Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Rebel Alliance: Overview

We know what the Empire looks like.  Now we need the other half of our war, the heroic resistance that struggles to free the Galaxy from the tyrannical grip of the Empire.  As before, we must look at the Rebellion through the lens of an organization, because what matters to our campaign more than anything is what the Rebellion can do for our players, what it might be like to work for the Rebellion, and what sort of stories the Rebellion might offer us.

As with the Empire, Star Wars doesn't really define the details of the Rebellion except in the broadest outline, which gives me an opportunity to dive in deeper and pull on actual historical details for real-world rebellions.  We do know George Lucas drew on the romantic imagery of the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and that he glamorized the Viet Kong uprising against the "Imperial" Western Powers.  We can also draw parallels from nearly any rebellion or revolution we wish, including the Senatorial side of the Roman Civil War and the Confederate side of the American Civil War.  These were the losing sides of their respective rebellions and they're not nearly as "justified by history" as George Lucas's glamorized revolutions, which is good, as they remind us of the dark side of rebellion, and highlight a key point: that revolutions tend to fail more than the succeed.  If our rebellion is going to succeed, it'll do so against the forces of history and with the help of our plucky, heroic player characters.

The Vision of Rebellion

James Dean might afford to be a Rebel without a Cause, but our Alliance, like any organization, needs a purpose.  That purpose, however, is pretty clear: bring down the Empire.  But even that isn't enough, and this is where the sparseness of Star Wars begins to cause us problems, where we need to fill in the blanks.  Of course, the reason is that "the Empire is evil," but we make moral compromises everyday, and real people live in real dictatorships without throwing firebombs (for that matter, people who live in democracies do throw firebombs).  In fact, even in Star Wars, most people don't rebel, otherwise the Rebellion would be flooded with recruits.  So, what drives these unique people to rebel?  For what are they risking death?  And what do they see replacing the Empire once they are, presumably, victorious?


When dictatorship becomes a fact, revolution becomes a right
- Victor Hugo
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing
-Edmund Burke
The core premise of Star Wars is that the Empire is Evil, and it goes out of its way to show us this, torturing innocent princesses, blowing away worlds full of civilians, murdering uncle Owen and aunt Beru and so on.  The Rebellion, by contrast, must be good.  In fact, it represents the good that happens when evil pushes us too far, when we can no longer keep our mouths shut, when we must speak up for justice and freedom and against those who deal in slaughter and corruption.  This is illustrated again and again, when characters (Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Jyn Erso) first turn their back on the Rebellion, only until their conscience demands that they risk their lives in service to the Rebellion.

This contrast between rebellion and empire is not accidental.  To rebel, one must draw a contrast between yourself and your enemy.  You have to make the case, first, that the current situation is bad, so bad that one must act and, second, that your organization represents the best and the only alternative to the current status quo.  You must point to the flaws of the Empire, such as totalitarianism, injustice and cruelty, and point out that you offer the opposite, the solution: freedom, justice and tolerance.

This means that the Rebellion lives and dies by legitimacy.  Should the Empire begin to appear righteous and just, or the Rebellion sinister and corrupt, then people will begin to wonder whythey risk their lives for this cause.  Furthermore, once someone's righteous rage has been stirred, if it turns against you, it will fracture the delicate web forged by the Alliance.  In the films, the rebellion turns its back on Saw Gerrera, or he turns his back on them, and there's a fracture between the two.  The films depict this as no major loss, but in reality, once your rebellion begins to fracture, it might be impossible to stop, or to get anything done.

This means the Alliance lies.  It must!  No organization is perfect.  Surely, the people who run the Alliance have personal ambition and character flaws, just as anyone else, because nobody is perfect, not even the airily majestic Mon Mathma.  Likewise, surely among the governors and admirals of the Empire, there walk good men who use Imperial power to right wrongs.  The Rebellion cannot let people know this.  It  must spin these acts, it must disavow "terrorists" like Saw Gerrera while still quietly employing men like Cassian Andor to kill for them. Meanwhile, it must spin the acts of the Empire in the worst possible light, lest people grow too comfortable with dictatorship.  The Rebellion needs the Empire to be tyrannical, because without that tyranny, none would serve the Rebellion.


