The B5 genocide panel was pitted against the Masquerade, which virtually assured that we would only have around fifteen people in the room. This actually turned out to be good thing, though, because these were fifteen people who cared about what we were talking about. And while this sometimes meant Sabrina and I had to redefine the boundaries before members of the audience started going at each other, at least we didn’t have an audience who simply stared at us like stunned wombats.
My intent in proposing the panel was to encourage the audience to examine presentation and how it affects our judgment. The Centauri-Narn conflict unfolds before our eyes in vivid and terrible detail, while the Earth-Minbari conflict is presented to us in snatches of memory. Is it possible that JMS is manipulating our reaction to certain characters and conflicts by manipulating what we see?
I did not achieve my ultimate goal to the fullest extent because we got bogged down on a smaller question: Does the Centauri-Narn conflict rise to the level of the Earth-Minbari conflict in genocidal intent? One audience member, convinced that the answer to this was yes, claimed that the Centauri intended to obliterate the Narn, but “their greed got in the way.” I boggled. Aside from a few remarks uttered in fits of pique, canon just doesn’t support this. It isn’t Londo who openly – and soberly - pines for a day when his people can carve Narn bone flutes for their children, sow the Narn soil with salt, etc. There are genocides committed against certain groups on Narn – some deaths are necessary, goes the thinking, to keep a population pacified - but ultimately, the Centauri government wants subjects and slaves more than it wants corpses. Do the Minbari show this kind of restraint?
(And just as a sidelight, would the Narn have shown that restraint if the circumstances were reversed? At one point, Sabrina brought up G’Kar during the discussion, asserting that he “just wanted to protect his people.” “No, that is not all,” I thundered into the mike. That’s when the bone flutes came up. “It does a disservice to G’Kar as a character,” I said, “to minimize his own genocidal ambition.”)
After repeating the above in a number of iterations, it occurred to me that some audience members might be having trouble with the distinction because they feared that recognizing said distinction would somehow absolve the Centauri. So I explicitly emphasized that it would not. What the Centauri do to the Narn is morally reprehensible regardless of whether or not their actions pale in comparison to those of the Minbari against the Humans. After disabusing the assembled of the notion that I intended for this discussion to serve as a Centauri apologia, I then asked whether anyone was troubled by Delenn’s past. “In what way?” Sabrina replied. And this, after we had just spent most of the panel bickering over the Centauri, was really a beautiful illustration of my intended point, though I didn’t say so out loud.
Instead, I explained what I meant: I proposed that JMS’s narrative of the Earth-Minbari War is plot-serving rather than completely truthful. Because Delenn is supposed to be one of the heroes of the piece, any ambiguity about her role in the Earth-Minbari War tends to be minimized through a little revisionist history. We see her deciding vote cast in grief. We see her attempt to broker a peace. We see her heavy remorse. But it’s important to remember that the events of In the Beginning occurred over a number of years - and in all that time, Delenn only made one attempt to stop the war, even though canon explicitly states that there were dissenters in the Gray Council. Would she have even made that one attempt if her gods hadn’t told her the Humans were the key? Moreover, would she have voted for surrender if it weren’t for the sheer luck that allowed her to select Valen from the horde at the Battle of the Line? Does the fact that we only see part of the story in flashbacks make it easier for us, the viewers, to forgive her? Gratifyingly, a number of attendees seemed willing to entertain the question.
“That was spirited,” said Tom Holste (I believe) when the panel adjourned. By which, as he later clarified on list, he meant that he was afraid there was going to be a bloodbath, particularly whenever real Earth politics entered the discussion, which it did on occasion. (A certain person in the audience was of the opinion that I proposed the topic specifically for the purpose of discussing real Earth politics, which was kind of interesting in its way, but not right. Don’t get me wrong - I have absolutely no problem with people drawing parallels to real Earth politics (though I reserve the right to disagree with those parallels), but my intent, first and foremost, was to talk about a certain space opera and its author’s power to influence interpretation.) But despite the occasional political clash, everyone seemed to be in agreement that we should discuss the topic again next year. Sabrina and I were both congratulated for our moderation. And people were still discussing the panel’s primary questions in the hallway ten to fifteen minutes later. Isn’t that what all panels should accomplish? I’m not going to hide it – I’m proud of that result, even if searose came up to me afterwards and affectionately called me a “troublemaker.” :P