What are Cardassia’s Responsibilities to Bajor?

Author’s Note: What makes science fiction unique as a genre is its ability to frame complex, uncomfortable social issues in a context where we can safely engage with them. Certainly, other kinds of literature make social commentary, but the thread of scientific plausibility in science fiction is what says to the reader “this isn’t just a fantasy, this is us we’re talking about.” Science fiction allows us to talk about an issue, without actually talking about it and thus gives the storyteller plausible cover or allows moral lesson teaching to reach the otherwise interested.

The citizens of Cardassia owe Bajor and its people for the crimes committed during (and the very fact of) its 50-year occupation of the planet (2319 to 2369). This debt goes beyond simple retributory or compensatory justice. The Cardassian occupation (henceforth, “The Occupation”) not only prevented the Bajorans (or ‘Bajora’) cultural and social development that would have occurred over that 50 year period, but also turned back the clock, in many ways leaving Bajor worse off than it had been in decades, if not centuries.

Prior to The Occupation the two star-systems had a long, but mostly uneventful, history. First contact between the two occurred during Earth’s 16th century (roughly 800 years ago in the Star Trek timeline) (Explorers). But when The Occupation took place the futures of the systems, and their people, became inextricably linked. Bajor was a peaceful planet populated with a highly religious (or at least spiritual) people that, despite having been space faring for several centuries, had not spread its footprint much outside its own solar system, and posed no threat to anyone. Cardassia was technologically and culturally advanced as well but had recently endured a protracted period of extreme poverty. Leaders in the current Cardassian military structure recount all too frequent stories of growing up poor and homeless (Gul Madred told his story to Jean-Luc Picard in Chain of Command, Part II)

Thus, the reason for The Occupation parallels a sadly common story throughout Earth’s history; one society has wants or needs it cannot meet, so it turns to conquest. The military of Cardassia overthrew its civilian government and began implementing economic and social changes, which included conquest of “nearby” (~5 light-years[1]) Bajoran system.

In the following 50 years Cardassia saw a return to its former greatness, at the expense of the lives and livelihood of the Bajoran people. The mineral and agricultural wealth of Bajor was redirected to Cardassia to benefit its citizens and line the pockets of its leaders. Bajorans of all ages, regions, and D’jarras were forced into labor camps to mine or process mineral ore. The elderly and feeble were killed. Woman were forced into sexual slavery. Some Bajorans formed resistance cells to fight the oppressors, while others collaborated to receive preferential treatment. All Bajorans and Bajoran culture suffered through the occupation, which came to an end after 50 years due to continued pressure from Bajoran resistance groups and political pressure from The United Federation of Planets.

The Bajorans continue to suffer as they rebuild their civilization. Cardassians poisoned the land, destroyed infrastructure, and demolished sites of cultural significance. A once peaceful people had to now contend with political infighting and the threat of civil war as all Bajor struggled with it now severely limited resources.[2]

Any reasonable person can look at this situation and agree that Cardassia owes something to the people of Bajor. But there is not “Cardassia” without Cardassians. Exactly which Cardassians owe something to Bajor? Is it just war criminals like Gul Madred, Gul Dukat and Enabran Tain? Do all members of the military who were “just following orders” owe a debt? What about the civilian population which supported, through money, morale, and services, the efforts of the military? And how long does this restitution need to go on?

The answer is, yes, all these people owe Bajor for the crimes they committed. Every war criminal, soldier, and civilian supporter. But it goes further than that. Each and every citizen of Cardassia, young and old, every patriot and political dissident who bore witnesses merely by living through the occupation has a debt to pay. Even unborn generations of Cardassians have a moral obligation to assist the Bajora. (Perhaps a future log entry on how the Dominion War may have changed this assessment will be in order. For our purposes in this essay, we will discuss the reparations to Bajor from the counterfactual position that the Dominion War never happened)

We see at least one Cardassian who saw his planet’s culpability in this way. Aamin Marritza (in the guise of Gul Darhe’el) and Kira Nerys had the following exchange (Duet):

Kira: “You didn’t commit those crimes and you couldn’t stop them. You were only one man.”

Marritza: “No, no, don’t you see, I have to be punished, we all have to be punished.”

Marritza was a file clerk at Gallitep, a labor camp known for being especially brutal, overseen by Gul Darhe’el. Marritza posed as Darhe’el, allowed himself to be captured in hopes of being executed for crimes he himself did not commit. Marritza was not directly involved in the inhumane treatment of Bajorans, but he did run an efficient filing system which allowed, even if only in a small way, for the brutality to continue. Marritza was racked with guilt over his part in occupation and the cowardice that prevented him from standing up against it. He wanted to do something, anything, to make amends and believed the moral responsibility to make amends extended far past the most immediate criminal perpetrators.

When Marritza’s deception is discovered he is released from custody and shortly killed by a knife in the back by Kainon, a Bajoran citizen, whose justification is: “He’s a Cardassian. That’s reason enough” (Duet)

Both Marritza and Kainon agree that there is blood enough to cover many Cardassian hands. But is it fair that all Cardassians owe reparations to Bajor?

If one believes this is the case a simple version of the supporting argument looks like this:

P1- All Cardassians are responsible for The Occupation.

P2- The Occupation was morally wrong.[3]

P3- Those responsible for committing a moral wrong are responsible to make appropriate reparations.

