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Literature / In a Good Cause—

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First published in New Tales Of Space And Time (1951), by Isaac Asimov. This Novelette is about a man who trying to unite the human worlds under a single human government, and the man who opposed his methods for decades. It was republished with the title "Ideals Die Hard" for Authentic Science Fiction (issue #78, March 1957), although subsequent publications continue to use the original name.

The story opens by describing the United Worlds of the Galaxy, and the statue of Richard Sayama Altmayer. It announces that "In a good cause, there are no failures.", and gives three dates, counted in years since the first atomic explosion. These three dates are the times Altmayer was sent to jail for his beliefs.

June 17, 2755;
Altmayer and his friend, Geoffrey Stock, have been drafted for the war against Santanni, a world colonized by humans. Altmayer chose to refuse the draft, because the Satannian people were humans, and the only enemy he was willing to fight were aliens, like the Diaboli. Altmayer was sent to jail, and Stock was promoted to the rank of major, becoming an important military and political figure in the relationship between Earth and the Diaboli.

September 5, 2788;
The Diaboli ambassadors have arrived on Earth for the first time. Altmayer and his political party (the Federalists) have been spreading the news about the Diaboli having colonized five hundred worlds in five years, while humanity has only colonized five. Altmayer believes the difference is that humanity is divided into many fractious governments while the Diaboli have a single government. Altmayer tries to bomb the ambassadors, but Secretary of Defense Stock has anticipated him and fooled Altmayer's crew into bombing robotic duplicates instead. Stock and Altmayer argue about how justified war against the Diaboli would be. In the end, Stock sends Altmayer to jail for five years, but has his closest supporters executed.

December 32, 2800;
Altmayer has arranged to meet with Simon Devoire, who used to be a Federalist and now publishes news. They discuss the new proposal by the Diaboli, which would place the aliens as an effective supervisor government over each of humanity's political realms. Altmayer has been given documents proving that the Diaboli have terraformed the obscure salt-oxygen world of Chu Hsi into an sulfate-sulfide world, suitable for Diaboli life. The humans who had colonized Chu Hsi were mostly killed. Devoire agrees to publish the information, and Altmayer leaves. Not long after leaving, Stock meets his friend again. Stock reveals that Altmayer's "proof" was faked, and that he, as Coordinator of Earth, plans to deny the truth of the message, causing people to believe it is a Cassandra Gambit. This time, Altmayer is sent to jail without trial, for an indefinite period.

Two years into his third imprisonment, Stock meets Altmayer again, and explains what he's been doing all these decades. Altmayer has been a public face rallying humanity against the Diaboli, while Stock has been an Internal Reformist, setting up gambits and tricks to break the alliances between other humans and the Diaboli. Because Humans Are Warriors, Earth's navy will be able to Curb-Stomp Battle the Diaboli fleets, and the other human governments will flock to the winning side. Stock knows that his machinations will be too dishonest for future generations to agree with, but he wants his friend Altmayer to represent the change to a United Worlds organization; a federation of all human worlds.

This story has been republished several times;Utopia Science Fiction Magazine (issue #4, October 1956),Authentic Science Fiction (issue #78, March 1957), Science Fiction Verhalen 3 (1964), Dodici Volte Domani (1964), Nightfall and Other Stories (1969), Sirius (issue #14, August 1977), Orions Sword (1980), Other Worlds Of Isaac Asimov (1987), and The Complete Stories, Volume 1 (1990).

"In a Good Cause—" contains examples of:

