Monday, October 10, 2011

Star Trek and the War on Terror

On the recommendation of a few friends, I've been going through the back episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. There have already been several episodes that take on civil liberties, war, and terrorism, but the episode I watched today had an exchange that is as perfect a commentary on the War on Terror as you can find. And it aired in 1996! The video is at the link, but here's a transcript:

Changeling: Let me ask you a question. How many Changelings do you think are here on Earth right at this moment?
Captain Sisko: I'm not going to play any guessing games with you.
Changeling: Ah. What if I were to tell you that there are only four on this entire planet? Huh? Not counting Constable Odo, of course. Think of it - just four of us. And look at the havoc we've wrought.
Captain Sisko: How do I know you're telling me the truth?
Changeling: Oh, four is more than enough. We're smarter than solids, we're better than you. And most importantly, we do not fear you the way you fear us. In the end, it's your fear that will destroy you.

Now just replace "changeling" with "member of Al Qaeda" and "solids" with "Americans." The whole episode is about a group of Star Fleet officers who are willing to turn Earth and the Federation into a police state, complete with a military-led coup d'etat, in order to stave off this threat from just a few terrorists/changelings. Sound familiar? Luckily, plucky Captain Sisko realizes the folly of this and thwarts their plans.

Unfortunately, our plucky Captain Sisko hasn't materialized (no nerdy pun intended). We thought it could be Obama, but he has been an abject disappointment on the civil liberties front. Instead writers like Adam Serwer, Conor Friedersdorf and Glenn Greenwald scream from the sidelines while policymakers continue to erode civil liberties in the name of unattainable absolute security. Star Trek's writers, half a decade before 9/11, had a better grasp on these issues than today's policymakers. Frankly, it almost certainly helped that the episode was written before 9/11. We hadn't experienced the horror of such a major attack. The Star Trek writers had clear minds. If only our policymakers were able to think as clearly.

1 comment:

  1. Also remember the old "Twilight Zone" episode, I think titled "The Monsters Are on Maple Street." Another parable about how our paranoia can be used to destroy us.