The Moral Lesson of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’: We Should Use Super Weapons To Install Despots in Foreign Nations

You’re faced with a choice. Allow your own species to become the victims of genocide, or commit genocide against your enemies to stop them. Then a third option becomes apparent: hand a weapon of mass destruction to a religious militant and install them as a dictator, ending the war that is about to end your civilisation.

What would you do?


The season finale of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’, titled ‘Will You Take My Hand’, was touted by many as a “return to Starfleet’s ideals.” A lot of the dialogue focused on principles, on morals and ethics and standing by what’s right, not what’s convenient or easy.

This is an article about lots of boring but important geopolitical stuff, but there’s a side-note that I want to bring up first that I didn’t include in my initial article about the season finale. And I should have, because it’s also important.

In ‘Will You Take My Hand’ Ash Tyler, the victim of L’Rell’s imprisonment, torture, rape, and Mengele-esque medical experimentation, chose, freely, to join his abuser on her adventures, rather than linger with Starfleet.

I don’t really have any more I can add to that. I hope that that fact speaks for itself, and I hope that it brings to light just how offensive this show really is.

But it gets worse.

Much worse.

Let’s talk about L’Rell for a moment.

As mentioned above, L’Rell is a torturer. She even claims that as her profession. I dunno, maybe she uses the word “interrogator” but she definitely tortures people. She also definitely rapes people – she admitted herself that she sexually abused Ash during his captivity, either before or after he was transmuted with Voq’s essence.

Speaking of, she also subjected Ash, against his will, to a grotesque series of experimental medical procedures that literally imbued him, forcefully, with the suppressed consciousness of another sentient being.

Oh, and she eats people.

As of ‘Will You Take My Hand’, L’Rell is unrepentant for all of these crimes. And they are crimes. They’re so ghastly in nature, and she was personally, directly involved in all of them. Not only is she unrepentant, she actually seems proud of the things she has done.

A bit of background: L’Rell is a religiously-motivated militant. We first meet her as part of T’Kuvma’s movement of Kahless-inspired renegades. She is present when T’Kuvma opens (unprovoked) fire on the Federation fleet, and remains loyal to T’Kuvma’s cause throughout – that cause being the unification of the Klingon Empire by any means necessary.

T’Kuvma’s movement is heavily implied to be suggestive of Islamic fundamentalist movements in the Middle East – motivated by religion, with extreme views against “outsider influence”, particularly the U.S. and Western European nations, and using violence and military action to prosecute their agenda.

Indeed, the whole Klingon Empire falls into this allegorical pattern – scattered nations and tribes, called “houses”, connected by shared cultural history but ultimately divided, the Klingon Empire is almost an embodiment of the Western world’s anxious perception of the Middle East – a collection of aggressive, socially regressive cultures united only in their hatred of the West.

This view of the Middle East is a grossly simplified caricature shaped and reinforced by a frantic news media, but in ‘Discovery’ it is borne true of the Klingons. They do wage a war against the Federation, they do so for religious reasons, they commit “terror raids”, they take prisoners and hostages and subject them to torture. Just as the Klingon’s of ‘The Original Series’ were stand-ins for Russia at the height of the Cold War, the Klingons of ‘Discovery’ are stand-ins for Islamic extremists in the second phase of the ‘War on Terror’.


A Simple Plan

In ‘Will You Take My Hand’, the crew of Discovery discover that Starfleet has secretly sanctioned a mission of genocide.

An evil agent is recruited by Starfleet and sent to Qo’Nos, the Klingon homeworld with a population of billions, to destroy it. She is given a drone-mounted bomb powerful enough to set off the planet’s volcanoes, pouring lava across the surface and generating enough fumes, smoke and ash to render the planet uninhabitable, slaughtering countless sentient beings in the process.

The crew, our protagonists, react to this by threatening mutiny and refusing the mission. Instead of genocide, they find a third way.

They reprogram the bomb’s detonator, and give it to L’Rell.

Certainly, that’s preferable to genocide. As a result of this action, L’Rell appeals to the Klingons to end the war. When they mock her, she threatens them with the destruction of Qo’Nos and the presumptive end of their civilisation. They fall into line. The war ends.

Our protagonists go home, to peace. They are awarded medals. They are pardoned of their past crimes. They are celebrated as heroes. And it’s certainly true that in the artificial scenario with which they are presented, in which the only options are genocide or a threat of genocide, they chose the lesser of two evils.

So far, so Starfleet.

Except for the fact that Starfleet sanctioned genocide in the first place. But let’s move past that.


Doomed to Repeat

This is an article from 1999. This was written about Osama Bin Laden nearly two years before the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Here is a key excerpt:

“Three years ago, [Hampton-el] was convicted of planning a series of massive explosions in Manhattan and sentenced to 35 years in prison.

Hampton-el was described by prosecutors as a skilled bomb-maker. It was hardly surprising. In Afghanistan he fought with the Hezb-i-Islami group of mujahideen, whose training and weaponry were mainly supplied by the CIA.

