The Earth-Minbari War is a fictional war that formed a major part of the back story of the science fiction television series, Babylon 5. The war was fought between the Earth Alliance and the Minbari, an older alien race that overwhelmingly outmatched Earth in terms of technology and weapons. The war ended with Earth on the brink of total destruction, only to have the other side improbably surrender to the almost-defeated humans at the last moment. The reasons for this surrender form part of the arc of the show, and the events of the war itself are depicted in the Babylon 5: In the Beginning TV movie.
The war was provoked by an Earth Alliance task force led by Captain Michael Jankowski aboard the warship EAS (Earth Alliance Ship) Prometheus, engaged on a mission to investigate the Minbari, an alien race known to Earth only through stories from other races. Unfortunately, being fresh from their victory over the Dilgar, EarthForce Command arrogantly ignored Centauri Ambassador Londo Mollari's advice to take a cautious approach; Londo recommended that Earth send only one ship into Minbari space so as not to appear hostile. Instead, EarthForce arranged for an expedition fleet of several large warships, including the Prometheus. Furthermore, Captain Michael Jankowski was assigned to command the fleet against the advice of capable officers such as Commander John Sheridan who warned that he was unreliable and declined to accompany him on the mission.
During the expedition, the Prometheus and her escorts encountered three Minbari cruisers, one of which was carrying the Grey Council, the highest echelon of the Minbari government. The Grey Council was en route to investigate reports of sightings of their ancient enemy, the Shadows. Although Jankowski had been given strict orders to not do anything which might be perceived as hostile, Jankowski disobeyed the orders and refused to jump to hyperspace when the Minbari spotted his fleet. He thought that by waiting to the last possible moment to jump he could gain valuable sensor information about the Minbari cruisers, and this would lead to a promotion and medals from a grateful EarthForce Command. When he finally did decide to flee, it was too late.
Upon seeing the Earth vessels, the Minbari cruisers opened their gunports as a sign of respect and strength - an old Minbari custom that the Humans were unaware of. Dukhat, the leader of the Grey Council, realized the error and ordered the gunports closed - but too late. Captain Jankowski misinterpreted the gesture as a sign of hostility, an impression compounded by the fact that the powerful sensors of the Minbari cruisers accidentally disabled the Prometheus' jump engines, thus preventing the ship from jumping to hyperspace and escaping. The captain had been told by his first officer that his vessel's jump engines had malfunctioned and that the weapons on the Minbari cruisers were "hot" (active), although this was not the case - although the gun ports were indeed open, the weapons systems were not online, and EarthForce's relatively primitive technology did not allow them to scan the Minbari vessels' internal systems to realise this. Still, believing the Earth fleet was in danger of imminent attack, Jankowski panicked and opened fire on the Minbari ships, scoring a critical direct hit on the cruiser carrying the Council. Dukhat was killed and his protege Delenn, in a fit of rage, cast the deciding vote on the Council to wage a war of vengeance against Earth. However, the war of vengeance quickly turned into a holy crusade by the Minbari to exterminate humanity.
The Earth Alliance made frantic efforts to present official apologies to the Minbari through all possible diplomatic channels, and tried to obtain help (military or diplomatic) from neutral alien races such as the Centauri. However, no alien race wanted to incur the wrath of the awesome Minbari military, and so Earth was left to fight alone. Although races like the Narns were willing to do business secretly, the supplies available were insufficient for Earth military needs.
This was to be the first major battle of the war. The Earth fleet entered the Minbari star system of ShLekkTha (Vega) and slowly entered weapon range of a waiting Minbari fleet. The Minbari fleet consisted of only twelve War-Cruisers, to the Earth Alliance's forty starships, which consisted of Heavy Cruisers and Dreadnoughts. Despite being well within range of the Minbari's weapons, the Minbari ShLekkTha fleet allowed the Earth vessels to close into range and fire the first shot. The battle lasted only twelve seconds. In these twelve seconds the Minbari destroyed every one of the attacking Earth vessels, allowing only one fighter to survive, so it could return home to tell its people of their impending doom.
While Earth ships had enough firepower to cripple or destroy Minbari vessels, the Minbari warcruisers were equipped with highly advanced stealth systems which prevented EarthForce warships from achieving target lock. The Minbari, on the other hand, had no such problems, and had weapons capable of destroying their enemies cruisers in single hits. For example, the weapons of Minbari warcruisers could slice the Nova class dreadnought, Earth's largest and most powerful warship at the time, in half. Furthermore, Minbari sensor systems were capable of overloading the shielding on EarthForce power systems, rendering their jump drives inoperable - thus eliminating the possibility of escape.
