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Learning to Live with PTSD and Moral Injury through the Lens of Star Trek

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“So – my brother is a human being after all. This is going to be with you a long time, Jean-Luc. A long time. You have to learn to live with it. You have a simple choice now: live with it below the sea with Louis – or above the clouds with the Enterprise.” Robert Picard to Jean Luc Picard 

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I am a big fan of the various Star Trek television series for many reasons. Perhaps the biggest reason is how I see the series speak to real issues, including things like PTSD and Moral Injury. That is a wonderful thing about the genre of science fiction, good writers can make a fictionalized future relatable to those that read or watch their creation.  I think this especially valuable because the presentations are realistic, but at the same time because they are science fiction are less threatening.

In Star Trek the Next Generation and Star Trek Deep Space Nine there are a number of episodes that deal with the effects of PTSD, moral injury and combat stress injury.  They include some that deal with Captain Jean Luc Picard, Chief Miles O’Brien, Captain Benjamin Sisko and Ensign Nog. The ones dealing with Picard and Sisko deal with senior leaders, which makes them interesting to me.

The one about O’Brien deals with moral injury in a senior enlisted leader, and the episode about Ensign Nog, the effect of physical and emotional trauma on an idealistic junior officer. Today I am focusing on the senior leader aspect, looking at the experience of Picard after his abduction by the Borg and that of Chief O’Brien when he meets former Cardassian enemies that he fought in a desperate battle at an isolated outpost.

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In the episode called The Wounded Chief O’Brien expressed what so many of us know about war, and voices what PTSD and Moral Injury does to us when he says to a Cardassian officer: “It’s not you I hate, Cardassian. I hate what I became, because of you.” It is a sentiment that I have encountered in other veterans, including some that I knew who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Owyj_5TuHQw 

Senior leaders afflicted with PTSD are among those least likely to seek help for it, even when the effects on them are evident to most.  It is our culture, it is our personality, it is how we do life. Most of us are overachievers who for most of our lives been able to compartmentalize even the worst experiences in order to move ahead in our career and vocation as military leaders.

When we, that is senior leaders experience things that are troubling we seldom have the luxury of dwelling on them. We frequently have to keep things running, take care of our people and move along. So because we are not able to deal with these experiences and the emotions that they engender, we box them up, put them on a shelf and move on. This is important because the mission has to be fulfilled, even if there is a terrible price to be paid later.

Picard tells counselor Troi before going on leave: “Your help has been invaluable during my recovery, but… look, I’m, uh… I’m better! The injuries are healing.” Of course he is not better, he is simply in denial.

Unfortunately the traumatic experiences that we package and put into storage are often quite toxic. I like to use the term radioactive, it just sounds more sinister. They are corrosive, and like radioactive or other toxic waste quite often breach the containment vessels that we construct in our minds to store them.

Likewise since senior leaders have often spent years, or even decades dealing with trauma the effects are cumulative, it may not be a single incident of trauma, but multiple instances or trauma, and experiences that leave scars on our soul, things that cause us to wonder, and doubt the things that we believe in the most.

I have seen this happen all too often. I know, have known or am personally aware of numerous cases where senior leaders afflicted with PTSD, TBI or Moral Injury continue on, even get promoted to high command and then crash and burn. Sometimes it means the end of their upward mobility, for others the end of their career and for some a condition that eventually destroys them. Unfortunately, most don’t get help because of the stigma associated with it and the fear of what it will do to their career aspirations.

The truth of the matter is that these traumatic injuries remain with us. If we deny them, or try to contain them without dealing with them they are like highly toxic waste that eventually escapes containment. When they do breach containment they create devastation in our lives, careers and of the lives that we care about, our families, and those that we lead.

That help begins with us, we have to admit that we need help and seek it out. We also need colleagues, seniors and subordinates to be honest with us.  But even while getting help we have to decide to go on with life, that is a choice that we must make.

We have to know that even as we get help and even get some relief from the symptoms of PTSD, TBI, Combat Stress Injury or Moral Injury that the memories will remain. Feelings and images of trauma that we think we have gotten through are still lodged deep in our psyche, and sometimes it doesn’t take much for them to return, bigger than life. The memories can be triggered by sights or images, smells, music, or something someone says or does. They can be relived when we experience a new trauma that reminds of us of the past.  That is why trauma experienced even decades before can still be as vivid to soldiers as the day that they were first experienced.