He was not alone. American officials estimate that, from 1985 to 1992, 12,500 foreigners were trained in bomb-making, sabotage and urban guerrilla warfare in Afghan camps the CIA helped to set up.”

That CIA involvement was part of ‘Operation Cyclone’, a CIA project under President Carter and later President Reagan to supply aid, weapons, equipment and training to religious militants (mujahideen) who were engaged in fighting the USSR and the communist government of Afghanistan. The USSR’s defeat in Afghanistan led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent end of the cold war.

It also fed directly into the acceleration of Islamic extremist advancement in and around the Middle East. Weapons meant for the mujahideen were instead sold on the Pakistani black market. Guerilla training camps were quite easily repurposed into terrorist training camps – guerillas and terrorists having often employed similar tactics and strategies. Cyclone ended the Cold War and arguably began, or at least prologued, the War on Terror.

The United States has always had a troubled history with regime change. From the Iran-Contra affair, a conspiracy to secretly fund the terrorist group known as the Contras in Nicaragua via weapons sales to Iran, to the failed attempt to overthrow Castro with the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the United States’ attempts to force regime change in foreign nations, either covertly or overtly, has almost invariably landed the U.S. on the wrong side of history.

(Here’s a starting point for a little further reading.)

Not just the U.S., mind. Fans of ‘The Crown’ ought to be familiar with the Suez Crisis, but Britain has a long and shameful history to its foreign policy, often times in concert with the United States, but frequently in its own right. In fact, almost every Western nation has a troubled history in its relations with foreign powers.


A Brighter Future

With all of that history behind us, what do the writers have our so-called heroes choose as their heroic, principled solution to a war in space?

They hand a weapon of mass destruction to a religious extremist, and install her as a dictator over her own people.

I’ll repeat myself from earlier in this article:

… L’Rell is a torturer. She even claims that as her profession. I dunno, maybe she uses the word “interrogator” but she definitely tortures people. She also definitely rapes people – she admitted herself that she sexually abused Ash during his captivity, either before or after he was transmuted with Voq’s essence.

Speaking of, she also subjected Ash, against his will, to a grotesque series of experimental medical procedures that literally imbued him, forcefully, with the suppressed consciousness of another sentient being.

Oh, and she eats people.

And they hand her a planet killer.

Sure, it may kill her own planet. But that’s the lives of billions of people, placed in the hands of someone who could easily have been based on one of the most evil people ever known in human history.

What happens if there’s a revolutionary counterculture on Qo’Nos? What happens if, following a costly war with an embarrassing end, Klingon culture takes a radical shift towards democracy and social progression? Would L’Rell have any incentive to permit such an event? Who would be willing to challenge her, to risk the entire Klingon Empire? And if they could challenge her successfully – doesn’t that mean that the plan has failed?

Back when thunderstorms and earthquakes were the most powerful events on Earth, we submitted ourselves to the Gods, in whose hands we believed our fates were held. Then, the first atom bombs dropped, and we realised that the old Gods were dead.

cornwellsevere

What followed was fifty years of paranoia, deceit and hate-mongering. Yes, in that time we had civil rights, Apollo, the Space Shuttle, and even the beginnings of the Information Age. But we also had McCarthyism, missile crises, proxy wars, the Vietnam War, and nuclear proliferation. That sheer, existential terror gave rise to Stalin, Kim Il Sung, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, Milošević, Pinochet.

On Qo’Nos, L’Rell now holds the power of life and death over an entire planet. She is the new God Emperor. What sort of world will Qo’Nos become? How will its people react to their new situation, hostages on their own world, held captive by this new monster? This torturing, raping, cannibalising monster, who wields the power of absolute destruction over an entire civilisation.

And she was given that power by our heroes.

Our Heroes, who were honoured and decorated not only by their fellows, but by their creators, the writers and producers who decided that the ultimate message, the ultimate lesson, of this series of Star Trek, would be that genocide is wrong, but only if it’s your finger on the button.

As I previously mentioned: yes, this was absolutely the preferable alternative to direct and immediate genocide by Starfleet’s hand. But the fact that these were the only two options is because the writers of the show deliberately set up the scenario that way. It’s the no-win scenario, sure, but it’s the no-win scenario within an entirely artificial environment.

The principal reason that things have gotten to such an extreme point is because the Discovery returns to the Prime Universe after skipping nine months accidentally. There is no cause-and-effect here; there’s no reason for the ship to have skipped that much time, except that the writers needed to squeeze a genocidal story line into two episodes. They wrote themselves into this corner, and produced this ultimate, horrible solution, this violent and corrupting path down which Our Heroes must walk.

medals

So many references are made this episode to principles, to morals and ethics that make us who we are, that define us. Which means that this solution is what defines Starfleet: imposing autocracy on our enemies, under threat of extinction, so that we can preserve our own way of life.

Those are the morals that ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ is trying to teach us. That we need not consider the consequences of our actions beyond their immediate effect. That we need not concern ourselves with the well-being of our enemies so long as we get to go home and pick up our medals.

That, so long as you can make a nice speech at the end, you don’t need to worry too much about the mess you made in getting there.

That the ends justify the means.

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