealing with. It’s actually one of the best written scenes in the book, IMO.

    • chriswerms says:

      Oh, it’s most definitely a case of pragmatism vs idealism. But here’s why Kashyyyk should have been liberated early:

      1. I think Life Debt specifically brings up the oppression on Kashyyyk to make us feel a bit of the tension between Leia and Mothma. Both in Legends and canon, Wookiees are hunted. In Legends, they are skinned for their pelts. Not only are Wookiees enslaved and hunted by Imperial forces, but they’ve been historically attacked by Trandoshans, too. All in all, in terms of symbolic victories and real ones, Kashyyyk would have been a great target.
      2. Not every system out of those thousands were brutally and systematically oppressed. The Anoat sector, under lockdown, would be a good example of a high priority. But I’m sure some systems’ Imperial presence was demolished at Endor, while some other systems might have been more easily broken. In an earlier draft, I argued more forcibly that the more visible/disgusting the oppression was, more effort should be paid that system. The time between Jakku and Endor would have been perfect as the Fleet was spread thin and it wasn’t really going to get too much bigger any time soon.
      3. The Concordance was great, but without knowing the details, it’s hard to get behind fully. Were they planning a treaty that would have disarmed the slavers? Would it work if it did? Or would they have to go in anyway and forcibly free the system? I’m betting, had they not freed Kashyyyk, the Imperials might have gathered their forces at Kashyyyk and held it.

      So, these aren’t really catch-alls or “ah-ha, got you!” arguments. But I think there’s a great case for specifically working on freeing Kashyyyk in here somewhere.

  2. John says:

    Interesting piece! I agree that the Galactic Concordance appears to have been a poorly-written deal. Most major historical arms control or disarmament agreements have contained at least some provisions for verification of the terms. Whatever verification provisions were contained in the Galactic Concordance, they were clearly insufficient to prevent gross cheating.

    That said, I think your political analysis of the post-Endor situation is missing one major component: the Separatists. If the galaxy were only composed of Rebel-Republicans and Imperials, then there would be little reason for the Rebels to disarm until the Empire had been well and fully destroyed (this was basically the way things were in Legacy, and it is the way they played out, more or less). In the New Canon, however, we now have a much better understanding of the Separatist crisis and the problems within the Old Republic that led to the Clone Wars – official corruption, electoral dysfunction, bureaucratic inertia, corporate malfeasance, creeping militarization, rampant disregard for law. Of course, the Republic’s problems were heightened and exploited by Darth Sidious for his own benefit, but those problems were very real. Furthermore, exactly zero of these problems were actually resolved at the end of the Clone Wars – rather, they were simply papered over by a massive Imperial police state and propaganda program. When the Empire came tumbling down, it makes sense that most of those issues would return with a vengeance. And with the end of the Empire, it makes sense that there would be more Separatists.

    In the New Canon, the New Republic needs to navigate between its ongoing war with the Empire, and its need to avoid a renewed Separatist Crisis. If I were a Separatist, I would probably be on the side of the Rebel Alliance against the Empire for most of the Galactic Civil War – after all, an end to the Empire benefits both those who want a new Republic and those who want to leave it. After Endor, though, with the Empire coming apart, I would probably begin to wonder – who is the bigger threat? The dying Empire, so corrupt and inept that it cannot even defeat the few Rebel forces? Or the rising Republic, whose military is growing day by day as more and more worlds pledge themselves to the cause? Remember that at the end of Episode VI it has only been about 25 years since the end of Episode III; most of the leaders of galactic politics will still have personal memories of the Clone Wars. Everyone still remembers that the Empire metastasized out of the victorious Republic. If I were a Separatist, after a certain point I would probably be as suspicious of the rising New Republic as I was of the old Empire. I would certainly distance myself from my former Rebel allies; I might even consider arming for self-defense. We’ve seen that the New Republic intends to live side-by-side with worlds that want to maintain their independence. A total war policy on the part of the New Republic could be self-defeating in the long term, if it drives Separatists to rearm and organize themselves for self-defense. Nor can the New Republic conquer the remaining Imperial worlds planet by planet without antagonizing those who seek independence. This isn’t a generic desire for peace or war-weariness – it is a specific fear of encroaching tyranny.

    All of which is to say: I am not convinced that Mon Mothma’s gradualist disarmament policies are the result of a misguided idealism, as much as they are a reflection of her pragmatism. Right-sizing the Republican forces to the remaining Imperial threat would be one possible way of continuing the fight while still trying to keep Separatists on the side of the New Republic. This still defeats the Empre on the battlefield, without alienating important independent allies in the process. Retaining the economy of force necessary to make this strategy work militarily would probably require focusing all available resources on targets of overwhelming military and political import – like Coruscant and Kuat – in the hopes of breaking the Imperial war effort quickly. Targets of marginal military importance would have to wait for negotiations, in which the victorious Republic, with its strong Separatist coalition allies, would have a significant advantage.

    It makes sense that Leia, who is too young to remember the Clone Wars, would be the harshest critic of this strategy. However, just because Leia correctly predicted the rise of the First Order twenty years later does not mean that she was necessarily correct in the immediate aftermath of Endor. There are many worse ways that the galaxy could have gone than the Republic that we see in Bloodlines. Disarmament in the face of the Imperial threat might still have been a mistake (we’ll have to see how Gallius Rax’s hidden fleet plan works out), but I don’t think it is due to Mon Mothma’s peaceful idealism. Rather, I think it is a natural result of the three-way dynamics surrounding the end of the Empire.

  3. SF Eggbert says:

    Well the New Republic did take care to avoid the mistakes of the Old in some ways, as explained by the TFA Visual Dictionary…

  4. […] What The New Republic Should Have Learned from the Old Republic: […]

  5. […] they could have acted differently than they did, though, right? In last week’s guest piece What the New Republic Should Have Learned From the Old Republic, Chris Wermeskerch looked specifically at the example of Kashyyyk, whose liberation Mon Mothma […]

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