Archive for June 17, 2017

The Importance of Being Morally Fit for Triumph   1 comment

Above:  The Confession of Captain Benjamin Sisko in In the Pale Moonlight (1998)

A Screen Capture I Took Via PowerDVD

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Or, What Reinhold Niebuhr Has to Do With Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine

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So… I lied. I cheated. I bribed men to cover the crimes of other men. I am an accessory to murder. But the most damning thing of all… I think I can live with it. And if I had to do it all over again, I would. Garak was right about one thing, a guilty conscience is a small price to pay for the safety of the Alpha Quadrant. So I will learn to live with it. Because I can live with it. I can live with it… Computer, erase that entire personal log.

–Captain Benjamin Sisko, In the Pale Moonlight (1998)

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Recently I completed my rewatch of Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine (1993-1999), the best of the Star Trek series.  I had recorded most of the episodes from 1993 to 1999, but I had not sat down and watched the series from beginning to end, skipping certain really bad episodes.  DS9 was the last great Star Trek series–certainly heads and shoulders over Voyager (1995-2001) and Enterprise (2001-2005), two series notable for, among other faults, playing it safe and ignoring continuity much of the time.  DS9 did not play it safe, especially after its troubled first season.  The Dominion War arc certainly took the series into dark and morally ambiguous territory, only part of which I consider in this post.

The Neo-Orthodox theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), a Cold War liberal, had a strong moral compass and an awareness of human sinfulness.  He opened The Irony of American History (1952) with a statement of the possibility that the means by which the free world, led by the United States, might have to win the Cold War might leave the victors morally unfit to govern.  The use of atomic weapons would not only endanger civilization, kill many people,  and cause much physical destruction, he wrote, but lead to moral complications for the victors:

The victors would also face the “imperial” problem of using power in global terms but from one particular center of authority, so preponderant and unchallenged that its world rule would almost certainly violate basic standards of justice.

–Page 2

As Commander William Adama stated in Resurrection Ship, Part II (2006), an episode of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica (2003-2008),

It’s not enough to survive; one must be worthy of surviving.

In the story lines of Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine the Dominion War raged for years and endangered the great powers of the Alpha and  Beta Quadrants–the Klingon Empire, the Romulan Star Empire, and the United Federation of Planets.  (Aside:  The scripts tended not to mention the Beta Quadrant, but, according to official Star Trek lore, the Klingon Empire, the Romulan Star Empire, and much of the Federation were in the Beta Quadrant.)  Forces of the Dominion, an empire presided over by the shape-shifting Founders, fought to conquer the Alpha and Beta Quadrants.  The body counts were staggering and the Dominion seemed to be on the verge of victory.  Times were desperate.

In In the Pale Moonlight (1998) Captain Benjamin Sisko, with the approval of the Federation Council, conspired to trick the Romulan Star Empire into abandoning its non-aggression treaty with the Dominion.  The plan was to convince one Romulan senator, Vreenak, that the Dominion was plotting to invade the Romulan Star Empire.  There was no evidence of this, so Sisko, with Federation approval, arranged for the forging of evidence.  Certainly the Dominion would invade the Romulan Star Empire in time, given the nature of the Dominion and the Founders’ sense of superiority to solids.  Furthermore, the Federation needed for the Romulans to enter the war on its side.  Vreenak recognized the forgery as such, but Elim Garak, who hired the forger then killed him or had him killed, planted a bomb on Vreenak’s shuttle craft.  The leadership of the Romulan Star Empire blamed the Dominion for Vreenak’s death and declared war.  The Federation had a new ally.  Sisko admitted his crimes in private and confessed that he could live with his guilty conscience.

As I have pondered this episode and others, all the way through the end of the series, I have realized that, as the writers presented the story of the Dominion War, Sisko was correct; his crimes were necessary.  The Romulans were crucial to the defeat of the Dominion, after all.

In The Maquis, Part II (1994) Sisko analyzed the difficult situation of a group rebels-terrorists succinctly:

On Earth, there is no poverty, no crime, no war. You look out the window of 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 the problems haven’t been solved yet. Out there, there are no saints — just people. Angry, scared, determined people who are going to do whatever it takes to survive, whether it meets with Federation approval or not!

However, later, in For the Uniform (1997), Sisko poisoned the atmosphere of  Maquis colony world and prepared to do the same to other Maquis colonies.  A vendetta against one Maquis leader, Michael Eddington, inspired this plan.

Above:  Dr. Julian Bashir Confronts Admiral William Ross in Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges (1999)

A Screen Capture via PowerDVD

Sisko, the greatest of all the Star Trek captains, did not live in paradise, neither was he a saint.  Neither was Admiral William Ross, as in Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges (1999).  In a story reminiscent of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold,  a great Cold War thriller, Admiral Ross plotted with Section 31, the Federation’s black operations agency that officially does not exist, to frame an innocent and  patriotic Romulan senator and thereby improve the political standing of a double agent.  After all, as Ross said in Latin, quoting Cicero,

In time of war the law falls silent.

Later in the series Dr. Julian Bashir, who takes his Hippocratic Oath seriously, learns that Section 31 was responsible for infecting the Founders of the Dominion with a fatal virus–that the Federation was responsible for attempted genocide.  The Federation, as Gene Roddenberry conceived of it in the 1960s, was a noble and idealistic organization.  DS9 did more to expose the dark underbelly of the Federation than did any other filmed incarnation of Star Trek.  DS9 gave us Section 31, for example.  The writers seemed to present Section 31 in such a way as to make plain its moral dubiousness as well as its practical necessity.

Roddenberry’s Federation is an analog for the United States of America, just as the Klingon Empire is an analog for the Soviet Union.  Thus, in Star Trek VI:  The Undiscovered Country (1991) the two powers begin to end their cold war.  Since the Federation stands in for the U.S.A., the moral questions the Federation faces during the Dominion War might remind one of morally questionable policies of the U.S. Government over time, especially in the context of the Cold War and events since September 11, 2001.   Overthrowing democratically elected governments that are merely inconvenient to U.S. business interests and installing military dictatorships that victimize their own citizenry for decades contradicts U.S. ideals, does it not?  Supporting brutal regimes–whether fascist or military dictatorships–because they are not communist should trouble one’s conscience, should it not?  Also, committing and condoning torture makes one morally unfit.  Whom would Jesus torture?  As Niebuhr reminds us down the corridors of time, we must be morally fit, not just victorious.

All of this brings me to a point:  How can we defend ideals that are in peril by violating those ideals?  We cannot, of course.  Yes, we might have to get our hands dirty, so to speak, but, if we get them too dirty, we compromise ourselves morally and render ourselves morally unfit to serve the interests of justice.   How we treat others is about our character, not theirs.  We may not live in paradise, but how close to the standard of sainthood can we live?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 17, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF EDITH BOYLE MACALISTER, ENGLISH NOVELIST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT EMILY DE VIALAR, FOUNDER OF THE SISTERS OF SAINT JOSEPH OF THE APPARITION

THE FEAST OF JANE CROSS BELL SIMPSON, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS TERESA AND MAFALDA OF PORTUGAL, PRINCESSES, QUEENS, AND NUNS; AND SANCHIA OF PORTUGAL, PRINCESS AND NUN

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2017/06/17/the-importance-of-being-morally-fit-for-triumph/

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