A hostility to modernity is shared by ideologies that have nothing else in common - a nostalgia for moral clarity, small-town intimacy, family values, primitive communism, ecological sustainability, communitarian solidarity, or harmonies with the rhythms of nature.-Steven Pinker 
A conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.-William F. Buckley Jr.
George Lucas compares the Rebellion of Star Wars to the French Resistance in WW2, the American Revolution and the Viet Cong of the Vietnamese War.  However, in all of these wars, the rebels fought against foreign occupation (While the British technically ruled the American colonies, that government was far across the sea and had been hands-off until circumstances changed and suddenly it imposed its will on the populace).  The Rebellion of Star Wars, however, isn't.  In fact, the official name in the setting for this conflict is the Galactic Civil War; this is a conflict between brothers, not against an outsider.

The point these two factions fight over is the course of their civilization.  While George Lucas's personal politics might swing to the left, the heroic Rebels he depicts ulitmately hold more conservative opinions. The Empire, with all of its modernity and science and revolutionary change, represents progress, while the Rebellion represents resistance to that change.  The Rebellion celebrates the past, not the future.  It seeks to restore the Galaxy to its previous (and possibly fictitious) golden age.

For this reason, I compare it to the American and Roman Civil War; in both, we have a side that's trying to preserve their previous way of life: the Senatorial forces of the Roman Civil War try to cling to the privilege of the Senate that has held sway in Rome for hundreds of years, while the American South tried to cling to the institution of slavery that gave its elites their power.  This latter almost certainly strikes most right-thinking people as repugnant, but this reaction highlights an important fact: my golden age might not be your golden age, and that we tend to glorify the past when we are not in it.  Moreover, these factions represented the elite, not the downtrodden, or their relative societies, who were being ousted by changes from an authoritarian pushing those changes onto them.  If you're one of those "noble" elites, you naturally resist that change; if you're among those downtrodden by those elites (the plebians of Rome, the slaves of the American South), you'll embrace that change.

Consider the presence of "Princesses" and "Senators" among the ranks of the Rebellion.  Bail Organa thinks the Republic is worth restoring, but he was a senator in that Republic, so of course he does.  Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda also seek to restore the Republic, but the Jedi Council had direct access to the government and enormous privilege back in that era, so of course they do.  Those who run the Rebellion of Psi-Wars naturally follow suit: They represent the dispossessed elite of the former era, the era they call a golden age, and who use the resentment of the common man to restore that golden age for them.  Are they right to call it a golden age?  That depends on your perspective.


Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun
-Mao Zedong
In the end, once you've stripped the Rebellion of its moral pretense, you see beneath it a struggle of for who has the right to rule the Galaxy.  This war might well turn on moral principles (the American Civil War certainly did, as did the fight against Nazi Germany), but even the most moral force fighting a war ultimately must have political power when they win their war, and must have political power to win their war.

Wars cost money.  Wars cost lives.  People dedicate themselves to a cause like this because they wish to advance their own personal fortunes.  Even the most virtuous of men must sometimes surrender those virtues "for the greater good."  Where do you get your funding from?  Perhaps the people you protect!  And you might engage in free trade, but the most lucrative trade is forbidden trade (trade that requires smuggling!) like drugs or slaves.  And if you already have military power, why not trade on that military power to expand your ability to wage war?  And then, soon, you've turned from revolutionaries into an organized criminal gang, which is often the fate of revolutions that neither succeed in their arms nor are completely stamped out.  What compromises is the Rebellion willing to make to get its job done?

Even virtues like "freedom, justice, tolerance" ultimately boil down to a promise that you will allow someone to pursue power.  Rebellions often begin when individuals see their power decreasing to the point where they are unable to fulfill their ambitions. Thus, unsurprisingly, many revolutions and rebellions, once complete, turn into dictatorships, because those at the top have more ambition than they let on.  The reforms they promise may well be a ploy to get you to follow them, to lift them up, so that they might become the next dictator.  The "Liberty, egalitarianism and brotherhood" of the French Revolution very quickly turned into murder and dictatorship.  The Empire itself rose as a rebellion against the previous golden age!  How is this new rebellion any better? On that question, much will turn.

Who Serves the Rebellion

Because of its goals, the rebellion tends to attract those who have strong moral fiber, but perhaps with more endurance and sophistication than moral characters who serve the Empire.  Imperial morality is easy, as they surrender their power to the dictator and ask him to fix the ills of the world.  A rebel sees something wrong with the world and is willing to fix it himself, even if it costs him his life.  This also means many in the rebellion have strong, independent streaks,which means they may need to be constantly convinced of the rightness of their cause, which means that all sides must carefully compromise, and it keeps potential corruption in check.

