Deep Space 9 Archive

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Captain Sisko: War Criminal

Let’s take it for granted that if you are reading my blog, you know my thoughts about the United Federation of Planets as dystopian nightmare state. Today I will build on this argument with an example from Deep Space Nine.

DS9 gave us the Federation at war, and war can often bring about the worst in even the most benevolent of governments. My example, however, isn’t about the Dominion War, a war so brutal it struck at the very ethos of Federation culture. Today, I’m interested in speaking for the Maquis. Let us turn to Captain Sisko, himself, for some context.

On Earth there is no poverty, no crime, no war. You look out the window at Starfleet Headquarters and you see paradise. Well, it’s easy to be a saint in paradise. But the Maquis do not live in paradise. Out there, in the Demilitarized Zone, all problems have not been solved yet. There are no saints, just people; angry, scared, determined people who are going to do whatever it takes to survive, whether it meets with the Federation approval or not.

In canon, the aforementioned demilitarized zone was the by-product of a treaty that ended nearly twenty years of border skirmishes between the United Federation of Planets and the Cardassian Union. The apocrypha of this treaty is too long to detail. Sufficed to say, the Federation cut a deal with the Cardassians that saw Federation border worlds ceded to the Cardassian Union. The Federation colonists, however, refused to abandon their homes and soon found themselves forced to live under the brutal regime of the Cardassian military. In response to Cardassian hostility and a Federation policy of non-interference in the DMZ, disaffected colonists and former Starfleet officers formed the Maquis. The Maquis became the self-defence force/armed militia of the DMZ colonies.

The clip below represents the final days of the Maquis’ resistance. Starfleet dispatched Captain Sisko to end the Maquis threat after Michael Eddington, formerly of Starfleet security, poisoned the atmosphere of two Cardassian DMZ colonies.

 

Let’s review. Captain Sisko, a decorated Starfleet officer, used weapons of mass destruction against a civilian target to send a message to the Maquis. Nevermind that the Maquis struck first. Nevermind that the Maquis attacked the Federation. A legitimate and right-thinking government does not suspend the rules of war because they are dealing with an enemy engaging in asynchronous warfare.

Therefore, I submit, Captain Sisko’s response constitutes a war crime.

As evidence of this, I would turn to the Geneva Conventions, specifically the protocol additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977.

Article 51 – Protection of the civilian population

1.The civilian population and individual civilians shall enjoy general protection against dangers arising from military operations.

Sisko, by his own admission, attacked a civilian planet to punish the Maquis for their aggression against a Starfleet ship and two Cardassian colonies.

2. The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited.

Sisko bombed the civilian population as leverage against the Maquis. He then threatened to attack another civilian target unless Michael Eddington surrendered to Starfleet.

3. Civilians shall enjoy the protection afforded by this Section, unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities.

Not all DMZ colonists are members of the Maquis, just as not all people who live in Afghanistan are members of the Taliban.

4. Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited. Indiscriminate attacks are:

(a) those which are not directed at a specific military objective;

Check.

(b) those which employ a method or means of combat which cannot be directed at a specific military objective; or

Check.

(c) those which employ a method or means of combat the effects of which cannot be limited as required by this Protocol; and consequently, in each such case, are of a nature to strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction.

Check.

I could go on, but I think my point is clear. If the Federation is a benign and socially progressive organization, as we are lead to believe, then surely it is not unrealistic to expect their rules for warfare to be in-line with those established during the 20th century.

Were this the case, one might have expected an actual objection to Sisko’s order from Lt. Commander Worf or Lt. Commander Dax. I won’t hold Major Kira to the same standards as she’s a member of the Bajorian Militia. The fact that Worf and Dax, senior Starfleet officers on the Defiant after Sisko, execute the order without a formal protest tells me one of two things:

1)     Starfleet’s rules for protecting civilian lives during a war are less progressive than the Geneva Conventions; in which case I submit that Federation is as monstrous a regime as any modern nation who rejects said conventions e.g. North Korea.

2)     The Federation and Starfleet’s rules for protecting civilian lives during a war are comparable to our own; in which case Sisko and his crew chose to disregard the regulations. Therefore, the senior staff, save Kira, are war criminals, and the rest of the bridge crew, right down to Cadet Nog, are complicit in their guilt.

The prosecution rests.


3

The United Federation of Planets: A City of Pigs, Part 2

Welcome back. In the first part of this series I looked at the absence of contemporary art and culture in Star Trek TOS and TNG. Today, we’ll finish with a review of DS9, Voyager, and (sigh) Enterprise.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Some of you might be thinking that Deep Space Nine proves me wrong about a lack of contemporary culture in Star Trek.

Jake Sisko, for the win, right?

Wrong.

