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Should We Hate Halsey?

Catherine Halsey-SeatedDr. Catherine Elizabeth Halsey.

Catherine Elizabeth Halsey has been a part of the Halo universe since before the first game hit the shelves. She was described in The Fall of Reach as the founding member of the SPARTAN-II programme, and also the one member who is primarily responsible for almost every decision taken in regard to that very programme. But she is also the one person who is responsible for the soldiers that would ultimately lead to victory against the Covenant. Conversely, she is also responsible for the abduction of 75 children.

Born on the human colony of Endymion in 2492, Catherine Halsey quickly established herself as a very capable and intelligent individual, writing her second doctorial thesis at the age of fifteen (though I’d love to know when her first was written). She also came to the attention of ONI, the Office of Naval Intelligence, who were keen to put her to good use, especially after her paper on the outer colonies and the overwhelming possibility of a terrible and costly civil war. ONI drafted her, and in the course of doing so Halsey set about finding a means of preventing large-scale military action. Her plan involved super soldiers, much like in the SPARTAN-I programme, who would nip any signs of rebellion in the bud very early on, saving countless lives. But her conclusion in this matter led to some very contentious decisions that have divided an entire community and the fictional characters that are directly and indirectly affected by those decisions.

Before I go on, I need to point a few things out regarding Halsey and the current related fiction. Recently an increasing level of hatred and general animosity has been directed at Halsey by several other characters, both in the games and in the novels. Margaret Parangosky, Serin Osman, Thomas Lasky, Palmer, Vaz and several others have made no attempt to hide their mistrust of her and the methods she employs to meet her goals. And this has raised eyebrows among members of the Halo community, who see it as nothing more than a campaign to vilify the one person responsible for Earth’s survival, because without her and the SPARTAN-II programme Earth would have been lost. That’s pretty much a certainty. But in order to balance this out I will be looking at this from every possible viewpoint: Spartan, marine, Covenant, Parangosky, Halsey, Lasky, Osman, Palmer, Cortana, Forerunner, Flood and several others. By the end of this article I should be able to ascertain whether or not we should sympathise with the characters that hate her, or side with Halsey and/or those who were created by her.

“My work saved the human race.”

Catherine Elizabeth Halsey is an incredibly intelligent individual. She has an eye for detail, and is particularly fastidious when it comes to acquiring knowledge and finishing anything that she has set out to do: Every aspect of research must be completed, everything learned. Everything! Even at the expense of others, either emotionally or otherwise. Something highlighted when she surrendered her parental responsibilities of Miranda to Captain Jacob Keyes. To Catherine, it seems knowledge is power. And in times of war that knowledge is also the lynchpin of survival for the human race when faced with civil war or, later on, alien aggression.

Halsey & LibrarianHalsey finally meets the Librarian.

So that’s Catherine Halsey in a nutshell; now for the more contentious issue of her morals and her actions.

As a fan, I see the good in Halsey’s actions; without her Earth would surly have been lost, another notch in the Covenant glassing bedpost. A species wiped from existence. Without Halsey’s input the SPARTAN-II programme would never have existed. And even if someone did have a similar idea it would have lacked her attention to detail, resulting in an inferior product. At worst, Halsey’s actions gave the UNSC more time to formulate an effective strategy. At best, it produced the greatest soldiers mankind has ever seen and won the war against the Covenant. Her research reverse-engineered Covenant and Forerunner technology, gave the Infinity her engines, and gave mankind access to a Forerunner Dyson Sphere and all the technology held within. Her contribution to humanity cannot be understated. She may be responsible for its survival. But just as our real advancements in technology and medicine save countless lives, they do not always originate from the most ethical methods of practice. They are usually forged in times of war and at great cost or suffering.

The German V2 rocket is a classic example – brilliant and deadly. It gave mankind access to the stars, metaphorically speaking. But it did provide NASA with a blueprint for what would eventually become the Saturn V rocket, which paved the way to the Apollo moon landings, and eventually a greater understanding of our place in the universe, particle physics, astrophysics and astronomy in general. And before you think, Well, we could do without those”, I’ll remind you that particle physics gave us the MRI scanner, used to detect anything from cancer to brain damage. Another, more contentious example is Josef Mengele, the Nazi war criminal who experimented on those unfortunate enough to find themselves in a concentration camp, sometimes without anesthesia. But it could be argued that, despite his method of practice, he advanced our understanding of genetics.

