“By the Pale Moonlight” is one of my favorite Star Trek episodes ever, really. I can tell you why in one sentence: “Pacifism is great, as long as the people trying to kill you are also pacifists.” The ideals of the Federation are portrayed as wonderful and fantastic, but the Dominion held to none of them. I understand some people think “I’d rather lose than violate my principles and win.” Really? When loss means you die, your family dies, and your country is put under the heel of tyrants? I understand that some people think that way; I do not understand why they think that.
And no, stooping to their level doesn’t make Sisko the same monster as the Dominion. Outside of war, Sisko sought peace. The Dominion sought only the next war. The Dominion was an empire but not civilized. You see, civilization regards those outside its borders as real people and seeks to live in peace with them. The Dominion does not. They see anyone outside the Dominion as a threat, and with all the zeal they can muster, seek to put that threat under the boot heel of tyranny. Peace, to them, means not that their flag flies highest, but that no other flag flies at all. They have no rules of warfare. In their ruthlessness, assassinations, and deceptions they showed that the ends of a subjugated Alpha Quadrant justified any means needed to get there. Solids aren’t true sapient creatures. They’re a threat to Changlings. As soon as the Cardassian military turned against them, the Dominion started killing Cardassian civilians-an entire city was razed from a distance to teach a lesson. And then the order came to kill all Cardassians. Can you, with a straight face, tell me that the Founders would not have turned on the Romulans as soon as they showed the slightest threat to the Dominion? The first hint of rebellion, which would undoubtedly come if I know my Romulans, meant millions of noncombatants killed.
Sisko and the Alpha Alliance fought to keep civilization. Centuries of tension and fueds were put aside against this greater threat. The old wisdom of being civilized to your enemy in this war because he might be your ally in the next was shown to be true. Those allied civilizations fought back because no other solution brought true peace, and the Romulans finally saw what the Klingons and Federation had known all along. It took lies and murder for them to see it, but some in the Romulan Senate must have already suspected the Dominion would betray them eventually. Look how quickly they took the fight to them! I’ve always imagined that Sisko and Garek were right and the Dominion was preparing to attack on the Romulan front as soon as the alliance was neutered.
Sisko knew that slavery was not freedom. He knew that a dirty war was better than a false peace. And he knew that without the Romulans, the alliance would fail. He did Section 31’s work for them. The Federation needs men like Bashir who can sleep at night. It only gets there with men like Sloan and Sisko who will get their hands dirty when needed. As Sisko said, his conscience was a small price to pay for victory over the ruthless Dominion. It didn’t bring immediate victory, but without the Romulans, the war was lost.
(I’ve often thought that the only thing that would have made the final push to Cardassia better would have been a fleet of Ferengi Maruaders arriving. Sisko would say, “Why are you here?” The Ferengi fleet commander would reply, “There is no profit in being slaves.” Sisko would give a feral smile and tell them to take their place with Beta Squadron.)
Sisko knew that winning by means of deception and murder was better than losing his freedom and life. This wasn’t cheating. Cheating in sports is frowned upon because it’s just a game. It doesn’t end someone’s life to lose. The Dominion War wasn’t a game where the two teams would play again later in the season after more practice. It was a war where one side wanted to eliminate the other completely. Sportsmanship applies only in sporting competitions, not warfare. Sisko gave the Dominion every chance to live in peace with them on both sides of the wormhole. Remember, it was the Founders who destroyed New Bajor first. The Founders made it clear they would stop at nothing until all were under the jackboots of the Jem Hadar. Sisko did not seek war, but when war found him, he picked up his phaser and loaded the torpedoes.
Sisko offered peace to the Founders. When it was rejected and the Founders showed they were barbarians, he fought, as any should against barbarians, with any and all weapons at his disposal, by any means fair or foul. He showed no mercy to the Founders because they offered him none. And he knew that if the Founders had asked for mercy it was only so they could lick their wounds and prepare for the next war. That’s why the Alliance pressed on into Cardassian space in those final episodes. Letting the Dominion rebuild their war machine was the worst thing they could have done.
It is a simple rule that Sisko fought by. When his foes were civilized, he fought as a civilized man with rules of conduct against his foe (such as during the short Klingon War). Once the Founders showed they were not civilized, Sisko considered uncivilized ways to win. When he saw it was necessary, he did the unthinkable.