Ask yourself this, what does Jake ever publish? In The Visitor we learn that Jake – playing a Salinger-type recluse – published two books then quit writing because of his obsession with his ghost dad. I submit that since that timeline didn’t happen, those books were never written, and thus don’t count. Instead, our relationship with Jake as a writer is through his work with the Federation News Service.

Say those last three words out loud. Now replace “Federation” with “(Harper) Government of Canada” and see how it sounds. Did you throw up a little in your mouth?

At some point between Voyager’s trip to the 1990s – absent any mention of the Eugenics War – and 2373, the New York Times, The Guardian, The Times of London, the Toronto Star, The Economist, The Atlantic, and every other thoughtful media outlet either disappeared or became irrelevant compared to the broadcast power of the Federation News Service.

Setting that aside for a moment, DS9’s other contributions to Star Trek’s internal culture include the following.

  • Vic Fontane’s 1940s Vegas lounge.
  • O’Brien and Bashir jerking off to military history holosuite programs that include, the Battle of Britain, the Battle of the Alamo, and the Battle of Thermopylae.
  • Bashir jerking off in the holosuite to an off-brand James Bond.
  • A fixation on darts and baseball – which in and of itself is regarded as a retrograde throwback, possibly due to the fact that there’s no television, radio, or beer in the 24th century.
  • Getting drunk (courtesy of Klingon alcohol), singing, and gambling.

Even on the raggedy edge of Federation space, on a space station that is open to pretty much all the races of the Alpha Quadrant as a port of call, humans show no sign of having a contemporary culture that extends beyond nostalgia for Earth’s past.

There’s also a strikingly prudish and anti-sex attitude emanating from anybody in Starfleet with respect to Quark’s repertoire of holosuite erotica. Quark is seen as a degenerate for offering programs that cater to the notion that there’s a partition between sex for reproduction and sex for recreation. And before somebody tells me that DS9 is a product of its time, considering how attitudes toward sex changed between the 1960s and 1990s. By that measure we might expect that the 2370s to look something like Logan’s Run. DS9 is something of a two-for; it continues the tradition of eschewing an actual contemporary culture for worshipping the 20th century, and as a bonus it casts a very puritanical light over humanity in the 24th century.

Star Trek Voyager

As much as it pains me to say this, sometimes Voyager isn’t the worst Star Trek of them all. Mind you, there is some very terrible story-telling within Voyager’s repertoire. Threshold’s attempt to tell a story about what happens when you travel at warp 10 (spoilers, you have sex with the captain and mutate into a lizard monster) was particularly odious.

One of the series high water marks, in my humble estimation, was Voyager’s season seven episode, Author, Author. While the episode was principally about exploring something non-human (The Doctor) through a human lens, it also gave a rare insight into some contemporary culture in Star Trek: The Doctor’s Photons be Free holonovel.

The holonovel is the Doctor’s attempt to try and shed a light on the fact that sentient holograms are a source of slave labour in the Federation. The Doctor’s work presents art in Star Trek as we see it now: a mechanism for presenting commentary on the contemporary world.

What do we see from the rest of the crew in terms of art?

  • Tom Paris playing Flash Gordon Buck Rogers Captain Proton
  • Tom Paris drinking beer and watching black and white television from the 1930s
  • Captain Janeway’s 19th century bodice ripper
  • A different bodice ripping seaside village in 19th century Ireland
  • Seven of Nine having sex with virtual Chakotay

No one would expect a ship 70,000 light years from home to have access to contemporary culture, but the crew’s choice of filler material is rather telling.

Star Trek Enterprise

Now we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel. Enterprise is the Ralph Wiggum of Star Trek. Even as it wallowed in the cast away plot lines of its betters, the series managed to hold fast to the idea of contemporary 22nd century culture as a nod to the 20th century.

The ship’s weekly movie night was a reasonably clever way of bringing the crew together in off-duty hours. It was also an opportunity to provide viewers with some subtle insights into the world of the near-future. Alas, movie night subjected the crew to mid-20th century black and white movies – and one reference to movie night as The Great Escape. Only in the fourth season episode Home do we get a glimmer of contemporary culture with a throwaway line of dialogue mentioning a theatrical release of “another World War Three epic.”

Perhaps the big one happened between the 2150s and the 2260s, taking all of Hollywood and the very idea of film as a narrative device with it.

Enterprise was a cultural wasteland. Non-technical reading for the crew seems limited to Vulcan philosophy. Music continues its trend of being rooted in the 19th and 20th century. The sport de jour is water polo, for some stupid reason. Despite having tablet computers galore, the crew of the NX-01 can’t seem to find a copy of Candy Crush for love or money.

What’s the Point of It All?

Why have I put more than two thousand words to paper exploring the fake culture of a made up civilization? In part because it’s important to take a critical eye to the things we like.