Both of the aforementioned examples (and I apologise for both of them being German to any German readers) are not directly responsible for saving an entire species from the brink of extinction, as far as we know. This adds further merit to Halsey’s work. Both groundbreaking and revolutionary, Halsey’s work changed humanity in many ways. It prevented all out civil war, ground down the alien juggeraught known as the Covenant, and expanded mankind as a species. Her work is, without question, truly remarkable. But it’s not what she achieved that we are looking at here. It’s how she achieved it. Halsey was directly responsible for the decision to abduct and clone young children, force them to endure a gruelling training regimen, and undergo a number of highly intrusive and experimental and dangerous augmentations, killing or disabling over a third of the 75 children chosen for the SPARTAN-II programme. And in the midst of this: only one child had the choice to undergo the procedure. The remainder did not. No choice. No freedom.

“My Spartans are humanity’s next step. Our destiny as a species.”

Let’s try to understand the decision to kidnap a child for greater good of mankind. And as a father I’m already struggling to do so. It was different in ancient Sparta. Children were taken at the age of six for the Agoge with the full knowledge of their parents. It was, after all, tradition – the way things were done in that particular society. No less brutal, though. But the parents of that child knew what would happen once their son had reached his six birthday. And chances are that the father had undergone the exact same thing, years before.

Halo Reach TrainingSPARTAN-II training on Reach.

As every hardcore Halo fiction fan knows, Halsey’s improvement of the Carver report had led to a startling discovery: mankind would be plunged into a bloody and costly thirty year war. Billions would die. And humanity, it could be argued, would be forever affected, divided. The UNSC agreed, and a solution was required. HIGHCOM may have previously tried other methods: lower taxes, more support for the colonies, better communication and with that better relationships, hearts and minds campaigns for the colonies, and patriotic days for the colonies to celebrate a United Earth Government. But clearly, if these methods were tried and tested, everything failed and the UNSC could only see one possible outcome. War. But Halsey had an alternative to war. She could deliver hope. But more importantly she could potentially deliver peace – safety for the majority of mankind. But that peace would come at a price. And in 2517, seventy five children were abducted, without their parents’ consent and inducted into the SPARTAN-II programme. Here they came face to face with not only the reality that they would never see their parents again but also the training staff that would put them through hell – rigorously training and drilling them into the best soldiers that mankind had ever seen.

“You have been called upon to serve, you will be trained… and you will become the best we can make of you. You will be the protectors of Earth and all her colonies.”

Seventy five children might not seem like a lot. In fact, in the UK alone, a child is reported missing every three minutes. Staggering really! In the United States a study was carried out in 1999 and it was estimated that approximately 800,000 children were reported missing. And the National Centre for Missing and Exploited children has received more than 3.8 million calls since it was created in 1984, so seventy five children is a drop in the ocean, right? Statistically yes. But imagine being one of those parents. Whether it’s 75 or 1 or 3,000,000, it makes no difference, especially where the parents and siblings are concerned. But did Halsey try to remedy this? Did she create clones in order to provide some closure? I believe that she did, but whether this was for her benefit, the parents, or to combat any aching guilt is unclear. But she created them nonetheless.

Spartan II AugmentationLinda-095 ready for the final phase of the augmentations

Let’s look at some of the other characters that have been affected by Halsey’s actions, directly or indirectly. Mendez was heavily involved in the training of the Spartan-IIs and the Spartan-IIIs. But it’s the IIs that we are looking at, the ones who didn’t volunteer. He trained them, taught them, punished them, instructed and supervised them. He moulded them into soldiers. He moulded them in Spartans. But it’s clear in Halo: Glasslands that he does have some reservations regarding the Spartans, and as a result he harbours some resentment and animosity towards Halsey. In the brief time they inhabited the Forerunner Dyson sphere, later known as Trevelyan, Halsey would demonstrate her familiar lack of empathy when looking for Lucy, and things would come to a head and Mendez challenged her. Mendez has clearly been affected by what has happened and the training and recruitment methods used throughout. But it doesn’t mean he’s free of guilt, both emotionally and in the criminal sense. He participated, and that’s enough. But he’s also another fundamental part of the Spartans, and without him and Halsey they would not be the soldiers they are today.

