Legend of The Galactic Heroes and “The God of History”

~ essay on the anime Legend of the Galactic Heroes (1988–1997).

In every age, in every place, the deeds of men stay the same.

~ The 150-year-long stalemate between the two interstellar superpowers, the Galactic Empire and the Free Planets Alliance, comes to an end when a new generation of leaders arises: the idealistic military genius Reinhard von Lohengramm, and the FPA’s reserved historian, Yang Wenli.

While Reinhard climbs the ranks of the Empire with the aid of his childhood friend, Siegfried Kircheis, he must fight not only the war, but also the remnants of the crumbling Goldenbaum Dynasty in order to free his sister from the Kaiser and unify humanity under one genuine ruler. Meanwhile, on the other side of the galaxy, Yang — a strong supporter of democratic ideals — has to stand firm in his beliefs, despite the struggles of the FPA, and show his pupil, Julian Mintz, that autocracy is not the solution.

As ideologies clash amidst the war’s many casualties, the two strategic masterminds must ask themselves what the real reason behind their battle is. ~

Legend of the Galactic Heroes (“LoGH”) depicts a science fiction universe in the throes of war, where precise geopolitical maneuvering and battle artistry reign supreme, where the annals of History appears as a constant character in its own right, foretelling an inevitable synthesis between its opposing forces. The saga starts in media res, “in the middle of things.” That is, in the middle of a war. A democratic-republic rebel alliance faces off against an entrenched imperial dominion, the two factions wage their war for control of the galaxy {and this is pretty much where the similarities to Star Wars end…} A pair of masterminds end up helming their forces — the rebel wunderkind Yang Wen-li fights for a future where democracy is still possible, while the elegantly childish and brilliantly single-minded Reinhard von Lohengramm makes full use of autocratic imperial prowess to try to create a unifying justice within a decidedly unjust universe.

Altogether, the saga of LoGH builds out an incredibly deep and earnest space opera to best Star Wars and rival Game of Thrones in its scope, philosophy, historicity, and characterizations of the archetypes and dramas in play within such long-game conflicting. It is not only among the best anime I have ever seen, but among the best of any fiction, in any medium.

A Canvas of War, Revolution, Ideology

There’s nothing people in power consider so cheap as human lives…
~ Yang Wen-li

Those who spill blood, those who shed blood, and those who grow fat drinking blood. There are all types.”
~ Julian Mintz

What may be most impressive about LoGH’s saga is the meticulous, 360-degree view of the conflicts. The tale mostly comprises a single era, spanning only a few years — but is one mired in a chaos whose conclusion will bear out vital significance to the institution of the coming age. Through the eyes of our principal characters, and sometimes from out of the mouth of an omniscient narrator, all possibilities and perspectives are offered in this time of extremis. Within the empire and the alliance, a bevy of intriguing characters and subplots emerge; our ‘heroes’ dominate the prime stages, but third party financiers and politicians and terrorists and old guard friends and foes never quite fade from the core field of play. Power changes hands as battles are won and situations evolve; characters evolve as power — or people — fall into or out of their grasp. And throughout, *the people* underneath it all make their appearance, as a mass force of micro-rebellion and resistance and martyrdom, conditioned by their material reality to do so, often spurring the macro movements of history forward. Movements out of the stakeholding masses lurch events into more dangerous, more just, or simply more refined territorialities. All of space, no matter how minor the locale, is shown to be involved in the fight.

Does a new age mean an age of new troubles?
~ Wolfgang Mittermeyer

That is all to say — LoGH presents a world built near to reality. One where the wars and revolutions, the ideologies and the people, each contribute uniquely to the stream. And change alongside it. The copious space battles require and exhibit in-depth tactical exploits from Grandmaster-tier strategists. Out of such war events, high stakes political and economic consequences resound, while troop morale and individual ambitions never exit consideration. Witting or not, clarified in their undergirding philosophy or not — these many, many characters have their alighting roles to play {the largest voice cast of any anime, 300+ actors}. Romantic, tragic, efficacious, doomed, beloved, hated. Unto glory or folly, every role and arc is flavored somewhere in this saga spanning 110 episodes.