The rebellion also tends to attract the desperate.  From some, the Empire has taken everything.  They have no families left, or worse, they have only a few loved ones left, for whom they are willing to do anything.  They might even serve the Empire, if they thought that was an option, but the Empire's intolerance has closed the door to that, so their only choice is to fight or die; those that die simply vanish from history; those that fight join the rebellion.  Or, at least, a rebellion.

What counts as "desperate" can come in degrees.  For some, being unable to fulfill one's ambition is itself a fighting offense. These are the formerly powerful dispossessed, the nobles of the old order, or powers who are otherwise unable to gain traction in the current regime and wish to gain power.  This includes the exiled former rulers of the old Republic, and alien powers with whom the Empire refuses to deal.  From these, the Rebellion receives most of its funding.  Where did you think Starhawks came form?  Surely not from the peasants!

(A note on "The Republic."  I feel I should stop using this term, as it feels too like Star Wars.  GURPS Space uses many different terms for governments, and I think Federation is probably the closest to what the old "Republic" was, in the classic sense of what a Federation was: a sharing of power between equal powers who share sovereignty with a central pwoer. These powers were the former Noble Houses spawned by the old Empire.  The masters of these Houses represent the powers that shared their power to create the state that ruled the Galaxy, and they represent the nexus around which the Rebellion has crystalized, so from here on out, I'll refer to it as a Federation or, perhaps, a Concordium; I haven't decided which I like better).

The Rebel Alliance as Organization

Star Wars refers to the Rebels as the "Rebel Alliance," something I've continued.  I suspect that George Lucas meant to evoke the imagery of the "Allies" defeating Nazi Germany, but I use it for a different reason: I think the rebels aren't really an organization, not in the sense that the Empire is, but rather a loosely knit group of organizations that form common cause against the Empire.  That is, the rebellion is literally an alliance between disparate groups, all aiming towards a common goal.

These groups are, broadly speaking:

Insurgencies: The people under the thumb of the Empire sometimes rise up to fight its tyranny of their own accord.  They lack funds and training, but make up for it in drive and passion.  These rag-tag bands of orphan-soldiers, bitter old men and wronged women come together to become guerrilla fighters, terrorists and organized resistance that sabotage the Empire and offer their services to the Rebellion.  They become its idealistic foot soldiers and its cannon fodder, not because of the Rebellion's sinister motives, but the sheer facts of how resistance movements usually end.  They also often fission off, being too extreme for the Alliance, or not devoted enough to its cause.  Finally, this blanket term covers dozens or even hundreds of smaller resistance movements with little or no connection to one another except their shared goal of defeating the Empire, which means organizing them can be a little like herding cats.

The Noble Houses: The elites of the former Federation, now dispossessed.  They have a shadow of their former power, but that still represents real power.  They provide real leadership and they have the money and training necessary to engage in a genuine, "symmetrical" warfare.  This group is deeply traditional and increasingly clings to its status, which creates a tension for its need to connect to the dispossessed commoners who often serve them.  Worse, they have traditionally been rivals with one another, and have only set aside those rivalries to defeat the greater threat of the Emperor, but petty feuds can easily fuel tension between groups.  At their strongest, they use nobless oblige paired with the glamour and prestige of their former positions to impress upon others the need for their leadership; at their weakest, they acknowledge that their traditions gave rise to the Emperor, and that they must be willing to let go and accept new ways if the Galaxy is ever to be set right again.

Alien Powers: The Empire wants to Make the Galaxy Great Again, but only certain, privileged parts of the galaxy.  Many alien powers wanted to partake of the wealth and sophistication of the Federation, only to be shut out by the Empire.  These aliens have turned to the Alliance as a way of undoing this wrong.  These, too, provide material support for the rebellion, offering up soldiers and ships to the war effort, and coordinating with the Noble Houses and Resistance Movements to strike a blow against the Empire.  They represent the power that comes from tolerance, but they also represent external influences seeping into the galactic core, with their own ideals and their own ambitions.  Can we really trust all the alien powers willing to sign up to watch the one power that's been keeping them in check fall?

Which aliens?  Well, that'll have to wait until I've worked out aliens.  I suspect it'll also depend on the GM and the players, as this is doubtlessly a set of shifting alliances!

Rebel Challenges

The Rebellion is a patchwork of allied organizations, and thus each head of the hydra is best tackled on its own, which I'll do over the coming weeks.  Here, let's look at the joints between them, how they connect with one another.  That is, how do these organizations meet up and plan together, and how to they decide, as a group, what to do? And how might a wicked Imperial agent break into the organization and uncover their machinations?

