Is the Federation akin to the “Ancient” West?

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One of the most amazing things about Star Trek is its commitment to its own ideology, moral integrity and rule of law. For a programme that was originally billed as “Wagon Train” in space, it evolved into a credible series of morality plays that not only provoked thought, but also gave a great example of how to be true to yourself. I believe this was in large part owed to the visionary Gene Roddenberry and the amazing writers of the time. There seemed to be consistent accountability for actions in the early days. Legally driven episodes such as “The Menagerie”, “Wolf in the Fold” and “Court Martial” gave fantastic insight into not only the legal system of the future but also demonstrated how despite the ability to simply “warp” away, the Federation would hold true to its values. This spilled over into later Star Trek. The Next Generation alone was at its most captivating with the legally driven episodes “Measure of a Man” and “A Matter of Perspective”

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An example of this is the creation of what made Star Trek what it is. The “Prime Directive” to this day sets Star Trek aside from other Science Fiction shows of the past 50 years. This ideology and general order number one summed up what the Federation is all about. As Picard himself put it.

Symbiosis (1988)

Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Beverly, the Prime Directive is not just a set of rules. It is a philosophy, and a very correct one. History has proved again and again that whenever mankind interferes with a less developed civilization, no matter how well-intentioned that interference may be, the results are invariably disastrous.

Doctor Beverly Crusher: It’s hard to be philosophical when faced with suffering.

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Given the importance of this directive, it got me wondering if it was actually backed up by law. Having seen these amazing legal presidencies, I’m not sure I’ve ever witnessed a breach of the Prime Directive going to trial. Even going into the JJ universe, there was a huge hearing in the Star Trek ’09 film for Kirk cheating on the Kobayashi Maru test, however in “Star Trek: Into Darkness” a huge breach of the Prime Directive was dealt with behind closed doors with a simple (and temporary) demotion. This got me thinking, is the Federation so vast that it doesn’t have the resources to police itself, akin to the Wild West?

I’m aware that the original series has the worst reputation when it comes to upholding the Prime Directive. Perhaps this is well deserved, however there are some examples of simply appalling behavior in later Trek that seems to not only go unpunished but also unrecognized. For example in the outstanding episode “For the Uniform” Sisko poisons an entire world using a Trilithium Resin based biogenic weapon making it uninhabitable for humans. This extraordinary action motivated almost solely by obsession and revenge was merely laughed off at the end of the episode with the throw away line from Dax “Sometimes I like it when the bad guy wins” (or words to that effect). This action (uncleared by starfleet) was never mentioned again. Understandably DS9 by its very definition took place in deep space, very much the frontier of the Federation, however the rule if law should still hold.

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It seems at times that the rank of Captain gives the individual certain flexibility to not only interpret the rules, but also bend them to suit their own ends. However morally wrong you believe the actions of a civilization to be (Wesley’s near execution in “Justice”), is it right to break the Prime Directive to save the life of an individual, and bring on whatever consequences such action/inaction brings. For such a fundamentally important directive, it would have been fantastic to see the consequences of the decisions these captains had made. I always believed a fantastic way to end voyager would have been for Janeway to stand in front of a board of inquiry and justify the decisions she has made, especially in regards to “Scorpian”.

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