  • Alternative Calendar: This story gives three dates, counted in years since the first atomic explosion. These three dates are the times Altmayer was sent to jail for his beliefs: June 17, 2755; September 5, 2788; December 32, 2800.
  • Book Ends: In both the begining of the story and the end, we read the In-Universe quote, "In a good cause, there are no failures."
  • Conscription: On June 17, 2755, Richard Altmayer and Geoffrey Stock have been drafted for the war against the human world Santanni. Stock chooses to serve, and is promoted to Major by the war's end. Altmayer instead chooses to refuse the draft and goes to jail.
  • Divide and Conquer: When First Contact with the Diaboli was first established, the human race came pre-divided. Many governments were quick to declare alliances with the Diaboli, and it took decades of political maneuvering to ensure no other human government would be allied with the Diaboli by the time Earth went to war against them, conquoring the first alien race.
  • Don't Create a Martyr: Altmayer is arrested for attempting to kill the alien ambassadors from Diaboli (he hoped to unite the human factions through an Enemy Mine situation), he asks whether he's going to be shot without a trial. Instead, he's told that he'll only get a few years... they don't need a martyr. But all of his immediate co-conspiritors will be shot, creating the impression of him being a state witness.
  • Draft Dodging: Altmayer is jailed on June 17, 2755 because he refused to accept Conscription against the human government of Santanni. He would rather fight against the alien Diaboli.
  • Earth Is the Center of the Universe: The alien ambassadors from Diaboli are surprised to learn Earth, homeworld of humanity, is not a shrine world. While it is the center of the most powerful political unit, it only controls a dozen worlds out of the one thousand that humanity has colonized. Played straight by the end, when all of humanity unites into one government.
  • First Contact: Humanity's discovery of another alien race occurs off-screen and before the story starts, but influences Altmayer's attempts to unite humanity against the potentially dangerous aliens.
  • Hostile Terraforming: Altmayer has discovered documents proving that the sulphur-breathing Diaboli terraformed the obscure human colony of Chu Hsi to be fit for Diaboli life. Trying to release these documents, Stock arrives to arrest him "too late" to prevent the publication of the "proof". Earth naturally joins the Diaboli in decrying the information as a forgery, and sending Altmayer to prison for spreading lies. Which is part of Stock's long-running scheme to manipulate things so that when the human-Diaboli war comes, no human power is on the Diaboli's side.
  • Humans Are Warriors: Stock explains to his friend Altmayer that the alien Diaboli has a larger and unified empire, as opposed to the human empires, which are smaller and fragmented. Earthlings could defeat the Diaboli because humans were so very much better at fighting, both in terms of skill and experience, and in terms of technology, having been practicing on and competing with each other for a long time. Stock has sculpted recent Earth diplomacy to maintaining this edge by blocking all attempts at forming a single central government while ensuring that no human power allied with the aliens.
  • Humans Through Alien Eyes: Part of the story is told from perspective of alien ambassadors from Diaboli, who discuss the foul odor of humans and disgust at the thought of watching humans eat: "My cud will never be sweet again". To clarify; they are strict vegetarians who evolved from grazing animals, and that's how they feel about the idea of eating meat.
  • Meaningful Echo: Altmayer has a statement that becomes a Catchphrase Off Screen, "In a good cause, there are no failures." The story opens with this as part of his statue and ends with his friend Stock reminding him of the line.
  • Memorial Statue: Altmayer's statue (described by the narration as being "not a very good statue" on account of its excessively idealized portrayal of its subject), raised to him after his death in order to honor his memory.
  • Once More, with Clarity!: This Short Story opens with a description of Altmayer's statue in the United Worlds plaza, and the three important dates associated with him. As the story closes, however, we have Altmayer talking with his best friend, talking about which of them would actually receive statues. Altmayer is dismayed that Stock would not be recognized for succeeding in their shared goal of uniting the human race.
  • One World Order:
    • Altmayer is constantly pushing towards a single human government, but his friend Stock seems to oppose him. Stock actually has a plan to unite the human governments, one that depends on having an idealist calling for unity amoung the various human-colonized worlds.
    • The alien Diaboli have always had a single government, and find it disturbing that humans have almost always been fractious (Earth was united shortly before the discovery of FTL travel, and failed to maintain control over the new colonies).
  • Our Founder: The story opens by describing the statue raised to commemorate the ideals of Altmayer, and the Twist Ending reveals how completely irrelevant he was to realizing it.
  • Title Drop: The title is part of a quote that becomes famous within this work.
    "In a good cause, there are no failures; there are only delayed successes."
  • Twist Ending: A man spends his entire life trying to achieve peace and unity among humanity. He is constantly opposed by his childhood friend. In the end, the friend comes to him and reveals that he was trying to achieve the same, except he was using methods that actually worked, instead of the other's blind idealism. As a double-twist, the friend then puts the idealist as a figurehead in his efforts, being aware that his efficient, but violent methods will not be understood by the future generations, while idealism will be.
  • Villain Forgot to Level Grind: The Diaboli empire outnumbers any human polity hundreds to one, and are prepared to take out the squabbling collection of human worlds. It doesn't work: the squabbling had led the humans to refine their military technology and tactics to the point that the first human world to seriously confront the rather stagnant alien empire easily defeated them, even before other human worlds started putting aside their differences to join up with the winning side.
  • Villain Has a Point: This Short Story follows two friends over decades as their paths diverge, Altmayer is an idealist desperately trying to unite the human race in the face of an alien threat, while Stock becomes a soldier and later a political leader who fights in multiple wars against other human factions. When the alien Diaboli finally do attack, the human factions unite and make short work of them. The soldier points out to his friend that decades of internal competition had forced humanity to advance militarily, which protected them from outside invaders. Though events have proved him right, he acknowledges that his friend's idealism will make him a hero in the future, while his own militarism will make him history's Designated Villain.
    "And when they build their statues, they will build none for me."

Alternative Title(s): Ideals Die Hard