Ronald D. Moore answers veterans’ questions about how he got Battlestar Galactica so right:
Erich Simmers: You mentioned your study of history and your time in the Navy ROTC. Many of the questions I got were focused on your eye for military culture — specifically the people, not just the technology or battles and dates, but that very specific culture that the U. S. military has. They asked, “How did you get it so right?” Can you elaborate more on your experiences and your study of history that enabled you to tap into that culture?
Ronald D. Moore: My personal experiences were fairly limited, but I had an ear for picking up on dialogue and culture and tradition in the environments I was in. My first midshipman’s cruise was aboard the USS W. S. Sims out of Mayport, Florida freshman year. I spent about a month aboard the frigate. There were just a lot of things about living aboard a Navy ship for a month that I picked up on — the way people talked to one another, the style, the cultures going around me. When I was writing the episodes, I tapped into a lot of that.
Colonel Tigh on Battlestar — the XO on the Sims was sort of a hardass, and the crew knew he was a hardass. It was part of his job to protect the image of the captain as the kindly old man. The XO’s job was to be a tougher man than him and take all the flack, and I always remembered that. It was an interesting, deliberate choice that the man had made to run the ship that way.
Then there were little things like the announcements going over the PA. In the Battlestar miniseries, there’s an announcement that I wrote in in the background where you hear somebody say, “Attention aboard the Galactica, EVA in progress. Do not rotate or irradiate any electronic equipment while men are working outside the ship.” I remember those announcements going through the Sims everyday: “Do not rotate or irradiate any electronic equipment while men are working aloft.” Little things like that stuck in my head, and I would reach back and put into the show periodically.
Then, I just loved military history and read a lot of books through the years on World War II — in particular, carrier operations and the way the fat carriers worked in the Pacific, how the squadrons were organized, the culture of the ready room and the pilots, the ways they talked to one another, and how they planned operations. I was always fascinated with that world, so I brought my knowledge of that over.
ES: Did any part of you ever wonder what would have happened if you would have followed a Naval career rather than the path you took?
RM: Oh yeah, all the time. It’s one of those things in my past that I look back on with regret and relief at the same time, because I made the realization that while I was fascinated with it, I wasn’t really part of it. I didn’t fit well into the military. It wasn’t natural to me; I was a much better observer and journalist of it, as it were, to talk about it, study it, and fictionalize it. I didn’t function that well in it. I didn’t particularly like taking orders; I didn’t particularly like getting up early in the morning. I hated learning to write the reports — even the most basic stuff we did in ROTC of filling out reports and typing in those forms and readiness reports. Just mindless paperwork and the bureaucratic nature of the military drove me kinda batshit. [laughs] I was like, “Really?” So there were aspects of it that I just didn’t mesh completely well with. I was always somewhat apart from the rest of my unit, and I never really felt part of it. But there was a part of me that wanted to. That really wanted to be a naval officer. That really wanted to do that.
I’ll never forget, many years later, when I was on Star Trek, I was invited to go aboard the USS Constellation for a long weekend, so I flew out with a bunch of people going for a weekend cruise. We flew out off the coast of San Diego and went up to the flag bridge to watch air operations that night. When we went up to the flag bridge and looked down onto the deck, there were F/A-18s coming in and landing in this amber glow of the lights on the deck and there was just utter blackness out beyond. The planes would come out of nowhere and land on the deck and others were being catapulted off, and I had this enormous wave of emotion and feeling. There was a part of me that just so desperately wished that I was part of this — that I was doing this and I was down on that deck or I was in that aircraft or this was my job. It was the first time that it really grabbed me since I left ROTC that there was this part of me that really wanted to belong to this.