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John D Salt

Not Connard Sage wrote:

I think we can all agree that Hitler was a baddy, and that the Waffen SS weren’t on the side of the angels.

I’d certainly hope so. But even at that, there’s Waffen-SS and there’s Waffen-SS. The first dozen or so divisions may have been strutting Aryan ubermenschen with racial superiority in their hearts and skulls in their hats, but an awful lot of the mendaciously-named volunteer divisions were recruited from people stuck between a rock and a hard place, like Russian POWs.

PatG wrote:

For other conflicts like the Arab-Israeli and Indo-Pakistani wars where a player may have no personal connection to the conflict, the line becomes very blurred.

That’s an interesting remark — if true, it would tend to suggest that the clarity with which one views the distinction between “goodies” and “baddies” depends more on tribal affiliation than the facts of the case. I have made a very slight study of the 1971 India-Pakistan war, and it seems very clear to me that the Indians and the Mukti Bahini (insurgents in East Pakistan, shortly to become independent as Bangla Desh) were the “goodies”. Yahya Khan was a miltary dictator, his regime was committing genocide in East Pakistan as a deliberate act of policy, and the US (under Nixon and Kissinger) chose to align with Pakistan against India while choosing to ignore unambiguous warnings from the US ambassador in East Pakistan that atrocities were being perpetrated and democracy being suppressed (the Blood telegram).

Getting back to the original point, it is certainly true that SF&F offer the possibility, if the writer so desires, of presenting Manichean conflicts rather than attempting a bit of moral nuance. As other postings so far seem to indicate, though, I think it makes for a much richer and more interesting fantasy if some attempt is made to capture moral ambiguity. I think it was Brian Aldiss, in a preface to some SF collection or other, who made the comparison between the then-dominant SF offerings on TV in the US and UK, “Star Trek” and “Doctor Who” respectively (and when he was writing, there really wasn’t much other SF at all on TV — maybe Lost in Space and The Twilight Zone in the US, and fading memories of Quatermass, A for Andromeda and Object Z in the UK). He said that, although the sets and special effects were much cruder and creaker in “Dr Who” than in “Star Trek”, the plots were more sophisticated, because the conflicts in Star Trek were mostly straight Us vs Them, whereas in Dr Who there were normally some of “Us” prepared to play Quisling for our putative alien overlords.

I don’t know if anyone else recalls the short-lived UK SF BD “Revolver”, but it included a wonderfully dark re-imagining of the “Dan Dare” stories I am just old enough to remember reading in “The Eagle”. While it didn’t go so far as to show things from the Treens’ point of view, it did mention Col. Dare’s involvement in a massacre of Treen women and children, which had caused Digby to disown him. In similar vein, although I find Orson Scott Card an infuriatingly inconsistent author, I did very much like the approach of “Xenocide” in trying to empathise with the evil insectoids instead of, as in “Ender’s Game”, simply find the most effective way of massacring them.

No doubt somebody has already done it, but I have not yet seen anything written in the setting of Middle Earth that tries to describe what things look like from the point of view of the average infantryorc.

All the best,