C- All Cardassians are responsible for making appropriate reparations to Bajor.

The argument is valid (the conclusion necessarily derives from the premises if we assume the premises are true), but it may not be sound (the conclusion necessarily follows from the premises and the premises are true). The first premise is controversial. No doubt there were some Cardassians who knew little to nothing of the occupation (just as there were undoubtedly some people on Earth who were ignorant of major global events, like World War II, as they were occurring). But even if we assumed that all Cardassians were morally responsible, the premise fails to address the varying degrees of responsibility that exist. Enabran Tain was head of the Obsidian Order and played a direct role in deaths and mistreatment of Bajorans, and thus he bears a great deal of direct responsibility. Tain’s long-time housekeeper, Mila, supported him and thus played a role in the occupation, though indirectly. Members of the military, “on the ground” bear more responsibility than other military personnel doing other jobs such as patrolling the Cardassia/Talarian border or counting self-sealing stem bolts in a warehouse in a far-flung Cardassian colony. Anyone aware of the occupation who said nothing against it is responsible in some way for its continuation, but to varying degrees. But what of the claim that even future generations of Cardassians have a moral responsibility to Bajor?

Some members of these future generations may say things like “I didn’t enslave the people of Bajor. I wasn’t even born yet,” or ask, “no one in my family has ever even been to Bajor, how am I to blame?” Both fair points. However, all of this misses the point. The question should not be one of who was responsible for the occupation and to what degree, but rather who benefited from the occupation, and by this measure unborn generations of Cardassian owe the Bajorans.

As discussed earlier, in the recent past, Cardassia was a planet suffering from rampant poverty. After the start of the occupation a wealth of materials and resources flooded into the Cardassian empire and the previously impoverished citizens were far better off than they had been. Two senior officials, Gul Dukat, and Gul Madred applauded the Cardassian military for turning the economic situation on Cardassia around. Not every citizen of Cardassia became wealthy, but on average the standard of living for each Cardassian rose substantially. “Feeding the people” is a praiseworthy goal to be sure. Creating a society that can focus on art and science is laudable. It is not the fact that Cardassia improved themselves that is the problem. It is the fact that this improvement came through the enslavement and depravation of the Bajorans. Cardassia did not turn itself around on its own. Bajoran slave labor had more to do with it than anything else.

Before the occupation, most children born on Cardassia were not going to have a life of learning, enculturation, and leisure. Children born during the occupation had a rosier outlook, and the rosy outlook continues for Cardassian children born decades, maybe centuries after the end of the occupation. The unborn did not participate in the occupation, but they are nonetheless reaping its ill-gotten rewards and for this they owe a tremendous debt to millions of dead and maimed Bajora. Cardassians yet to be born are a generational accessory after the fact. One cannot benefit from a crime while at the same time claiming to be completely innocent of it.

Cardassia can never “make things right.” They cannot bring back a single slave from the dead, nor can they erase the myriad of traumas they caused. They cannot fix it, but it does not follow that they are not obligated to do something. The Bajoran’s labor was stolen from them and used to benefit others. Time and energy a Bajoran might have spent growing food for his family or educating herself was instead used to feed and comfort a distant empire. For their troubles what the Bajorans got was set back and held back while other civilizations throughout the galaxy thrived. Morally, it is not enough that The Occupation end (though this is a necessary first step). To simply leave Bajor in its broken state would be akin to breaking one of a marathoner’s legs before a race and disclaiming responsibility for the runner’s performance on the grounds that “I already stopped breaking legs. It’s up to him now.”

The damages to Bajor were both acute and systemic. The distinction between these kinds of damages is the beginning of how the debt to Bajor should be appropriated and punishment meted out. The acute crimes against Bajor were committed by the Cardassians directly. The labor camp overseer who cut rations to slaves, ordered executions and raped women, committed war crimes and should be punished accordingly. Other workers in the labor camp who carried out these orders are likewise responsible and should be punished. This is all in accordance with common law concerning criminal culpability and the insufficiency of the claim “I was just following orders.” However, Cardassians far removed from involvement cannot be held equally accountable for these acute actions.

True, they did not speak up or otherwise try to stop the occupation, but Kira was correct when she told Marritza: “You didn’t commit those crimes and you couldn’t stop them. You were only one man.” If people do not speak out against atrocities, it is tacit consent to allow them to continue. Marritza did not have the power to stop the occupation. Neither did Mila, nor any other ordinary Cardassian citizen. Even if a Cardassian citizen believed the occupation was morally wrong, they nonetheless benefited from it. It is these benefits, more than their silence, which makes them responsible to make restitution to the people of Bajor.

As a whole, the Bajorans have things hard but not all Cardassians have it made either. The difference is that post Occupation, just being born Bajoran means you are born into life harder than it would have been had the occupation never occurred. Yes, some Cardassians have it hard, but the fact that they are Cardassian isn’t one of the things making it hard.


[1] This is according to memory-alpha.fandom.com/wiki/Cardassian_system and Star Trek: Stellar Cartography by Larry Nemecek. By comparison, the closest stellar neighbor to Earth is Proxima Centauri at 4.22 light-years.

[2] Resisting The Occupation necessitated the end of the D’jarra system, which is arguably a positive step, but this hardly justifies any Cardassian brutality.

[3] I hope this goes without saying, but it is included merely to make a complete argument with no assumed or buried premises.

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