The Minbari pursued a strategy of swift advance, jumping into a system in force, crippling whatever Earth Alliance military assets were present, then moving on to the next system, leaving the civilian targets intact. After they had driven to Earth and destroyed the last of the Earth Alliance's defenses, they would burn the planet, and proceed back out into the Alliance, destroying every human planet until no humans were left alive. This was, for the Minbari, a war of genocide.
Earth victories were few and far between, the Alliance losing an average of five ships for every Minbari ship destroyed. The Earth Alliance found itself being annihilated, losing soldiers and ships at an appalling rate, with the war itself progressing in favor of the Minbari. However, instead of surrendering to despair, the humans regrouped and made the Minbari pay a steep price in blood for every step forward. The Minbari strategy of leaving a system after destroying its defenders allowed EarthForce to initially have success in hit-and-run raids on smaller Minbari warships and supply vessels; on the planetary surface of Earth colonies, human forces used guerilla warfare tactics to pin down Minbari troops. In the end, however, the Minbari's superior technology and firepower nearly always allowed them to destroy any significant human resistance. Even so, humanity's near-suicidal tactics did lead to Minbari casualties and losses. In the Battle of Scimtar, a damaged Earth cruiser deliberately rammed a larger Minbari warcruiser, destroying both ships in the process. At the Flinn colony, ground-based human weapons forced the Minbari to land soldiers on the planet, and massive hand-to-hand combat raged across the planet's surface. In the end every human on the Flinn colony was killed, but the Minbari suffered heavy casualties in the process.
There were secret contacts through hyperspace transmissions, and a meeting was arranged between human and Minbari representatives, with the support of the Narn diplomatic corps. The peace attempt failed when Centauri warships ambushed the meeting (misinterpreting the Narn's presence as an attempt to sell stolen Centauri weapons to the humans). As a result of the sneak Centauri attack, a famous Minbari warrior was killed, and when the Minbari arrived at the planet they blamed the humans for his death. The recriminations over this event should have sealed Earth's fate, as both sides ended further peace negotiations and the war continued.
Only one battle was a real victory for Earth, involving the destruction of the Minbari flagship Black Star. An EarthForce task group was ambushed by the Black Star in an asteroid field, leaving all ships destroyed or disabled. When the captain of the EAS Lexington was killed in the attack and the ship disabled, the first officer, Commander John Sheridan, took command. Sheridan, acutely aware of the Minbari policy of exterminating all enemy ships without mercy, even when they were disabled and trying to surrender, mined several nearby asteroids with nuclear devices as a precaution. The Lexington then issued a distress call, which attracted the attention of the Black Star. When the Minbari vessel came within range, Sheridan detonated the mines, which completely vaporized the Black Star, giving Earth a much-needed morale boost. The Minbari considered it a despicable act of cowardice, and named Sheridan "Starkiller" in loathing and disgust; EarthForce Command justified the desperate tactic by noting that the Minbari policy of total annihilation was just as abhorrent.
Despite militarily losing the war, the Earth Alliance did have victory in the economic sector as the Minbari war effort nearly caused the collapse of its centrally planned and isolated economy, which hadn't had to go on a war footing for almost 1000 years; the Earth economy survived relatively intact, due to its more flexible nature and extensive trading links, as well as military experience due to the Dilgar war 20 years previous.
Though a noble gesture, the defense was to no avail. In the engagement that came to be known as The Battle of the Line, an enormous fleet of Minbari warcruisers jumped from hyperspace and attacked the human armada with overwhelming firepower. The Minbari swiftly destroyed almost all of the EarthForce defenders, with the desperate Human pilots reduced to desperate kamikaze tactics. But then, just when the Minbari were on the verge of total victory, came the most unexpected twist of the war - the Minbari ceased fire and surrendered unconditionally to Earth. The entire galaxy reeled at news of this impossible reversal, and a great deal of wild speculation was voiced about what could have caused this drastic move. However, the Minbari's governing Grey Council never revealed the official reason, even to their own people.
The real reason for the end of the conflict was that the Grey Council was present at the battle. They chose, for the first time, to take human prisoners to study. The study included scanning them with a triluminary, the Minbari's most sacred religious artifact, which revealed that Humans had reincarnated Minbari souls - and that one prisoner, Jeffrey Sinclair, carried the soul of Valen himself. After scanning more human prisoners and discovering many of them also had Minbari souls, the Minbari leaders realised they were harming their own souls through this war, a horrific concept to them, and had no choice but to stop the war.