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Counselor Deanna Troi told Picard after his encounter with the Borg: “Captain, you do need time. You cannot achieve complete recovery so quickly. And it’s perfectly normal, after what you’ve been through, to spend a great deal of time trying to find yourself again.”

I write in the hopes that all of us who have seen or experienced things in war are able to get the help that we need. But in the words of Robert Picard to his heroic yet traumatized brother; This is going to be with you a long time, Jean-Luc. A long time. You have to learn to live with it. You have a simple choice now: live with it below the sea with Louis – or above the clouds with the Enterprise.” 

Yes, we do have to learn to live with it, but we can. Maybe not easily, but we can, and in doing so still do great things.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The More Things Change and What You Leave Behind…

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“It’s like I said. The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Quark (the final line of Star Trek Deep Space Nine)

Today has been one of those weird, somewhat challenging, a bit difficult on an emotional level and at the same time rewarding days. It was a day that involved dealing with people that I care for, that work for me that within a bit over a month I will be leaving. Men and women that have impacted my life and from what I understand will miss me, as one said “my quirkiness and all.”

This happened to be the second day of the sequester which will impact me and my staff and will ensure that my last month in my current billet will be challenging and meaningful. What I hope is that the things that I am able to do in the next month will not only survive me but help provide the resources, structure and environment to allow my successor to take things to the next level in providing spiritual care for the diverse population of Sailors, Marines, their families, veterans, retirees and their families, as well as our civilian employees.

You see ultimately, the show here will go on without me and the best that I can do besides caring for those in my charing in the here and now is to help ensure that I leave something behind that others can build on. That too is something that you learn in this military life, that what you do is not ultimately about you.  It is about service to the nation and to the people that you have the privilege to serve alongside no matter what the duty station.

When one lives their life in the military these transitions happen all too often. In a sense our lives in the military are very transitory, maybe more so than many would be comfortable with. For relatively short periods of our lives, maybe months, or a few years or in the case of deployments in combat zones sometimes days, hours or even minutes. But in those transitory times our lives can be bound together in ways unimagined by most people that do not share this military life or experience.

My regular readers know that I grew up in this environment as a child and that as an adult I have always felt the strange call to serve. What I find amazing is that after nearly 32 years of service between the Army and the Navy, active, reserve and National Guard around the world in peace and war is that I am still serving and will be, Lord willing for a number of years more and truthfully God only knows when this rather lengthly chapter of my life ends and another begins.

In light of the events of the past few days, the situations that I am dealing with at work, what I am trying to wrap up even as next month promises to be busy I found it fascinating that I was completing the viewing of the final episode of Star Trek Deep Space Nine called What You Leave Behind. I found the title of the episode to be serendipitous with my recent experiences and feelings about my impending transfer.

Despite how much I have moved around in life I find that I do not do “goodbyes” well. I like to imagine that I will see people again and I do, as many of the people that I have gone to school with, served with in the military or in the ministry together know I am one that treasures relationships. Heck, I look on my Facebook page there are people from almost every era of my life, many who I have served alongside dating to the very beginning of my military career. There are many others that I would dearly love to find and meet again.

In one of the final scenes of the episode Dr Bashir and the Cardassian tailor and former spy Garak part ways after a devastated Cardassia is liberated from the Dominion. Bashir as is typical of many of us is attempting to off some consolation to his friend who is grieving what has happened to his planet.

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BASHIR: You and I both know that the Cardassians are a strong people. They’ll survive. Cardassia will survive. 

GARAK: Please, Doctor. Spare me your insufferable Federation optimism. Of course it will survive, but as not the Cardassia I knew. We had a rich and ancient culture. Our literature, music, art were second to none. And now, so much of it is lost. So many of our best people, our most gifted minds.
BASHIR: I’m sorry, Garak. I didn’t mean
GARAK: Oh, it’s quite all right, Doctor. You’ve been such a good friend. I’m going to miss our lunches together.
BASHIR: I’m sure we’ll see each other again.
GARAK: I’d like to think so, but one can never say. We live in uncertain times.

As I approach my last month before my transfer I will certainly be experiencing many feelings that tend to bring a certain amount of sentimental melancholy. I will miss the people I have come to know here even as I rejoice in being able to return home and live with my wife Judy again full time.

There are times that I feel like Garak and Bashir. I like to believe, I like to be optimistic like Bashir, but there is a certain amount of sometimes cynical realism that pervades my thoughts, like Garak. I can understand both men. But as much as I understand them I also understand the military and like Quark have to admit “that the more things change the more they stay the same.”