Though Star Trek’s writers’ probably never intended to create a world bereft of its own culture, they none the less did so. The Federation’s fixation on its past is comparable to any oppressive state that wants to focus on its past rather than its terrible present, for fear of sowing dissent among the masses. In turn, this presents a vision of the future that an audience might internalize, consciously or otherwise, as ideal. They might come to see 100% state employment and the end of private property in a post-monetary society as a positive thing. They might not see the value of an independent press as a way of keeping the powers that be in check. They might think that art is limited to history, portraiture, and decorative geegaws when it should be used as mechanism for empowerment, especially among people whose voices are marginalized.

Star Trek presented the future not as a work-in-progress, but as an ideal. Captain Sisko once referred to Earth as paradise. It’s clear, however, that the Federation is far from paradise. There is still discrimination against holographic life, which began showing the capacity for true sentience in TNG with the Moriarty program. Organized crime from the Orion Syndicate reaches into the Federation. Starfleet created its own enemy in the Maquis through a treaty with the Cardassians – a treaty used eminent domain to expropriate land from Federation citizens. There’s every reason to believe that the Federation should be rich with counter-cultural, or at least socially critical art. Yet we never see it.

When placed under a microscope, the Federation is a vision of the future that is at best shallow and simplistic and at worst overtly oppressive. That’s why I wrote this piece. Because as contemporary myths go, we can do better.


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On Star Trek TNG and Pulling the Trigger

I’m going to come clean on this one; the new job has been kicking my ass. Today I channeled my inner Jack Ryan before giving a presentation to a room of people situated well above my pay grade, and the majority of whom were, I suspect, much smarter than yours truly. On the up side, I didn’t get laughed out of the lecture hall, and the boss was happy with my work. Advantage: Shaftoe.

The bad news is that a few extra hours in the office cut into this week’s “to review” list. I hope you’ll find it within your heart to forgive me for doing the best I can with the material at hand.

To wit: every morning before going to work I watch the first half of an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. This morning I logged about twenty-seven minutes of Legacy. Legacy sees a shuttle brimming with red shirts crashing on Turkana IV, home world of the late Lt. Tasha Yar.

For those who don’t recall, Turkana IV is one of TNG’s few and fleeting attempts to add a dark underbelly to the Federation’s socialist utopia. More specifically, Turkana IV is presented as a failed nation. The world was a member of the Federation before seceding for undisclosed reasons. Canon then records the planet’s descent into a lawless hellscape. Apparently, the Federation Council was content to wash its hands of the entire situation. PS: who wants to guess how many terrible fanfics have been written about Turkana IV?

A Season One episode of TNG, captured in the above picture, gives us a flashback to Tasha’s life on Turkana. Therein, the audience is introduced to the concept of a “rape gang,” which is exactly what it sounds like. Cut to a young Lt. Yar hiding in a tunnel, cradling a mangy cat. She sets the cat free just as a hooting bunch of men with flashlights come around the corner. What follows goes without saying or showing. The scene, though almost a throwaway, is creepy as fuck with its implications that Tasha is about to get violated seven ways from Romulus.

Upon arriving at Turkana in Season Four, Picard dispatches the obligatory away team. True to Trek form, the Captain doesn’t send in twenty-five heavily armed security officers. Instead, he beams in Riker, Data, Worf, and Doctor Crusher. Worf, being the only sensible one in the bunch, reminds everybody that Turkana IV is a god forsaken shit hole. He further questions the wisdom of sending the good Doctor in the first wave, what with all the rape gangs. A “Shut up, Worf” moment ensues and off goes the episode on a wild series of loosely connected tangents.

Based upon what I saw, and what I remember, Legacy is far from a stand out episode of Trek. In my estimation, TNG was at its worst when exploring Data’s non-existent feelings. What stuck with me was the episode’s blink-and-miss-it return to the idea of rape gangs.

At first, I thought that the series missed an opportunity to pull the trigger on a much more emotionally resonant story. Legacy presents a version of Turkana IV that is a tea party compared to what Lt. Yar described. Why not show the audience what a failed future state actually looks like? Why not prove Worf correct, for once, and force Picard to send in the (space) marines?

In a post Battlestar Galactica world it’s easy to be cynical about Star Trek: TNG not pulling the trigger on rape gangs, implied as they may be. Nor should we forget that Season Six of TNG saw David Warner gracing the series for a torture porn/1984 episode. Five years after that, DS9′s The Siege of AR-558 would see  Starfleet security officers make necklaces of ketracel-white tubes plucked from dead Jem’Hadar. So I’ll put it to you, dear reader, did TNG push the envelope with its talk of rape gangs and failed nations in Legacy? Or did it run screaming from the edge of dark sci-fi and back into the comforting tropes of android-human empathy, only later poking its nose back into darker territory?