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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Saddam = Shinzon?

Okay, so after my break to ponder the Oscar races, I’m ready to get back to my much more important thread about what fantasy/sci-fi movies tell us about the current world situation.

These days I have been thinking a lot about peace. Watching large masses of people take to the streets across Europe and the rest of the world as a statement against war has given me a profound sense of déjà vu. The last time I took up residence in Europe, I was a student in France and the United States was in the last few years of the Vietnam war and in the middle of the Watergate scandal. Talk about taking heat for your government’s conduct.

I took part in one or two peace protests at university in the States, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it in France. Somehow, I just felt my issues with the Nixon administration were between me and my government. Taking part in protests abroad somehow seemed disloyal. (Besides, I’d been required to sign a paper saying I wouldn’t get politically involved during my year abroad.) Anyway, didn’t the whole Vietnam mess begin with French colonialism anyway? Who were they to be throwing stones? For similar reasons, I didn’t get on the bus for Dublin last weekend to protest the looming war against Iraq. The crowds were large because, who among us isn’t for peace and against war? But predictably, the protests were more successful in giving comfort and encouragement to Saddam Hussein than in affecting American or British foreign policy. So I didn’t join the millions of ordinary people who showed up with sincere motives and moral clarity—or the peace activists from such political parties as Sinn Fein, which coincidentally has its own private army that to date has refused to disarm.

Two weeks ago I looked at the strange parallels that The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers seemed to have for the current world situation. Since then, it has occurred to me that The Fellowship of the Ring, which chronicles events leading up to war, might make a better comparison. In that film, the titular fellowship embarks to deal with a growing threat, involving powerful weapons being acquired by a fellow who can rightly be called the center of an axis of evil. When push comes to shove, however, the fellowship breaks up over disagreements about how best to deal with the enemy. Will the United Nations and/or NATO face the same fate? And, if so, will it be George W. Bush or Jacques Chirac who plays the role of the ill-fated Boromir, whose actions lead to the breakup?

But enough about Middle-earth. As promised more than once, let us look at things through the mindset of Star Trek. Interestingly, the latest Trek film, called Star Trek: Nemesis, can also be seen to parallel the current world situation. Now, this could be considered a stunning coincidence or it could just go to show that any movie can be made to be an allegory for any situation.

In Nemesis, an evil character rises to become dictator of a strategically important corner of the galaxy. Not content to merely lord over his own empire, ruling through murder, fear and brutality, he wants to expand his dominion and has plans to do this with devastating weapons. In a nice touch for our allegorical purposes, the evil Shinzon is a literal clone of the leader of the good guys, Capt. Picard—not completely unlike the way past U.S. policies put Saddam Hussein in the position he is now.

So, how does the crew of the Enterprise deal with this clear and present danger? In typical Star Trek fashion. To understand this, it helps to review the philosophy behind the Star Trek universe. From the beginning of the Star Trek saga, it was established that earth had evolved into a virtual utopia. We know this because Capt. Kirk could kiss Lt. Uhuru and nobody cared. In other words, the peoples of earth were no longer fighting among themselves. Now, this is a nice, warm vision, but it makes for boring stories, since it doesn’t provide many opportunities for plots containing dramatic conflict. So the conflicts were generally with people from other planets who, in classic science fiction tradition, were really stand-ins for the cast of characters in our own world. So, instead of Americans versus Soviets, we had the Federation versus the Klingons. But a key concept in creator Gene Roddenberry’s vision was to show how the civilized behavior that earth people had universally adopted could succeed against less civilized planets. Hence, the Federation had a strict policy (the legendary Prime Directive) of not interfering in the affairs of less advanced planets—no matter what was going on.

Clearly, the Prime Directive could have well been drafted by any number of western European governments. Now, it is worth noting that in actual Star Trek TV series and movies, I can’t recall a single instance where the Prime Directive was invoked when it wasn’t subsequently ignored and violated. So, on one level the various series seemed to be advocating a non-interference policy, but on another level they seemed to be arguing that such a policy was actually impossible to follow.

Now, if Star Trek in general seems to espouse a classic European-style liberal attitude, Nemesis takes it a step farther. [This is your official spoiler warning.] At one point in the struggle between the Enterprise and Shinzon, it is learned that due to the accelerated aging introduced into his cloning process, Shinzon has very little time left before he will die. Now, if I were a member of the Enterprise crew, my immediate reaction to this news would be, “Thank God. Now we just have the wait this guy out and then go in and bury him.” But being more advanced and civilized than myself, the actual crewmembers all have a different reaction. They are upset that Shinzon is dying and start thinking of ways to save him! First, all they have to do is find a way to capture him before he can destroy them and the entire planet earth. Okay.

But once again, what Star Trek espouses and what it portrays are opposite things. The crew not only fails to save Shinzon, but he ends up getting killed violently in hand-to-hand combat with Capt. Picard. Whatever high-minded philosophy the writers might have had, they knew that audiences weren’t going to line up and pay money to see an evil villain captured and rehabilitated. (In this case, they apparently weren’t all that eager to see him dispatched either.)

So, does this bit of storytelling do anything to clarify the current situation with Iraq? I’ll leave that to you. But if you really want to understand things in the world, there is another science fiction series you need to examine, and I’ll try to do that next time. And, if you know anything about me at all, you already know which one I’m talking about.

-S.L., 20 February 2003

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