But regardless of that, I can say about those that I have the the honor of working with, like Captain Sisko in that last episode of Deep Space Nine: “This may be the last time we’re all together, but no matter what the future holds, no matter how far we travel, a part of us, a very important part, will always remain here…”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Things that We Do: Killer Angels and Hew-Mons : The Part of Humanity we Don’t Like to Talk About

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“Let me tell you something about Hew-mons, Nephew. They’re a wonderful, friendly people, as long as their bellies are full and their holosuites are working. But take away their creature comforts, deprive them of food, sleep, sonic showers, put their lives in jeopardy over an extended period of time and those same friendly, intelligent, wonderful people… will become as nasty and as violent as the most bloodthirsty Klingon. You don’t believe me? Look at those faces. Look in their eyes.” Quark to Nog Deep Space Nine- The Siege of AR-558 

We human beings, regardless of our race, religion or political ideology are a complex lot.

On one hand we can exhibit the utmost kindness, compassion, care and charity and on the other hand we can bless, endorse, encourage. condone and execute the most cruel,  hateful, violent and “inhuman” acts against our fellow human beings. We are quite a contradictory lot if you ask me.

It really is a most interesting and at times contradictory phenomena when you look at it. Of course, I like to believe, as to most of us I am quite sure like to think that we have either been created by God or evolved into a species that rises above the baser parts of life, the things that we like to say were done in years past but are no longer a part of who we are as human beings.

The same can be said for those of us that consider ourselves to be Christians. We look back on nearly 2000 years of Christendom and well, it is not a pretty sight. But like every other generation of Christians we like to think that we are better, perhaps more spiritual, better educated, better interpreters of the Bible or even perhaps better in tune with the Holy Spirit of God than were those before us.

Of course those of us that think that we are so advanced that we have evolved past violence, cruelty, hatred and avarice, be we Christians or not tend to gloss over the fact that we are human, or as Quark calls us “Hew-mons.” As such we are capable of the most extreme acts of kindness, love and benevolence as well as the utmost in cruelty.

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Of course when I say “we” I do include “me” because I am like about everyone else, I have my good days and bad and as much as I would like to think that I am better than my baser instincts something happens and I find that I am not. That much is evident any time I get out into traffic or go to Wal-Mart. It is a good thing that I do not display any Christian symbols on either of my cars, I don’t want God getting blamed for my lack of Christian behavior, and frankly I wish more Christians would do the same. I have lost count of the number of vehicles adorned with Christian symbols, bumper stickers and personalized plates that have ignored all the basic courtesies, rules of the road and polite behavior and who are frankly rude assholes that probably shouldn’t be allowed to drive that make me wish that they would keep their faith in Jesus to themselves, it makes Jesus look bad. But I digress… but just a moment, why do so many of these people drive mini-vans? At least I seem to end up behind them or get cut off by them. Maybe the mini-van is an invention of the Devil? You won’t get me behind the wheel of one.

No wonder that Paul the Apostle laments in the 7th Chapter of the Epistle to the Romans “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”  Martin Luther, the great leader of the Reformation commented on this passage “This tension lasts in us as long as we live; though in one person it is greater, in another less, according as the spirit or the flesh, and he fights with himself until he becomes wholly spiritual.” It is one of the most honest commentaries on scripture even written no wonder we don’t like it.

I don’t know about you but this does make me think, take inventory of my own strengths, weaknesses, virtues and vices. The fact is that in any given situation Quark’s description of Hew-mons in general is very applicable to me.

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In Michael Shaara’s novel The Killer Angels and the film Gettysburg there is a remarkable exchange between Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, Colonel of he 20th Maine and Professor of Natural and Revealed Religions at Bowdin College and Sergeant Buster Kilrain, an exile from Ireland fighting for the Union.

Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain: [quoting Hamlet] “What a piece of work is man, in form and movement how express and admirable. In action how like an angel.”

Sergeant ‘Buster’ Kilrain: “Well, if he’s an angel, all right then. But he damn well must be a killer angel.” 

In light of all that we see every day as human beings we must find it in our hearts to agree with Kilrain. We are such a contradictory species. As Spock would say “fascinating.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges” Between Civil Liberties and National Security: Exploring the National Security State Through Star Trek Deep Space Nine

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“A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps both.” James Madison

I am amazed when I read the reports about the activities of the National Security Agency and the reactions of of citizens to them. I know that I feel a sense of apprehension about those activities. The national security state and the seeming all pervasive security and surveillance apparatus which demolishes any sense of privacy, especially the protections enunciated in the Fourth Amendment and to some extent the First Amendment.

