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Anyone who knows anything about science-fiction knows the following speech, probably on sight:

I am leaving soon, and you will forgive me if I speak bluntly. The universe grows smaller every day, and the threat of aggression by any group anywhere can no longer be tolerated. There must be security for all, or no one is secure. Now this does not mean giving up any freedom except the freedom to act irresponsibly. Your ancestors knew this when they made laws to govern themselves and hired policemen to enforce them. We of the other planets have long accepted this principle. We have an organization for the mutual protection of all planets and for the complete elimination of aggression.

The test of any such higher authority is of course the police force that supports it. For our policemen, we created a race of robots. Their function is to patrol the planets in spaceships like this one and preserve the peace. In matters of aggression, we have given them absolute power over us. This power cannot be revoked. At the first sign of violence, they act automatically against the aggressor. The penalty for provoking their action is too terrible to risk.

The result is: we live in peace, without arms or armies, secure in the knowledge that we are free from aggression and war, free to pursue more profitable enterprises. We do not pretend to have achieved perfection, but we do have a system, and it works. I came here to give you these facts. It is no concern of ours how you run your own planet. But if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder.

Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We shall be waiting for your answer. The decision rests with you.


In retrospect, I always found something disquieting about Klaatu’s speech and his proposed “solution” for the people of the Earth, though it was some years before I was able to fully quantify just what bothered me about it and give that some proper expression.

I did that back in 2005 when I wrote what imagined would be an answer to Klaatu, taking the events of the movie, The Day The Earth Stood Still and projecting forward, perhaps a bit optimistically, but … well, here’s the answer. Tell me what you think.


To Ambassador Klaatu:

I have been given the perhaps unenviable task of responding to the proposal you made on the Mall in Washington D.C. some years ago. Perhaps you remember me: I am Robert Benson, Jr., or “Bobby” of Mrs. Crockett’s boarding house. I mention that because I believe you should be answered by someone who knows you at least slightly and has some understanding of how you and your people see us.

Roughly 200 years ago, Benjamin Franklin said, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary security deserve neither liberty nor security.” Your “solution” as you described it violates that principle in at least two glaring ways. First of all, you have ceded your right to self-determination to your race of robots, giving them absolute power over you. Naturally, you will assert that you remain safe in this action, pointing to the perfection in the design of these guardians of safety and security. You will be interested to know that I am now an engineering student, studying at Lehigh University. Despite my fascination for the astonishing technology which has grown out of the 20th century, I have not become so enamored of it to believe that any technology is perfect. Parts wear, transistors blow out, failures occur, and with them results either no behavior at best or unpredictable behavior at worst. Having seen Gort with the eyes of an engineer, I can only guess at the level of sophistication involved in its design and construction. That said, I also have to believe in a considerable liability entailed in any failure mode which might befall it. I personally refuse to believe that any device can be made so perfect as to obviate the possibility of failure. Again, at best, the guardian robot ceases to function and the area to which it is assigned is at that point without protection until a replacement can be dispatched. At worst I envision a nightmare which I hope I needn’t describe to you.

Also note: I refer to Gort as “it,” not as “he.” I ascribe to him no such emotions or considerations I would to a human being. All too well do I remember Gort’s knocking out two US Army guards at your landing site. No attempt was made to reason with them or explain the exigencies of the situation. That by itself raises an important point: does Gort have only force as a mechanism of correction to be universally applied to all offenders? You mentioned in your departing speech that the quality of a police force is crucial to the resulting quality of security felt. I’m no police officer, but I do know that there is far more to being one than just “shooting the bad guys.” Communication, negotiation, working within the community and countless other elements are all as critical to the creation of trust as the threat of force, more so, in fact. Yet for what I see, Gort is mute and apparently incapable of such nuances. I have no doubt but that my people would take such a “policeman” as a superimposed threat, separate, implacable and uninvolved with our culture.

Indeed, that is the second and far more egregious of your mistakes, Klaatu. While not all Earth’s cultures are identical in this regard, I can tell you that Americans do not take well to superimposed overseers. We have fought hard on multiple occasions to free ourselves from such and to act against the imposition of others. We prefer to be self-reliant; our police force comes from within ourselves and is an integral part of us. That personal investment has considerable impact on each of us individually in terms of creating that peace as well as for the force we elect to protect us. Granted the system is far from perfect, perhaps farther than yours is. Its virtue, however, is in its humanity and flexibility. You … or Gort … may see that as imperfection. We see it as essential.

You doubtless have gleaned from all of the above that we are refusing your invitation. In that regard you are only partly correct. The Earth, while still functioning as a polyglot synthesis of societies and cultures, does not accept the concept of security achieved by common threat. Instead, allow us to present a counteroffer. What we propose is to extend the humanity of our flawed yet humane system to you. While you puzzle at that, allow me to explain. In the intervening years (and in fact, as a part of my undergraduate studies), the scientists of Earth have unlocked the secrets which you imparted to Professor Barnhardt (he sends his kind regards). The atomic power system and anti-gravity drive came easily out of our research in this area. I should mention that Gort’s disintegration beam also followed from it, as well as some other innovations which we believe to be unique to our efforts and which I am not at liberty to divulge at this time. From a technological standpoint, your people and ours are potentially equals.

Does this necessitate a confrontation between us? I sincerely hope not. I would prefer to believe that there is more explorer than soldier to us. Indeed we are curious about the vast universe about us and deeply interested in discovering what lies out beyond our own back yard. At the same time, we also have the power to act altruistically. The powers made available by your generous contribution have added at least some degree of stability to a world which certainly lacked it during your brief visit. We may not have achieved utter peace among ourselves; we still aspire to that goal, unattainable or not. We have, however, used these tools to either eliminate or mitigate hardships which result from a lack of power or the fruits that derive from it.

We are not interested in “extending violence,” as you stated, but neither are we willing to submit to your robotic nursemaids. Further, we are currently sufficiently empowered to effectively prevent Earth’s being “reduced to a burnt-out cinder.” We took that threat most seriously, Klaatu, though you alleged not to deal in threats, and it has inspired and catalyzed a great deal of the work we have done to protect our planet and our way of life. With that in mind, we have a rejoinder to your statement: We do not start fights; we finish them. We have no current desire or incentive to offer threats. We therefore urge you to rethink yours.

We shall be waiting for your answer. The decision rests with you.

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Replies to This Discussion

"We shall be waiting for your answer. The decision rests with you."

The trouble is that decision doesn't rest with all of us only just a few of us. And that elite doesn't care a jot about the earth only how much money they can make.

In the here and now, absolutely, Stephen.  I was writing Robby's answer in a fictional future where we had understood Klaatu's message and data and had been able to use it to our collective advantage.  Under Trump, the plowshares would be beaten into swords before you could blink, with the outcome far less certain.

Still, to me the real point is less that such a solution existed than it is Klaatu's rather bad misapprehension of Earth, particularly in the consequences of trying to superimpose their solution on us.


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