Nations don’t fall from external enemies alone. Nation rot from the head down. Every time.”
~ Rubinsky, Fezzani leader
~ Fezzan, led by scheming landsherr Adrian Rubinsky, as the neutral industrial force {the clever capitalists, staying out of the path of destruction between nations}, naturally chooses the superior force to back when the chips are down. Moreover, are they more likely to back an imperial autocracy than they are a democratic alliance, because of the likelihood of regulation coming from democracy? Or vice versa, with the likelihood they are nationalized and brought under state control within an empire? Ultimately, their choice is driven by capital and by profit. They are fine under either regime, as long as they may continue their industry undaunted. No principles beyond profit enter the frame of their choice.
(To live is to fight for Duke Lohengramm. To deprive this man of battle may be like shutting a bird of prey in a cage. But in that case…) ~ Hildegard Mariendorf, advisor to the Kaiser
It’s difficult to take the universe by force of arms alone. I think it’s best to set up as many pawns as possible.” ~ Paul von Oberstein, advisor to the Kaiser /
~ Oberstein, the scheming adviser under Lohengramm, urges them to cede the prevention of a planned massacre so as to reveal the nobility’s cruelty in the attack — 2 million lives vs. 25 billion lives calculated, the logic of Machiavelli, “greater good” decision that doubles as a power grab — no better representation of such politicking than Oberstein — “The conqueror can’t succeed without dirtying his hands.”
“[Oberstein] never allowed room for objections in his sound arguments, after all.” / Nothing but sound arguments carved from a slate of permafrost. Hated by all who draw near even as they can’t deny how correct those arguments are: That’s Marshal Oberstein. ~ Reinhard and Hilda on Oberstein
“They say a flock of sheep led by a lion will overcome a pride of lions led by a sheep” 
~ Fritz Joseph Bittenfeld, High Admiral of the Empire
“We can’t hope to be immortal, and if I’m going to die, I’d rather die satisfied. I’m sure my descendents at least would prefer for me to die a staff officer of the rebel Admiral Yang than as a slave to a slave of the Empire.” ~ Walter von Schönkopf, Vice Admiral of the Alliance, legendary leader of the Rosen Ritter
“We are living in a world where each life is irreplaceable.” ~ Dusty Attenborough, Vice Admiral of the Alliance, part-time writer of fiction
“The key to not getting shot down is to not take life too seriously.”
~ Olivier Poplin, fighter pilot, resident Don Juan of the FPA military
“Back at El Facil, the admiral was still a sublieutenant. He definitely seemed like a novice officer who couldn’t even put his black beret on straight. The people of El Facil said that Sublieutenant Yang was a reject officer, left behind when the commanders ran away, and openly looked down on him. Although they certainly had no reason to respect him. Then I had a revelation. This unreliable, impertinent man who slept on the sofa in his uniform, who wouldn’t wash his face when he got up, and who would talk to himself as he chewed on unbuttered bread… I had to love him, because nobody else was going to.

“I didn’t fall in love with a hero or a great commander. Maybe I have a talent for knowing a bargain when I see one.”
~ Frederica Greenhill, FPA lieutenant commander, on Yang, to Julian
~ LoGH has no true OST beyond the opens and closes and is scored by god-tier classical music.

Radiantly inspired commanders square off against scheming rats; young learners ally with wizened veterans; savage warriors befriend writers; propagandists and financiers and career politicians undercut one another to get ahead; master tacticians bear down Machiavellian tricksters; betrayers, sleeper cell agents and faceless assassins change all of history; on all sides, noble advisors and corrupt opportunists perform their signature duties, aiding their leaders’ machinery toward victory or defeat. Inch by inch, shot by shot, sentence by sentence, history plays out upon the canvas.

When they lose what should never be lost, people can’t help but change.”
~ Oskar von Reuenthal

For the duration, questions harry the actors concerning their fight and why it must be. Final answers are hard to come by and myriad in their diversity. No one is right or wrong; in this universe, any with the power to make their dreams a reality work to do so.

