From GALACTIC MAIL Revolution!
When she opened the file, Patricia Dawson found herself in a full-immersion VR, on the porch of Campbell Hall, looking out over New Hope. The ancient stone house looked relatively new, while the bustling modern city she was used to was little more than a large town. She sat in a rocking chair on that porch.
Dawson turned to look at the woman sitting next to her. She had never been tall, but was even more shortened with age. Her white hair was short, her skin thin and white as new parchment. She sat with a blanket over her lap, and a cup of tea steaming on the table between them.
The aged figure turned to her, and Dawson was transfixed by her eyes. Those dark brown eyes were the eyes of a person used to command, to the wielding of tremendous authority. With a shock, in the old woman’s features Dawson recognized her own, the family resemblance clear.
“Hello, grandchild. I am Jan Childers.
“That you are seeing this recording means that you are the next person in the chain of Watchers, intended to keep an eye on Galactic Mail. I cannot know how many years have passed by now, or which generation you are. I cannot answer your questions, but I can probably anticipate many of them. It is for that purpose this recording is being made.
“When we created Galactic Mail – Bill Campbell, Jake Turner, Miriam Desai, myself, and others – we bound it with all the legal and administrative chains we could to keep it from morphing into a government. Yet we expect such chains will thin and weaken under the constant pull exerted on them. It is for this reason we put in place another mechanism to restrain Galactic Mail. Twenty-four chains of our descendants, who have extraordinary access into the systems on which Galactic Mail depends, and who can reset the organization to its original, limited purpose.
“You are the newest member of this group, and this is your initial briefing on your position, your powers, and your responsibilities.
“We set up Galactic Mail to solve a single problem, the predation of one star system upon another, throughout all of human space. To put a stop to interstellar war, permanently. An ambitious goal, to be sure. Yet, as I sit here talking to you, it has held now for over fifty years.
“That is a tremendous achievement by itself. In the thirty years I served in the Commonwealth Space Force, we fought no fewer than two major wars and literally hundreds of incursions. While the CSF was largely successful in repelling such incursions, among the Outer Colonies, the number of incursions was much larger. The death toll of all these incursions is impossible to know, but surely ran into the tens of millions. The human toll of the destruction of infrastructure in poverty, disease, and misery can only be guessed at.
“That was in a mere thirty years. Yet, in the fifty-some years since we started Galactic Mail, there have been no successful incursions, by anyone, anywhere. In truth, there have been very few attempts, given that the existence of Galactic Mail doomed them to failure. By now, most star systems have forsaken the study and practice of interstellar war, and, having seen more than my share, I can say that has been a very good thing.
“And I would like to keep it going.”
Childers picked up her tea and sipped it, while looking out at the New Hope of her time. When she had collected her thoughts, she set the tea down, turned back to Patricia Dawson, and continued.
“There are two primary dangers to Galactic Mail. One is external, that some system will stumble upon some new military technology that would make Galactic Mail vulnerable to being countered and allow that system to take up war on its neighbors with impunity. We have taken steps to forestall that eventuality, by instituting research within Galactic Mail to continue to sharpen its technology over time. We hope that, with the resources it has available, it can maintain its lead for quite a while. The estimates put it quite a few hundred years into the future, assuming Galactic Mail maintains its research posture and doesn’t dissipate its resources on other adventures.
“The second danger is internal, that, having achieved its purpose, Galactic Mail will look for new problems to solve, other activities it can undertake to better the human condition. This is a great danger. Allow me to explain why.
“Human beings are messy creatures. We have all sorts of impulses and desires and motives, not all of them noble or honorable or benign. Anything but. That is the human condition. It is not solvable. We set out with Galactic Mail to close off the one worst aberrant behavior of the human race, death and destruction on a massive scale, through war on our fellow man. To have achieved that, to the extent we have, is remarkable.
“But the temptation will exist to solve other problems. In the end, to solve all other problems. This will arise from the noblest of motives, but it is wrong-headed, for two reasons.
“The first is that, in doing so, Galactic Mail will take its eye off the ball, dissipate its energies, will not remain adept and skilled at its primary purpose, maintaining a moratorium on war. War is the great leveler, it tears down everything, reduces humanity to its most basic impulses, and opens the door to every possible evil. Famine, plague, genocide, and worse. Take it from a lifelong student of war, that the abolition of war is the one great accomplishment. All others are secondary.
“The second reason is more subtle. While our basic humanity aches to help the poor, the hungry, the ill, the oppressed, when such efforts are centralized, a great truth emerges. Altruism doesn’t scale well. In fact, such efforts usually end very badly. Dependence destroys independence. It is such a truth that it is built into the language.
“For these reasons, in our effort to rid humanity of the one great evil of war, we left many smaller evils alone. Over time, many of these smaller evils will be solved on a smaller scale, once the disruption of war is removed. The great tyrannies often resulted from the dislocations of war. Without the presence of war, over time they dissipate. That is our belief and our hope.
But it is a slow process. The temptation will naturally arise within Galactic Mail to solve such problems more quickly, to step into the internal politics of star systems, ultimately to use its tremendous military power to force its solutions on individual star systems.
“What one ends up with then is a galactic central government.
“Uniting all of humanity under one government would be a tremendous mistake. Sooner or later, even the most benevolent and well-intentioned government can be corrupted, turn to despotism. To where, then, would one flee to escape it? From what outside point could one oppose it? Humanity would sink into millennia of tyranny.
“We decided the possibility – more, the likelihood – of tyranny on individual planets was a lesser evil than tyranny on the grand scale, across all of humanity. Galactic Mail is structured to prevent a galactic government from forming, as long as it does not become one itself.
“But we believe it will, or at least it will try.
“It is for this reason that you watch. It is your great responsibility.”