justice and revenge

Last night’s BSG had an incredibly well written courtroom scene that I thought was worth repeating here. In it, Lee Adama is on the stand as a defense witness for Dr. Gaius Baltar, who is on trial for treason, and is widely understood to have conspired with the enemy, causing the deaths of hundreds or thousands of humans.

I think his monologue raises several excellent point about justice and revenge, and perhaps some of the motivations we sometimes have for extracting each of them. In the end, I think Adama’s most powerful revelation is in the middle of his thoughts – “I’m a coward. I’m the traitor. I’m forgiven.”

“Mr. Adama.”


“Why do you think the defendant, Gaius Baltar, deserves to be acquitted?”

“Well, because the evidence does not support the charges.”

“Come on…”

“Did the defendant make mistakes? Sure, he did. Serious mistakes. But did he actually commit any crimes? Did he commit treason? No. I mean… it was an impossible situation. When the Cylons arrived, what could he possibly do? What could anyone have done? I mean ask yourself, what would you have done? What would you have done? If he had refused to surrender, the Cylons would probably have nuked the planet, right then and there. So did he appear to cooperate with the Cylons? Sure. So did hundreds of others. What’s the difference between him and them?

“The President issued a blanket pardon. They were all forgiven, no questions asked. Colonel Tigh. Colonel Tigh used suicide bombers, killed dozens of people. Forgiven. Lieutenant Agathon and Chief Tyrol, they murdered an officer on the Pegasus, forgiven. The Admiral – the Admiral instituted a military coup d’etat against the President. Forgiven. And me? Well… where do I begin?

“I shot down a civilian passenger ship, the Olympic Carrier, over 1,000 people on board. Forgiven. I raised my weapon to a superior officer, committed an act of mutiny. Forgiven. And then, on the very day when Baltar surrendered to those Cylons, I, as Commander of Pegasus, jumped away. I left everybody on that planet, alone, undefended for months. I even tried to persuade the Admiral never to return, to abandon you all there for good. If I’d had my way, nobody would have made it off that planet. I’m a coward. I’m the traitor. I’m forgiven.

“I’d say we’re very forgiving of mistakes. We make our own laws now, our own justice. And we’ve been pretty creative at finding ways to let people off the hook for everything from theft to murder. And we’ve had to be. Because we’re not a civilization anymore. We are a gang, and we’re on the run, and we have to fight to survive. We have to break rules, we have to bend laws, we have to improvise.

“But not this time, no. Not this time. Not for Gaius Baltar. No, you – you have to die. You have to die because, well, because we don’t like you very much. Because you’re arrogant, because you’re weak, because you’re a coward, and we the mob, we want to throw you out the airlock because you didn’t stand up to the Cylons and didn’t get yourself killed in the process. That’s justice now – you should have been killed back on New Caprica, but since you had the timerity to live we’re going to execute you now – that’s justice.

“This case – this case is built on emotion, on anger, bitterness, vengeance, but most of all it is built on shame. It’s about the shame of what we did to ourselves back on that planet, and it’s about the guilt of those of us who ran away, who ran away. And we’re trying to dump all that guilt, and all that shame onto one man, and then flush him out the airlock and then hope that just gets rid of it all, so that we can live with ourselves. But that won’t work.

“That won’t work; that’s not justice. Not to me.

“Not to me.”

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