The common currency at play in every dream: human lives. And human deaths. For the exchange they choose to work in, as demanded by their time and place, is war.

“There is one thing that will always unite groups of people… An enemy.”

~ Hilda

Reinhard & Yang

At the core of LoGH, {as many a anime will have it..} there is a battle between two young men — Reinhard von Lohengramm and Yang Wen-li. They represent the faces of the factions embroiled within the war; posterity marks them unquestionably as the greatest figures of the era. Equally brilliant as the master strategists leading on their great war machine in battle against one another, they — and their cohorts — also represent the manifestation of a certain set of opposing ideals.

Reinard vs. Yang — War vs. Peace, Autocracy vs. Democracy, Glory vs. History, The Warrior vs. “The Magician.” Their battle is one that transcends them — what will the fate of the galaxy be, systemically? — and yet, their personality comes to dictate its terms, their instincts define their choices within the heat of it. And their thoughts on proper governance end up synthesizing to shape the future for human civilization.

Reinhard is born to a low-level aristocrat family, and harbors dreams of conquering the universe with his best friend, Kircheis. With ambitions large enough to swallow the Sun, Reinhard steels himself from a young age in the art of battle and politick, and by his early 20s completes a coup d’etat against the 500-year Goldenbaum dynasty, thus beginning his own emperorship at the head of the New Galactic Empire. Tempestuous toward his enemies, aloof with women and the matters of his heart, Reinhard is a loving friend and a fierce competitor towards the ends of his dream to seek power and unify space under his rule. And, importantly, unlike his decadent predecessors in the nobles, Reinhard leads his forces from his own flagship in the vanguard.

“If I withdraw my military rule now, who will unite space and restore order? Can I entrust humanity’s future to a debauched nobility, who only boast of bloodlines and clans, or to corrupt politicians, who arouse the ignorant masses by means of chicanery and profit seeking?”
~ Reinhard Lohengramm

Yang is born a middle-class merchant within the Alliance, intent on furthering his education and becoming a historian. However, fate casts him orphaned and destitute and so instead of attending the prestigious Heinessen Memorial University, he joins up with the Free Planets Alliance military to achieve his learning. Despite his aversion to war, circumstances — and his talents — lead to Yang becoming an officer of the military and eventually commanding his own ships in the fight against the empire. Yang’s brilliance on the battlefield earns him the titles of hero and ‘Magician’, as he cooks up tactical trickeries to save lives and defeat larger and more experienced imperial fleets. His merits lead him to supreme command, wherein the hopes of the FPA — and democracy itself — lay with him. Unconcerned with many worldly, interpersonal and personal hygiene matters, alongside his magnificence in the art of war, Yang builds out a fully realized world philosophy within his heart — with democratic liberty as the sincere cornerstone of all his motivations.