Characters like Lasky and Palmer also prominently display contempt for Halsey, especially Palmer. But let’s remind ourselves of Halo: Forward unto Dawn, the web series featured in the run-up the Halo 4’s release. Lasky is saved by the Master Chief, so the obvious conclusion is that without the SPARTAN-II programme Lasky would have died at Corbulo. Palmer also expressed her resentment over the Spartan-II programme and the technology and weapons they received as a result. But as a SPARTAN-IV she should also be aware that if not for the aforementioned S2 project, she would not be a S4, though her resentment is understandable, as she, like many others, volunteered as consenting adults. So is their animosity well placed? In many ways it can be perceived as human instinct. When it comes to children we are generally, as a species, protective, critical and judgemental. A child can look cold in the street, be out late or be walking around with their parents during school time. We’ll pass judgement, though, even when we lack any inside information on the family concerned. The child may be fine temperature-wise, or out late because they are lost. Or walking around with their parents during school-time because they’re being homeschooled, are visiting from another country or are the next Albert Einstein about to attend a boarding school assessment visit. So it’s perfectly natural for individuals like Lasky and Palmer to pass judgement where the children are concerned. But they should also recognise that ONI must, at some level, have been aware of this and allowed it – permitted it. But even if they didn’t, Palmer and Lasky can and should recognise that the Spartans were fundamental to mankind’s continued survival. Conversely, though, they can still be just as critical of Halsey and her involvement in creating the Spartans, because that’s human nature. But is it justified? Should Halsey be judged and tried? Sentenced, even? Or simply scolded and sent back to the lab? It’s hard to say.

Spartan Ops Halsey Lasky and PalmerHalsey is regarded with contempt by Lasky and Palmer.

Halsey is an oddity in the Halo universe. She’s a genius who uses her brain to combat problems. Cortana is a prime example of that. But she’s also incredibly pragmatic in her approach. Her abandonment of motherhood, because she sees herself as a bad mother, speaks volumes, but it could also be seen as a means of concentrating on her work. To me, her work, her insatiable appetite or desire for acquiring knowledge seems to trump all. But she also seems to want to solve every problem. But her methods place her in an untenable position as a human being.

Without the Spartans Earth would have fallen. And without Halsey’s extreme methods it’s unlikely that there would have been any Spartans to save Earth. She is responsible, to a degree, for the defeat of the Covenant. But in the search for a means to save humanity, she would have to sacrifice some of her own. But I’m sure many a marine has welcomed the sight of a Spartan-II in battle.

We as fans have a uniquely privileged position. We know a lot more about Halsey than Palmer or Lasky do, or any other characters. We are, in a way, ONI. We see everything – the bigger picture, including the Precursors, the Forerunners, ancient humanity, and the Didact. But many of the Halo characters don’t have that viewpoint; they don’t have that same privilege. We’ve seen and read how Halsey felt for the children. She became a surrogate mother figure for them, and Mendez their father, with the aim of the ‘Greater Good’. The same goes for Osman. Sure, she was a SPARTAN-II who probably ended up better off. But Halsey isn’t Social Services, and she wasn’t packing Osman off to some foster family. She had her taken, recruited her into the programme and then subjected her to the augmentations that nearly crippled her. But just because she escapes a dreadful childhood and later becomes the head of ONI doesn’t mean everything’s peachy. Because there were 74 other children whose lives, it seems, were just fine – with loving parents.

We don’t have to hate Halsey. But just don’t be surprised when people [characters] do.

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6 comments on “Should We Hate Halsey?

  1. The biggest problem I have with the Halsey issue, unfortunately, doesn’t stem from the woman herself or her motives. It comes from the change in characterization that came with the change in writers. Eric Nylund wrote her as a somewhat driven, narcissistic, consumed-in-her-work savant who also harbored a deep-seated possessiveness for the Spartans she created and guilt for the way the program operated. Karen Traviss essentially removed the possessiveness and guilt, replacing it with an adversarial personality and an intensely secretive nature. While many of these “newer” traits can largely be attributed to her treatment by Admiral Parangosky, it’s the writing that starts to turn her into an unlikable character, and that is carried forward in Spartan Ops.

    That said, I don’t disagree with your premise. She was set up to be vilified, almost as a sacrificial lamb designed to shield ONI from the brunt of public backlash about the Spartan-II program, but to say she was justified in her actions and the hatred and suspicion directed at her is unjustified is folly.

    Though I don’t think Lasky actually harbors any genuine hatred or resentment toward Halsey, just a healthy dose of mistrust and suspicion. His philosophical discussion with Palmer about “Is that what we are now? Executioners for ONI?” did a great job indicating he stopped short of hatred for her.

    As for Palmer, I really need to see more background on her before I pass judgment on her attitude toward Halsey, but on the surface I don’t see her problem. I expect someone who is proficient enough to be commander of the Spartan-IV contingent to have deeper roots for her hatred than “You kidnapped kids.” But then again, we’re talking characterization, and Palmer’s was pretty much meat head from the word go.

