Is Operation Pitchfork Ethical?


(Citizen Star/News) - 2944-02-26 - Editors Note: The following is a guest editorial that does not represent the views of the Citizen Star/NEWS or it's staff. It does however bring up salient issues that do deserve to be addressed, and so we present here in the pursuance of an informed populous and intellectual debate.

Salvete. I’m UltraMaud, Grand Alcator of the Moose Legion, and your lecturer for this evening. I’m going to try and discuss some of the various issues that we face in such a diverse verse, and what that means for the broader community of sentient folk out there. This is a fascinating, almost overwhelming time to live in, and sometimes it helps to take a step back and look at the broader context. I hope I can help you do that.

Tonight, we’ll be talking about Operation Pitchfork, and whether or not it constitutes an ethical movement.

Now, obviously, the first question we need to ask is this:

What is Operation Pitchfork?

Operation Pitchfork is an ad-hoc movement of like-minded, independent citizens and civilians whose goal is to make a massive push into Vanduul space sometime next year, with the stated goal of reaching Orion. Originally organized by a number of higher-ups within A.C.E.S.[1] (The Association of Capitalists, Explorers, and Soldiers), Operation Pitchfork has quickly grown to an unprecedented scale. There are even rumors that it might get official greenlighting from certain political factions within the UEE government.

The reasons given for this project are as varied as its participants. Some people have joined to get revenge for lost loved ones, others are of the mind that this might be more effective than the UEN’s current, very defensive methods. A fair few are eager to get their hands on Vanduul technology. The list goes on, but it’s clear that the motives here are far from singular.

So we know that we’re not dealing with a group like the Terrestrial Knights, who want to see all other species wiped from the verse. Operation Pitchfork is more complicated than that, and I think that warrants an examination of the other side of this story, our old friends, the Vanduul.

Who are the Vanduul?

The truth is, we don’t know much of anything about these people. So far, our only interactions since we met them in 2681 have been entirely hostile. They have a habit of setting their ships to self-destruct rather than risk capture, and we’ve never been able to successfully board one. What we do know, we’ve gleaned from interactions with their Banu trading partners, what we’ve observed from a distance, and what we’ve discovered from the carrier the UEN captured a year ago.[2]

Eight feet tall, humanoid and muscular, the Vanduul are scary at the best of times. We know that they likely view the verse on a slightly different electromagnetic wavelength than we do. We know that either all the bodies we’ve found are male, or their method of reproduction is different from our own to an extent that prevents us from understanding it at this time. We know that they have skilled metallurgic traditions, and carry elaborate-yet-functional knives.

We also know that their political system most closely resembles the clan structures of our own history. They organize themselves into small, tightly knit groups, and continually compete for resources and dominance over one another. It seems that they survive by traveling from world to world, stripping it of resources, and then moving on.

It’s easy to demonize that kind of survival technique. It brings to mind locust swarms from old religious mythologies, descending upon the land to create terrible famines. It seems almost parasitic in nature, taking without “giving” in return. But I’d argue that we shouldn’t be so quick to judge. Many of our own ancestors lived similar lives. The various Germanic tribes of classical Europe[3] were known to survive by raiding villages and selling the loot they found. More apt a comparison though is what is known as “Slash-and-Burn” agriculture. Developed early during the agricultural revolution, Slash-and-Burn involves cutting down a certain section of a forest, burning the remains, and cultivating the fertile ashen soil until it no longer produces a satisfactory yield. Then, moving on to another section of forest and repeating the process, allowing the previous fields to regrow into new forests. It was this practice that eventually led to more intricate methods of agriculture, such as crop rotation and eventually the hydroponics we use to this day. The Vanduul practice of “Harvesting” worlds is similar, right down to the method of leaving expired land alone until it’s regrown to a point where it can provide sufficient yields. Where agriculturally this may take decades, the Vanduul seem willing to wait centuries for the ecosystems of planets to recover, and their mining practices are not dissimilar to our own.

So why do the Vanduul refuse to make contact with us? As far as we are aware, we haven’t given them specific cause to attack us. Our only possible instigations have been interloping, unknowingly, into space they had reserved for future harvesting. That hardly seems worth cutting contact with an entire species.

I would posit that we first need to look at how they treat their own. Do different hordes or clans interact outside of competition? Do they trade and make alliances? Do they have sanctions and diplomacy? We really don’t know, but I suspect that perhaps they are as confused and frightened by us as we are by them. While they may have come to some understanding with certain Banu, it may be entirely possible that we are the first hegemonic society they have ever encountered. We don’t compete in the same ways they do. We don’t organize ourselves in a way they understand. We are as alien and mysterious to them as they are to us.

How does this relate to Operation Pitchfork?

In order to judge whether or not this project is something that could be a net positive for the sentient community, we need to understand how the Vanduul will react. It’s always difficult to condone any violent action. It’s highly likely that such an aggressive military push would, in the best case scenario, lead to the deaths of at least hundreds of non-combatants on the Vanduul side. In a worst case scenario, it could spur the Vanduul to unite as a fighting force against us, and the thought of a united Vanduul front should make anyone shudder.

But at the same time, we’ve yet to see the Vanduul respect anything besides strength and cunning. Perhaps a move like this could earn the respect of this strange people. Perhaps it could shock them to a point where they would be willing to consider talks, and maybe even some sort of cultural exchange. Perhaps a show of force is the only way to reach the Vanduul.

But that’s being a little dishonest. The most prominent motive seen within Operation Pitchfork is revenge; for Armitage, for lost loved ones, and for the continual fear many of us have been forced to live in for so many years. And it is true, vengeance can be a beautiful, cathartic experience. It can shift status quos and reshape our understand of things. But in order for vengeance to be properly served, certain practices must be observed. An entire species cannot be held at fault for crimes committed by certain groups within. Down that path lies hatred, racism, and genocide. So is Operation Pitchfork ethical?

The truth is, this is a question that I can’t answer. We simply don’t know enough about the Vanduul to do more than guess how they might react. Perhaps we might shatter them into a fragmented, weakened people. Perhaps they might overwhelm us and drive us into extinction. Perhaps they’ll shoot us down with hardly any effort, and laugh at our attempts to fight them. But one thing is easy to answer: these are sentient beings. Alien, aggressive, and hostile in the extreme, yes, but that does not justify cruelty on our part. They have hopes, dreams, fantasies and fears as much as we do. It’s easy to hate another species, especially one so different as they, but if we are ever to live to see peace, we need to be willing to be patient, gentle, and strict. The cry for blood is alluring. The cry for peace is sound.

So if you’re planning on joining Operation Pitchfork, please, remember to do what’s right, not just what’s easy.

[1] No relation to my own LEG ALCES.

[2] Designated X12, the Vanduul carrier was only preserved due to a freak accident that leaked radiation through the ship, killing the crew before they could begin self-destruct protocols.

[3] Europe is a major continent in one of Earth's northern regions. Certain aspects of society and culture that formed there were influential in creating our culture today.