“Yang… I don’t understand you at all. You are a mass of contradictions. First, there’s nobody who hates the stupidity of war as much as you do. At the same time, there’s no one more skillful in this war than you.”
~ Walter von Schönkopf
“Yang Wenli has many shortcomings, but there is one virtue that no one can criticize him on. He sincerely believes that a democracy’s military should exist solely for protecting its citizens.”
~ Chan
“If Yang were to ever be defeated, it wouldn’t be by the great genius of Kaiser Reinhard. It’ll be by his adherence to his own ideals.”
~ Bucock
“Good, fine people die pointlessly, from war and terrorism. That’s the true crime of them both.”
~ Yang
~ Yang and Julian, on being a soldier
“I want to be a soldier that protects freedom and equality. Not a soldier who’s the agent of aggression or oppression, but one who protects the rights of the people.” ~ Julian to Yang
/
Yang: Okay, if it’s you, you probably won’t end up as a good for nothing soldier. Be what you want to be.
Julian: Thank you!
Y: Still, you want to be a soldier that badly, huh? Listen Julian. Not that I want to say anything too out of character, but if you want to be a soldier, there’s something I want you to not forget. The military is an instrument of violence, and there are two types of violence.
J: Good violence and bad violence?
Y: No, not that. Violence to control and oppress, and violence as a means of liberation. What they call a national military… is fundamentally an organization of those already in charge. It’s unfortunate, but that is the truth. When the powerful are confronted by the people, the military very rarely sides with the people. Far from it, in any number of nations in the past, the military itself changed into an instrument of authority to violently oppress the people. Even just last year, there were people who tried to do that and failed.
J: But Admiral, you’re a soldier, and you opposed that, right? I want to be a soldier like you, Admiral, or at least try to be.
Y: Hey, hey, don’t lay that on me. You know perfectly well that I never wanted to be a soldier.
J: Historical research, right?
Y: Exactly. “The pen is mightier than the sword.” While this is hardly ever true in human society, history is one of the few exceptions. We couldn’t topple Rudolf the Great by the sword, but we knew of his misdeeds. That’s the power of the pen. The pen can indict a dictator from centuries ago, or a tyrant from thousands of years ago.
J: Yeah, but in the end, isn’t that just affirming the past?
Y: The past… Listen, Julian. If human history continues on, what we call “the past” accumulates endlessly. History isn’t just a record of the past, but evidence that civilization has been going on continuously to the present day. Present day civilization stands upon the aggregation of history. Understand?
J: Yes!
Y: Passing on their genes to their descendents is the only way that life forms can lay claim to their existence in the long flow of time. Only humans possess “history.” Possessing history makes humans different from other life forms. That’s why I wanted to be a historian… And just because I pushed the wrong first button, I’ve ended up in this state.
J: But without people to make history, wouldn’t there cease to be a need for people to write about it?
Y: … Julian, hot wine — Sorry, I mean, won’t you make me another cup of hot punch? It was really good.
J: Sure, right away!
(Well, these things hardly ever go the way you think they will. In my life, and in other people’s, too.)
~ Yang and Julian.

Reinhard’s arc is that of triumphing over the overconfident and parasitic nobles, coming to terms with the personal tragedies and moral compromises of his conquesting and rulership, and finally, discovering what it really was he fought for all along: Not for power, but for battle itself, for a potential confrontation against a worthy foe. Reinhard’s massive imperial quest is one for personal meaning. Yang’s unwavering convictions to his principles — even in the face of a ‘benevolent’ dictator in Reinhard — establish his character absolutely. The boons of democracy come into question before reforming material conditions within the empire and so many skeletons drifting throughout the starways thus far warring against that regime. Yang’s quest becomes indirectly one of mentorship, sharing the knowledge of his heart and mind to the next generation in Julian Mintz and the others of the independent remnant government of democratic-republicanism. Over the course of the saga, one sees how these two men, as fated foes, end up defining each other’s journeys.

He’s the type who hates letting others know how he feels.”
~ Julian on Yang //
Can Duke Lohengramm only open his heart to the dead? What a lonely existence…
~ Hilda

As leaders, each man is necessarily built differently. Akin to Napoleon — a brilliant military tactician who becomes a populist people’s champion battling against the nobility for control of the empire, instituting a new meritocracy along the way — Reinhard’s rulership is an unconditional success, even as it drifts away from stability with rebellions and his own physical ailing. And yet, like every great warrior, Reinhard ultimately wishes to die in battle, yearning for a return to the state of war that gave his life its meaning. An undefeated Yang faces bureaucratic assaults from his own government, who fear his political potential. More ardently, he faces the philosophical crisis of Reinhard’s humane brand of autocracy, replete with reforms and civil liberties. Through such struggles, Yang remains wholeheartedly adamant in his belief in democracy, inadvertently becoming its totalizing persona unto the people, while tirelessly fighting for peace, despite his hatred for war’s bloodshed. Contradictions, confusions, flaws and all, their people follow Reinhard and Yang through hell, loyally alighting themselves to their ideological banner, their ambitions, and their character. Where the imperials are serious-minded strivers existing within traditional nationalistic hierarchies and more rigid social structures, the rebels are free-thinking and community-minded, willing to die and kill for their friends more than their nation.

