In the alpha and beta quadrants combined, there exists a world around which the suffering of our half of the galaxy seems to have orbited for the past century. One world that seems to have dealt out and received more than its fair share of pain, one world whose history books are written in blood. My friends, that world is Cardassia.
The 24th century for Cardassia was a tale of reaching for the stars, and getting burnt in the process. What many people forget is that exactly one hundred years ago, Cardassia was a dying, decadent world. 98 of the wealth was controlled by 2 of the population, and on the streets of every major city, young children often starved to death, their bodies being shoveled into mass graves as no one was left to claim them. In the end, no one in the alpha quadrant was surprised when the military staged a coup will the full backing of the people. Within five years, Cardassian Central Command had single-handedly turned around Cardassia's misfortunes, turned street children begging into military cadets, earning their way and being rewarded, fed well, all whilst serving their world. It was at this time that Cardassia began to expand, annexing worlds such as Bajor, a habit that would not stop for decades. It was also at this time that Cardassia caught the attention of the Federation and the Klingon Empire, leading to hostilities with both organisations, neither keen to see the rise of a new superpower in the quadrant.
Still, wars and skirmishes aside, within fifty years, Cardassia had become fat, powerful and a force to be reckoned with in the quadrant. They had even signed a peace treaty with the Federation, and were happily consolidating their power.
Some may point to the Bajoran withdrawal as the turning point for Cardassia's fortunes. It was seen on Bajor as no coincidence that within a month of the withdrawal, both the Bajoran wormhole and the Emissary to the Prophets had been discovered. Some may credit Benjamin Sisko with single-handedly bringing about the downfall of the Cardassian Union, but the reality was, they were more than capable of falling apart all by themselves.
The collapse of the Obsidian Order in 2371 and the subsequent return of the civilian government can be seen as the one true event that sent Cardassia on a downward spiral. Were it not for the fall of the Order, the Detapa Council would not have been reformed. Were it not for the reformation of the Detapa Council, Qo'nos would not have invaded. Were it not for the invasion, Skrain Dukat would not have negotiated membership with the Dominion. But that's a lecture for another time.
It can be argued that with the changeling influence in both the Cardassian and Klingon governments, war was inevitable no matter what path both governments took- the Cardassian Union, even under the rule of the Detapa Council, retained a military grounding and an expansionist policy. Remember at this time the Maquis remained a credible threat along the Cardassian border, and this was an embarrassment many in the Union saw fit to eliminate. The fact that public opinion of the Alpha Quadrant was more sympathetic to Cardassia was seen as irrelevant by the powers that be- it just made it easier for them to quietly dispose of their enemies without rousing suspicions.
A series of defeats to the Klingons would eventually see the Detapa Council decide to revert to their old ways. Whilst Dukat was publicly waging his one-man war with his Bird-of-Prey, and gaining praise from Cardassian and federation citizens alike, secretly he conspired with the Detapa Council and the Dominion Founders to tip the war considerably in their favour. The loss of the peace treaty between Cardassia and the Federation was, again, seen as an irrelevance, as was the revival of the Federation-Klingon alliance.
I'm sure I don't need to bore you with the statistical details of the Federation-Dominion war. We all know the casualty figures, and we all know Cardassia paid a higher price than any other world. Over 900 million dead by the end of hostilities, the Cardassian economic and military infrastructures in ruins, and Cardassia itself little more than a burnt, smouldering wreck. All of which brings me to one man, hailed in the same breath as the saviour and the destroyer of Cardassia: Corat Damar.
Corat Damar has attained a status in Cardassian folklore like no hero before him. He was the man who stood up to a government that had silently oppressed his people, and heroically gave his life driving the Dominion from Cardassia. He is the only Cardassian ever to have a portrait on the walls of the Federation Senate. Statues of him stand tall all over Cardassia. Even the newest class of warship was named in his honour. Yet many argue that were it not for Damar, Cardassia would today be a superpower in the Alpha Quadrant. A superpower under the administration of the Dominion, but a superpower nonetheless.
Humans have an expression: 'it is better to rule in hell than to serve in heaven'. Never has it been more graphically demonstrated than the thirty years following Damar's rebellion against the Dominion. The heaven I am referring to, however, is not that of the Dominion, but that of the Federation and its allies.
The newly-reformed Detapa Council began the rebuilding efforts on Cardassia the very next day after the peace treaty was signed between the Federation and the Dominion. Workers worked around the clock, many dying of exhaustion, whilst families once again starved in the streets. This continued for five years. Cities were rebuilt but famine and disease were rife, and the Cardassian economy showed no sign of improvement. It soon transpired that the aid shuttles being sent by the Federation were being turned back as they entered Cardassian space. The planet may have been scarred, but their ego was more intact than ever.
The very next year, in 2381, the Cardassian military once again deposed the Detapa Council and reformed Central Command. The aid shuttles were accepted into Cardassian space and disease and famine were neutralised within eight months. But once again, the artists and architects of Cardassia were being ushered into military roles. The Cardassian fleet regained its numbers lost during the Dominion war, and by 2400, Cardassia once again became a force to be reckoned with- a force with eyes on many unclaimed outlying star systems.
The irony is, of course, both sides- Central Command and the Detapa Council- claim they're acting in the name of Damar. And the further irony is, of course, that they're both right. I knew Damar. I fought alongside him in the resistance, listened to him speak, heard him mesmerise- but in a good way- the people of Cardassia. He fought to liberate Cardassia from alien oppressors, no to replace one form of tyranny with another home-grown form. And yet he was humble enough to accept help when he needed it. No other Cardassian I know would have paid any attention to military advice from a Bajoran woman wearing a Starfleet uniform. But Damar did. He was no angel, but he could well have become the greatest leader Cardassia- if not the entire Alpha Quadrant- has ever seen.
'What next for Cardassia?' I hear you cry. In all honesty, I don't know. The Detapa Council may rise again. Or Cardassia may find herself in another bloody, brutal conflict. Only time will tell.
Mr. Elim Garak, lecturing at Xenoanthropology 101, "History of Cardassian Politics", Starfleet Academy, San Francisco, Earth, Stardate 82620, July 20th, 2405