    Ultimately, what might be needed is a singular redemptive action by Halsey to reclaim her reputation AND her status as a premier mind in the UNSC. Sadly, with her in the clutches of the Didact’s Hand and with one arm gone thanks to Palmer, I doubt that will happen.

    Oh, one more thing, lest anyone think I’m blaming Traviss for Halsey’s shift in perception: Spartan-III Carter didn’t have a great deal of regard for Halsey either, as evidenced by his discussions with her in Halo: Reach.

    • I have also noticed some sort of discrepancy between the pre-Reach and post-Reach Halsey, in terms of characterization… at least on first glance. I will touch that part later.

      Basically what it comes down to is that I like the earlier Halsey but hate the current one. It was already mentioned that Nylund gave her a lot more personality than the later writers, but there’s more to that. I just went back and rewatched “The Package” from “Halo Legends”. And just like I remembered, that Halsey basically has nothing to do with the one we’re now accustom to. The most noticable difference – at least to me – was that she actually smiled during that story. Sure, she still seemed authoritarian when talking to John, but she was joking (inside a covenant assault carrier, right after being kidnapped, no less), she refered to herself as a girl (although that was just written to have that misplaced Cortana-quote in there) and – like i said – she was smiling.

      Enter Halo Reach. Ignoring her relationship with the S-IIIs, but she barely even looks at Jorge and when she actually talks to him, all she cares about is the armor. She has no compassion, no interest in the death of her colleagues, in her Spartans… all she wants is the data. This is no person, this is an android. I’ve never liked Reach as much as the other games, partly from a gameplay-perspective, but mostly story-wise… and now that I think of it, I believe Halsey may play a bigger role in this than I would have thought.

      But was she really that different before? Come to think of it, Halsey has been only mentioned in Nylund-stories, with very few exceptions like the aforementioned “Legends”. And if you look very closely, Nylund was also the only person who put a somewhat positive spin to her character. She cared about her “children”, she wanted to protect Johnson during the Borens-Syndrome-Flood-dilemma and she had the common good in mind, when designing the Spartans.

      But here comes the bomb: I think this was never intended by Bungie. In my opinion, Nylund just did what he wanted in the books and defied the actual planned canon. She might have not been mentioned often outside of FoR, FS or GoO back then, but there were exceptions. Anybody remember “I Love Bees”? If not, go to any Halo Wiki and (re-)read “Perdita’s Story”. Pay close attention to the characterization of the clockwork rat, as it is the personification of Halsey. Sure, it is told from the perspective of a traumatized child, but nevertheless… which Halsey does it resemble more, the good-hearted earlier version or the apathic update?

      What I’m basically going at is that I think she was intended to be a cold, calculating semi-psychopath from the get-go. It was just (bad?) luck that Nylund had other plans for her, and in the first few years he was the only or at least the primary author to use her in fiction. This is why we grew accustom to a “wrong” incarnation of Halsey and now that this mistake seems to be corrected, we’re having a hard time to adapt.

      Personally, I don’t mind her becoming an asshole, since I didn’t like her very much from the beginning. Being a physicist myself (and from germany, no less), I always felt that because of her lack of morals, scientists in general were pretty badly represented in the Halo universe. (If you’re having doubts about what you’re doing, then don’t do it for christ’s sake!) At least now she shows her true colors. But I do feel sorry for the fans who did like her and now have to deal with being disillusioned.

  2. Excellent read.

    Halsey has always been my favorite character within the Halo canon, and I’ll readily admit that I was a bit surprised, at first, to see her come under the scrutiny and persecution of ONI so suddenly… but, like every other person in human history that has pushed for advancement in a fringe field, she had to be held accountable for her actions, whether or or not they saved humanity.

    I’m very interested to see what 343i does with her in the future of the series.

    Almost as excited as seeing what happens with the Insurrection, the possibility of there being Forerunners still alive in the galaxy…. and what fresh madness the Precursors may/have cooked up.

  3. “I see the good in Halsey’s actions; without her Earth would surly have been lost, another notch in the Covenant glassing bedpost. Halsey’s actions gave the UNSC more time to formulate an effective strategy.”

    Everyone seems to forget that the Spartans weren’t the only ones who saved Earth, if it wasn’t for the Great Schism and the Arbiter’s intervention, Earth would still be doomed. I hope you’re aware of that. But, yes, the Spartans did buy enough time for humanity so that by the time Earth was discovered, the Covenant were already in chaos fighting each other.

    • Humanity never would have found Halo without Cortana and Chief, There wouldn’t have been a Schism, and no Arbiter.

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