Character tier found online; I mostly agree.
“Humans don’t fight for principles or philosophy. They fight for the person who embodies their principles and philosophy. They don’t fight for revolutions, they fight for the revolutionary.”
~ Julian

Astride their transcendent talent are the armies and communities of people wishing to follow their dreams. Needless to say, their journey and their complex battle is fascinating, and makes LoGH what it is — a masterpiece.

*At this moment, Hilda had an indescribable misgiving. She wondered if Reinhard, rather than decaying in a long melancholy in the absence of enemies, might unconditionally choose to be defeated in the prime of his life by a worthy opponent.*
~ Reinhard and Yang, in their first face-to-face meeting
Reinhard: So your loyalty is purely to democracy, then?
Yang: Well, yeah.
R: Is democracy truly such a wonderful thing? Did the democratic republicanism of the Galactic Federation not end up as the nursery that birthed Rudolf’s Galactic Empire? And the one that sold out the fatherland you love, or so I assume, was the ruler decided by the majority of the citizens of the Alliance. Is democratic republicanism a system of government whose organization and spirit falls by the free will of its people?
Y: Forgive me, but I think what you’re saying is like repudiating fire because it might cause something to burn down.
R: That may be true, but do you not think the same applies to an autocracy? You cannot use the occasional appearance of a tyrant to negate the achievements accomplished by those with powerful leaderships skills.
Y: I can deny it.
R: How so?
Y: It’s because the right to harm the people should only belong to the people themselves. In other words, the ones who put Rudolf von Goldenbaum, and to a much lesser extent, Job Trunicht, into power, were the people themselves. There’s no one else to blame. And that’s precisely the key point. In an autocracy, the failures of politics can be passed off as someone else’s fault. That’s the point I’m getting at. Compared to the size of that crime, even the merits of a hundred wise rulers leading a good government are a tiny thing. And furthermore, Your Excellency, if you consider that wise monarchs like yourself appear extremely rarely, then I believe the good and bad of things should be quite clear.
R: Your claim is quite bold and novel, but I feel it’s also quite extreme. I am reluctant to so suddenly give my consent, and yet are you trying to persuade me?
Y: That’s not it. I’m only submitting an antithesis to your claim. I believe that for every just cause there must be an opposing cause, of equal worth and weight. That’s all I’m trying to say.
R: So justice is not absolute, and there isn’t only one. Is that your belief, then?
Y: It’s just something I think, nothing strong enough to be called a belief. I think that perhaps there’s a one and only singular truth and an equation to explain it somewhere in the galaxy, but my arms just aren’t long enough to reach it.
R: In that case, my reach is even shorter. I’ve never had a need for things such as faith. I only need the power to freely do as I wish. Put another way, the power to live without needing to listen to the orders of those I hate. Have you never thought of that? Are there no people that you hate?
Y: What I hate are the people who hide in safety while glorifying war and stressing patriotism, urging others to fight a war while they enjoy a cozy lifestyle in the rear. It’s unbearably bitter to be under the same banner as people like that. You’re different. You always stand at the head of your own army. It may be rude to say so, but I just can’t suppress my admiration.
R: I see, that point alone is what I wanted to have noticed. To be honest, I’m glad. … I had a friend. When that friend and I vowed that we’d seize the universe, we also pledged to do this. That unlike those cowardly high nobles, we’d certainly fight and gain victory from the head of our army. I had always intended to sacrifice myself for that friend. But in actuality, he was always the sacrifice. I allowed myself to depend on that over and over, until finally even his very life was lost for my sake. … If that friend had lived, I would have been meeting you not when you were alive, but as a corpse.

The God of History

“The reason Your Majesty has been proudly ever-victorious lies in the fact that you’ve always held firm control of history. On this particular occasion, are you going to fold your divine arms and let history control you instead?” 
~ Bittenfeld, High Admiral of the Empire

Better than any saga I’ve yet seen {including A Song of Ice and Fire}, LoGH plays beautifully with the contingent moments, the vicious cycles, and the conflicted, larger-than-life personalities imperative to history’s grand flow.

