This past week I spent two days in Baton Rouge, Louisiana helping with flood relief in the Livingston Parish. My time there was memorable, not only because of the wonderful people I met and impactful work I participated in, but also because I have never been into the “Deep South” before. The people in the parish I was working in had lost everything. Their lives laid in heaps on front lawns surrounded by insulation and molding drywall. So I in no way want to disparage this community and those surrounding it, but I left Louisiana with the distinct impression that this was a region of the country frozen in time decades ago. The airport of New Orleans, a city of 380,000 people, felt more like a small town train station. The bayou was littered with shrimping boats covered in moss and vines, rust caked the railing of the vessels and in my entire time there I didn’t see a human on board any of them. Rebel flags could be found flying in any neighborhood, Make America Great Again stickers were everywhere and as far as the stickers go…I couldn’t really blame them. This place has been left behind.
On my flight home I was reading Tarkin by James Luceno and as Wilhuff Tarkin mused about his experiences growing up and serving as governor of Eriadu, the stern Imperial officer spoke at length of the Outer Rim. The Clone Wars was in many ways an airing of resentment between the Outer Rim worlds and the Core worlds, think Geonosis and Coruscant to highlight the contrast; towers of dirt and clay versus towers of glass, marble and steel. The galactic economy did not favor the Outer Rim, and while plenty of pockets of wealth existed there, the Core Worlds benefitted the most from insider influence on Coruscant. The Outer Rim Sieges were a turning point in the Clone Wars, and Separatist worlds in the Outer Rim were devastated. In Tarkin we learn extensively about the world of Murkhana, brutalized by Republic military campaigns and then left to decay after the war. During a visit to the planet by Tarkin and Vader, Tarkin describes how Palpatine left former Separatist worlds to suffer, as a form of retribution for the war. There was no effort to rebuild, and no real effort to bring these worlds into the fold of galactic civilization post-war. Outer Rim worlds faced forms of military occupation, not integration into the Empire.
This got me thinking about the importance of post-war agreements and treaties. The most infamous treaty, often held up as an example of failure, is the Treaty of Versailles. This treaty, signed in June 1919, ended World War I. It established a kind of “Guilt Clause” that required Germany to disarm, give up territory and pay reparations to several of the Entente powers (also known as the Allies). At the time, and still today, this agreement was deemed harsh, a “Carthaginian Peace”, meaning a brutal peace by a complete crushing of the enemy. Germany suffered greatly, not only economically but in a sense, spiritually. Their national pride was dashed, and in that global humiliation the Nazi Party under Adolf Hitler found its audience and its cause. They sought to make Germany great again, and they’d remove or destroy all who were in their way.
The American South is another fine example of the negative impact an ill-conceived war settlement can have on the long-term interests of a region. When the Civil War ended in 1865, conflict continued on through Reconstruction, under the administration of President Andrew Johnson. This came in the form of military occupation and enforcement of the 13th -15th Amendments, granting new rights to African-Americans. President Johnson was more or less lenient on the South, believing strongly in states’ rights and holding a great desire to bring the South back into the fold. What this did was something unintended, it allowed southern legislatures and more sinister forces to push the “black codes” which again limited the civic freedoms of African-Americans and the North did nothing to stop it. Reconstruction ended in the late 1870s, and what existed at its end was a South still set apart, by choice. That mistake allowed racism to become further institutionalized and it would create a cancer that wouldn’t be combated again until the 1960s. Following the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the South recalibrated its age-old resentments into new forms of contemporary politics.
It goes beyond racism. The economy of the Deep South is less than ideal. The Rust Belt is the term for the old Midwestern manufacturing region, but it applies nicely to Southern Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana and northern Florida. When I was down there I heard from more than a few Louisianans about the oil rigs being recently closed down, and hundreds of locals jobs put on ice. The reason? Low gas prices nationwide. This is a part of the country where an entire town can lose work with the ebb and flow of oil prices. Is this entirely unique? No. There are other parts of the country with these kinds of problems, but the South is unique given its incredibly tumultuous history as part of the Union.
So I went on about all this history, where’s the Star Wars? Well, the First Order! The First Order is a military and political movement of Imperial loyalists, “nostalgists” if you will, that festered unchecked in the Unknown Regions and matured on Outer Rim worlds like Daxam IV, Bastatha and Arkanis. Bloodline by Claudia Gray helps to fill in some of these gaps, where the First Order grew militarily out of the Republic’s gaze but took root politically within the Centrist Party of the New Republic. The seeds of the Empire remained, resentment continued to exist in a galaxy that was not sufficiently united and secure in their being part of the New Republic. When you win a war, the line between going too strong and too weak as the winning side is an incredibly tough one to walk. The Allies got it wrong in 1919, the Union got it wrong in 1865. Did Mon Mothma get it wrong by pushing to quickly demilitarize, should she have stayed on longer as Chancellor? I don’t have all the answers yet on where the New Republic made its most damning mistakes, there is more canon literature to come that will fill in some holes, but we know more than a few things were handled poorly.
The choice to engage in war is a monumental one, but the choices made when the fighting concludes is of equal gravity and can reverberate for generations. I in no way mean to say that the American South is at risk of starting a second civil war or building a weapon strong enough to obliterate entire star systems.
The tension is playing itself out through politics, at least for the time being.
Stephen Kent is co-host of the Beltway Banthas Podcast, a bi-weekly digest of Star Wars + Politics.Powered by Sidelines