Generally, the Alliance is only as strong as its weakest links, and it has some pretty weak links.  It relies on civilian sympathy to provide its security, and it has serious financial problems.  Generally, fighting or infiltrating the rebellion is only BAD -0, though it might rise to BAD -2 on more professionally rebellious worlds.  Individual organizations might be more BAD!

Physical Security

This is generally provided by whatever sub-organization is hosting a meeting.

Informational Security

The Rebellion needs to be able to communicate plans across a scattered organization, with many of its agents behind enemy lines.  How does it prevent the Empire from unraveling its plans?

First, the Alliance relies primarily on human (or robot!) hands to transmit information.  Individuals, preferably individuals the Empire has no reason to investigate, such as senators, imperial ministers or complete nobodies on the street, carry whatever vital information directly to its destination, or even engage in a series of relays to make sure it reaches its destination.  This way, an individual would have to deliberately betray the Rebellion, or be visibly arrested, for the information to fall into enemy hands.

Should information fall into enemy hands, the Alliance codes the information, not with cryptography, but with steganography.  That is, the Alliance will send its vital plans for attacking the Empire in the form of a seemingly innocent shopping list or in a hologram of a friend.  To intercept the information, the Empire has to know who will have the information, in what form the message will take, and how to decode it.

Despite all of this, the Alliance always assumes that some messages are intercepted.  As a result, it further layers its informational security with redundancy, red herrings and compartmentalization.  First, the Alliance will send several copies of a message via multiple channels.  Second, some messages will be false, designed to trigger an imperial action of some kind that the Alliance can see (for example, that a meeting will take place at a particular location).  You can watch the results of imperial action, and if they act on a red herring, you know which channels have been compromised.  Finally, no message contains a complete message.  The final message is meant to be cobbled together at its final destination from several sources, or the final message doesn't contain enough information to compromise an entire operation.  Thus, traitors cannot stop the message from getting through, they'll be uncovered by red-herrings, and the Empire will only ever have a piece of the larger puzzle.  The trade-off is that a lot of messages need to be sent out to get a complete message to the target, which increases the chance of Imperial interception.

The downside to all of this is that it must be arranged in advance, which typically takes place when the alliance gets together to decide policy, or when agents meet with resistance cells.  Participants are expected to memorize the details pertinent to themselves, though sometimes they'll be given bots with the appropriate instructions.  Should they be captured, they're expected to commit suicide rather than divulge the details to the complex scheme, or the robots will self-wipe.  This does mean that if Imperial Agents collect enough high-level people from a rebel network, the alliance needs a considerable amount of time before it can revisit its codes and security procedures.

Finally, the Alliance consists of many people who have a deep understanding of Imperial infrastructures.  Rebels often co-opt or hack Imperial resources, like their data-net, to transmit and communicate right under Imperial noses.  The rule of thumb for the Alliance is "hidden in plain sight."  They use standard channels, hacked channels, and innocuous steganography to make it virtually impossible to tell what is really a threat and what isn't.  If this results in imperial officials going on a mad, paranoid rampage ripping up personal correspondences and confiscating entire shipments of hologram-lockets, all the better.

Organizational Security

As already stated, the rebellion relies on compartmentalization to secure its communication channels and its information.  "Nobody" knows enough to destroy the entire rebellion.  In practice, though, this applies more to resistance cells than to the Imperial Houses, which have removed themselves far enough from the Empire and are sufficiently well-defended that they can act as a nexus for decision making for the rebellion.  They tend to know more than most, explaining the Imperial ambition to wipe out those independent worlds.

Beyond that, the Alliance relies on bonds of trust and local sympathies.  The Alliance wants at least two other members of the Alliance to vouch for someone before he's trusted with major secrets.  Usually, one needs to work ones way deeper into the organization before he's exposed to anything vital (treat as Security Clearance).  Thus, one might join a resistance cell and fight several battles or perform missions without knowing any larger context before he's introduced to a higher resistance figure or an external alliance member (such as a member of a house, or a senator) and given more secure (but less vital) missions as a test of loyalty, and once the rebel has confirmed his loyalty, then he might be inducted into upper ranks, introduced to more people, allowed to carry messages, and so on.  

Members of the alliance know each other personally.  They form networks of friendship and trust.  They make a point of socializing with one another, introducing each other to their family, and inducting them into their social circles.  To betray the alliance is to betray your friends and family.