Midway in the story, the pair of top imperial admirals Mittermeyer and Reuenthal — known to the galaxy as the “Twin Jewels of the Empire” — have a calm discussion over drinks. Like all their discussions, it provides some of the best insights into the ongoing conflict and their states of mind in the midst of it as Reinhard’s top commanders.

“I know it, and you know it too, that history — like a human being — is thirsty when it wakes from its slumber. The Goldenbaum Dynasty has already fallen. The Free Planets Alliance has survived ’til now, but will perish by tomorrow. History wants to drink up an enormous amount of blood.”
~ Oskar von Reuenthal

“Everything we have done [backing Reinhard, creating this empire, ‘unifying’ the universe] — it must end in peace. Else everything we did was for nothing…”
~ Wolfgang Mittermeyer

Reuenthal speaks of the “God of History” as if it were a real being, urging the events of the universe on toward its bloodthirsty ends; consistently, Mittermeyer rebukes his friend’s dire utterances, trying to curb his seemingly innate cynicism and his sometimes frightening jests about his own ambitions. What is great about these kinds of conversations, and these characters, is the clash of perspective upon past, present and future. They speak of history as a beast to be tamed, or as an irrelevance to their current efforts, posterity be damned. As men with disparate upbringings and dispositions, the Twin Jewels showcase the dichotomy of such personas within the play of history. Powerful personas, in that they are convicted persons in their own right, and also in that they wield the tremendous might of the empire through their actions. Reuenthal’s drunken father and nearly murderous mother drive his choices, on and off the battlefield — whereas the happily married and more simple-minded Mittermeyer is on a much different trajectory. As clear sun and moon archetypes, they each see Reinhard as an icon to behold, but gather their own position relative to him very differently. Their own sub-saga plays out to the end and their final conflict and resolution is among the best in the series outside of Reinhard and Yang’s arcs.

Life and death befitting each person, huh?” ~ Reinhard

Despite history’s mass scale and its seemingly immutable course being the product of sometimes random events or uncontrollable tides — or inevitable revolutions — LoGH crystallizes such an understanding through the mouths of its characters. Characters such as Yang and Reinhard, and Reuenthal and Hilda and von Schönkopf, and many others, illustrate a satisfying level of understanding and articulation of their own real-time position within the grand drama of history. They necessarily see themselves as subjects to it, this ‘God of History.’ Unrealistically so or not {c’mon it’s anime!}, LoGH’s plots are masterful not necessarily because of the intrigue of the events playing themselves out, but in the detailed nature of how well the characters stake their own role within the canvas, and convey its meaning to the audience. It is a saga, like in Shakespeare, where those with the most power have hearts. And they speak them with passionate abandon, to the Gods, and to us.

On all sides of the core conflict, each actor tends to understand the necessity for justification behind their actions, and how unjustified actions tend to lead to the downfall of a cause. Both Yang and Reinhard feel the weight of war upon their shoulders, the deaths their decisions have caused.

“History is questioning all of us.” ~ Attenborough
“Julian, people make the mistake of thinking the present situation is eternally fixed.” ~ Yang
In Ep40 – “Julian’s Journey, Mankind’s Journey” – as Julian heads to Terra, he watches the history of Earth (“Terra”) and humanity’s earliest forays into intergalactic activity . Learns of the war between the Earth and its Colonies has all the trademarks of history that we understand: ‘might makes right’ approach with army-building tendencies run amok, the core Earth empire using its military + capital to invade and subjugate colonies for their manpower and resources, eventually committing genocides and then denying them / pinning them upon ‘anti-Earth’ cells of terrorists that do not really exist ~ a familiarly terrifying steady mix of 1) hyper-militarization, 2) imperial capitalism and 3) media propaganda backing it all ~
“That’s exactly it. It’s because Kaiser Reinhard is a benevolent ruler. That’s what makes him the greatest enemy of democratic republicanism.”
~ Yang

“Do you really intend to defeat Kaiser Reinhard? So far, Kaiser Reinhard has not made any instances of misgovernment. Plus, his capacity and forces are probably more than enough to rule the entire universe. Is there any guarantee that the universe will be a better place after he’s defeated, Yang?”