This also explains how their recruitment works.  They generally blanket the area with propaganda (at least in the form of whisper campaigns, if media is heavily censored), and they make a point of seemingly anonymous magnanimity and friendship, only to reveal later the source of that generosity.  They might also ask for favors that only later turn out to be for the rebellion, thus indicting the unwitting accomplice, which is usually revealed at the same time as the source of the generosity, creating a carrot and stick situation ("We helped you, and also, you've already betrayed the Empire.  Why not work for us to take them down?")  

For example, a senator might assist a security agent with personal problems, and then invite him over for dinner, introduce him to his children, help the agent's children get a superior post in a ministry, offer a sympathetic ear when ever the agent discussed imperial corruption (even encourage such talk), and then ask for a small favor (smuggling a small knick-knack through customs that's technically forbidden because it's from an imperial-sponsored archaelogical dig, but it isn't actually anything of real value, like a potsherd), and then reveal that the senator has been working for the rebellion the whole time, and that the potsherd contained a stenographic message, that most of the agent's friends and family are also part of the alliance now, and that the agent is fed up with corruption within the Empire.  He could turn the Senator over to the authorities, but not without raising questions about his own involvement, and also, it would perpetuate the problems in the Empire.  Why not work to help bring about a better age?  If he agrees, of course, he's only given low-risk missions, with the assumption that he may well be working undercover now, but the alliance continues to work him, to build trust and camaraderie and point out the flaws of the Empire, so that even if the agent quietly reported the contact to his superiors, he might change his mind and commit fully to the alliance.

This network extends throughout the whole civilian population.  Many sympathizers are nothing more than children or house wives or old men who keep their eyes open.  Their lack of importance makes them invisible to Imperial eyes, and they keep their eyes on imperial and alliance agents alike, ensuring that allied agents stay loyal and they watch for wavering imperial loyalty, or simply report on dangerous imperial activity, like a coming crack-down.  They also buddy up to rebels, offering them praise, asking for stories and treating them like heroes.  Rebels often feel like rock-stars because the rebellion treats them as such; it might help to think of the rebellion as a cross between an extended, if distant, family, and a cult.

Allied Agendas

The alliance wishes to destroy the Empire, and then transition to ruling the galaxy itself.  First, though, it needs to lay the groundwork for both that destruction and transition.  To do this, it needs to undermine the Empire, convince the Galaxy that its better off without the Empire, then it needs to convince the Galaxy that it's better off with the Alliance at its head, that the Empire was an abberation and the Alliance restores the Galaxy to its former golden age. Then it needs the power necessary to destroy the Empire, and it needs to work out who will be in charge of what, to prevent a mad scramble for power at the last moment that will precipitate a new galactic civil war, or result in a new Emperor.

Subvert the Empire

First, the Alliance needs to undermine Imperial power and legitimacy.  It might:
  • Reveal (or concoct) evidence of warcrimes or corruption.
  • Sabotage Imperial infrastructure in such a way that it looks like Imperial incompetence and that inconvencies and/or causes the suffering of millions of civilians
  • Subvert major officials via bribery of blackmail
  • Destroy Imperial infrastructure dedicated to the building of military capability
  • Free prisoners

Gather Power and Legitimacy

The Alliance must do more than prove the Empire unfit for governance; it must prove its own fitness, and it must have the power necessary to unseat the Empire.  To this end, it might:
  • Destroy pirates threatening ignored worlds (providing law and order)
  • Provide (smuggle?) medical aid to ignored worlds
  • Secure an alliance with a foreign power, with a powerful house, or with a rich corporation
  • Steal wealth to finance its own ends (ideally Imperial finances, of course, but any finances will do in a pinch)
  • Spread a whisper campaign of the right to rule of the exiled noble houses, or otherwise use propaganda to convince people of the rightness and nobility of the Alliance.

Destroy the Empire

Once the Galaxy has been converted to the Allied cause, the Alliance must actually unseat the Empire.  To this end, it might:
  • Assassinate a powerful official
  • Sabotage and destroy a major military project
  • Ambush imperial forces and destroy them
  • Conquer an imperial world and declare its sovereignty, then negotiate for its induction into the Alliance "of its own free will."

Ensure Smooth Transition

Once the Empire has been removed, a power vacuum will form, and the Alliance must step smoothly into that vacuum, "restoring" the old Federation.  To do that, it must:
  • Secure binding treaties with its allies
  • Arrange ahead of time which Allied leaders will have what positions ("Carve up the Empire")
  • Spread propaganda depicting what the new Federation would already look like, to cement the idea in the minds of the people.
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