“No.”

~ Boris Konev and Yang

LoGH is long enough in duration to display the manifold ways that history can change in a single generation. Just as there are always grand figures whose choices and inactions change the fate of nations, so too are there the contingencies. A quick study of real-world history reveals a perceptible distinction between empires, systems, and tragedies and triumphs that seemed to be steady-becoming-inevitable, socioeconomic predetermination versus those that were the direct result of a contingent culmination of many singular events and moment s —  where many places along the way, things could have gone another way. Every history, somewhere along its pathing, has its period of contingency. Contingent moments, ones where a forking precipice lay before a people along their road, are what must be seized by those in control {or by entire populations of people} in order for history to change according to their will. Yang and Reinhard do so — along with many other named and unnamed persons throughout this fictional history — and thus the saga of LoGH plays out with these moments highlighted and reflected upon.

“It is no longer the time to move history forward with hatred!”
~ Kaiser Reinhard

Of course, no history is truly preordained, but some specific moments have more variable power than others. LoGH reveals this truth through a number of twists and turns in character choices, exogenous accidents, simple oversights, and reactionary terrorisms, that lead to profound changes in the affected nations.

“Those of us who live on…” ~ Muller

Julian: Right, for those of us who live on, the journey continues until the day comes when once more we rejoin those who have died. Never allowed to fly, we just have to keep walking until that day arrives. Still, I’m glad to be able to exchange thoughts with the admirals of the Imperial forces. But this fact may be the cause of criticism in the future. They’ll call it a shameless handshake between mass murderers. No, even putting aside the future, there’s no stopping the bereaved families of those who died in battle heaping on any sort of abuse.
But we couldn’t have chosen any other path.

To create the circumstances of today, we first needed to battle.

~

A primary theme throughout the saga is that of mortality — not of people, but of nations themselves.

Dynastic, un-meritocratic rulerships have their durations limited by revolutions. Whether they come from deteriorating social and economic conditions, inequality and corruption, or the immortal strive for liberty within a people, every community of Men experiences such political evolution. For the empire, monarchical ‘nobility’ represents an inevitable failure in governance, as the tradition of unearned power leads to hubris and decadence. With his revolution, Reinhard seizes upon such weakness to take power, and then with momentum — and the machinery of the empire — in hand, goes even further in his questing conquest to unify all of space under his rule.

~ Reuenthal and the noblewoman assassin/lover Elfriede von Kohlrausch:
Reuenthal: I simply don’t understand. Is it so painful to lose the privileges that you possessed til your grandparents’ generation? Your father and grandfather didn’t get them through their own efforts, but spent each day simply fooling around, right? Where is there justice in a lifestyle like that? Do you still not realize that nobles are nothing but institutionalized thieves? Do you think that stealing by force is evil, but using political power to do so isn’t? I thought you were a bit better of a woman… but I’ve lost interest. Hurry up and get out. Find a man that’s suitable for you, a dimwit who yearns for a time when you could use power and laws to secure an easy life.
But I’ll say one thing before you go! The meanest and most offensive thing in this world are those who simply inherit political power without any ability or merit. Compared to that, usurpation is ten thousand times preferable. At the very least, there’s effort to gain that authority, and in essence you at least know that it isn’t yours, after all!

Elfried: I understand full well, that you’re a traitor to the core. If you have that much talent and ability, then you’re ready to do anything with it. And in the end, that conceit will lead you to stab your current lord in the back!
“Please, Kaiser, do not give me an opportunity for rebellion. I’ve chosen you to be the helmsman of history, supported you, and proudly looked up to your battle flag. Please don’t make me regret it. You should always walk in front of me, and moreover, brim with brilliant luster. Passivity and stability cannot be the source of your light. Incomparable ambition and aggressiveness are your true merits.” 
~ Reuenthal, always keeping his own card in his back pocket, yet hoping he doesn’t have to call on it
“Am I a ruler who lusts for blood?… No. I am looking for confrontation of dignified wills and intelligence. Is that all? Each clash teaches me something new. Isn’t that right, [Kircheis]?”
~ Reinhard
//
“His every word is filled with a craving for a battle. Maybe he is a man who needs an opponent. Or maybe he climbed too high, too fast.”
~ Hildegard on Reinhard

For the republic, even in the face of greed and corruption from elected representatives consistently turning power away from the people and toward a class of elites — Yang remains convicted in his fundamental belief that democracy is the only just way of governance. By remaining true to himself, criticizing such politicians even while fighting back against a military coup he could’ve led, and performing as brilliantly as he does throughout the war against the true imperial threat – by shunning power at every turn – Yang indirectly seizes upon the heart of the people. He is even uncertain that his path is more righteous than Reinhard’s in the end; his commitment to it, to democracy, can be seen as a reflection of his ultimate faith in the people.

“If self-sacrifice is the most honorable thing a person can do, doesn’t that make sacrificing another for the sake of self-preservation the most despicable act?”
~ Yang

Each arc shows how history, nations, and people change. Each of their stories shows how the complexity of the character of these grand figures contributes to such changes.

 “There certainly are things that can’t be conveyed with words. But they can only be said by people who have used up their words. Words are like icebergs in the oceans we call our hearts. What can be seen above sea level is just a portion, but there are many who can perceive and grasp what exists beneath the surface. Treat your words are precious. If you do, they can convey things a lot more accurately than simple silence. Things start with proper judgment, correct information, and accurate analysis.”
 — Yang Wen-li
~ Julian transcribing Yang’s memos and conversations into records to guide the future

In the end, Reuenthal is right — The God of History’s thirst for blood is nearly unquenchable. A death of one kind or another marks the end of every saga and the beginning of another. In Legend of the Galactic Heroes, this is no less true. The cycle of warfare, whether attempting to order the galaxy into a unified whole via conquest  — or staunchly defending a worthy ideology against the nigh indestructible march  of its antithesis —  is the transcendent force of this space age. Despite its brutality, it gives meaning to the inevitable death of the peoples and dynasties involved, and provides a steady scaffold of ascension and influence to those most ambitious, such as Reinhard, Reuenthal, Rubinsky, along its bloody path through the cosmos. For better or worse, such an age necessarily creates its heroes.

The difference between heroes and ‘normal’ Men is that, after their deaths, history utterly forgets the latter.

War, perhaps unlike anything else at scale, is a constant, forceful synthesizer between the political philosophies of humanity. Physically or metaphysically, it is the throughline that history flows along. How will we govern ourselves? ~ Can such a question only ever be answered through bloodshed? Unlike our reality, LoGH at least provides a worthy dialectical battle to be waged among its opposition.

Just to bring this about, thousands of millions of people’s lives were taken over 500 years. If the people of the Galactic Federations hadn’t lost interest in their government at its end… If they had realized how dangerous it was to give a dictator limitless authority… And if they’d learned from history how much misfortune was brought about by giving a nation’s interests precedence over the rights of the people… there needn’t have been so many sacrifices.

Politics will always have its revenge on those who make light of it.”
~ Julian Mintz

Our young hero, Julian, in his continuous quest to be a warrior of liberatory force within the universe — and through his diligent political efforts potentially synthesizing the constitutional democracy of Yang with the benevolent autocracy of Reinhard’s reign — provides the best denouement for the saga:

I’d like to become a historian, and leave behind a record of Admiral Yang for the future. To leave behind as many possibilities as we can for the people of the future to consider… Isn’t that the duty of those of us in this era?

~

In every age, in every place…perhaps it is an action repeated innumerable times. People continue to pursue something forever out of their reach. Has that aspiration not appeared in all of us?

The legend ends, and history begins.