I also feel, or rather understand from history and empirical evidence that many others, many from unfriendly countries do not share those apprehensions. It makes for an ethical, legal and even constitutional conundrum that I am not sure if anyone of us is quite comfortable with and perhaps maybe we shouldn’t be.

It is very easy on one hand in light of history, our Constitution and democratic process to condemn the NSA, the FISA courts and other lawfully constituted agencies and those that drafted the laws over the decades that allow the activities which they now conduct.

Likewise it is equally easy in light of history, current events and national security to jump to the other side of the fence and and not only defend the activities of the NSA and demonize those that expose their activities.

I find looking at such issues in light of Star Trek sometimes more interesting and provocative than simply doing the whole moralizing pundit thing. The fact that the particular episode of this Star Trek Deep Space Nine series was aired well before the events of 9-11-2001 and the subsequent Global War on Terror make it more interesting. The episode deals with an agency in Starfleet that is secretive, but legal operating in the gray areas between the ideals of the Federation and the threats that it faces. Even when the Federation is a peace, Section 31, as it is called is engaged in activities against historic or potential enemies.

At the beginning of the Deep Space Nine Episode Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges the head of Section 31, a man only known as Sloan comes back to Doctor Bashir to involve him in an operation, spying on the Romulans who are working with the Federation against the Dominion.

BASHIR: You want me to spy on an ally.
SLOAN: To evaluate an ally. And a temporary ally at that. I say that because when the war is over, the following will happen in short order. The Dominion will be forced back to the Gamma Quadrant, the Cardassian Empire will be occupied, the Klingon Empire will spend the next ten years recovering from the war and won’t pose a serious threat to anyone. That leaves two powers to vie for control of the quadrant, the Federation and the Romulans.
BASHIR: This war isn’t over and you’re already planning for the next.
SLOAN: Well put. I hope your report is equally succinct.
BASHIR: How many times do I have to tell you, Sloan? I don’t work for you.
SLOAN: You will. It’s in your nature. You are a man who loves secrets. Medical, personal, fictional. I am a man of secrets. You want to know what I know, and the only way to do that is to accept the assignment.

The fact is that the situation we face today and the arguments of both sides should make us uncomfortable. The fact is that like it or not or not the incredibly rapid technical and communication advances of the past couple of decades have primed us for our present time. Likewise they have also enabled a generation to grow up in a virtual world in many ways detached from the moral and ethical balances of individual rights and liberties as well responsibility to community. All the wonderful gadgets that we employ in everyday life make it easy for enemies and “friends” to do things that were unimaginable to people other than science fiction writers even twenty to thirty years ago. Likewise they were must certainly beyond the most wild imaginations of any of the founders of this country or drafters of the Constitution. The reality is, the things that make are lives so easy are also the things that are potential instruments of our destruction.

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That being said throughout history, even our own there have been operatives within the government in charge of secrets, and even spies. In the Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges episode we see an operation that is full of duplicity and moral ambiguity all committed in the name of security. It involves the mysterious Section 31 and Starfleet Admiral Ross who attempt to use Doctor Bashir to double cross a Romulan Senator who had been working with the Federation to keep the secret of the head of the Romulan secret police who is a Federation agent. When Doctor Bashir figures out the plot he confronts the Admiral. Part of their exchange is very enlightening because it practically mirrors how many on both the civil liberties and the national security side of the current controversy feel about the War on Terror.

BASHIR: You don’t see anything wrong with what happened, do you.
ROSS: I don’t like it. But I’ve spent the last year and a half of my life ordering young men and young women to die. I like that even less.
BASHIR: That’s a glib answer and a cheap way to avoid the fact that you’ve trampled on the very thing that those men and women are out there dying to protect! Does that not mean anything to you?
ROSS: Inter arma enim silent leges.
BASHIR: In time of war, the law falls silent. Cicero. So is that what we have become? A twenty fourth century Rome driven by nothing more than the certainty that Caesar can do no wrong!
ROSS: This conversation never happened.

In light of the controversy of today, that of the NSA, FISA and government secrecy and gathering information on its own citizens we face a growing tide of reporters and others seeking to reveal those secrets. Back in 1989 ethicist Sissela Bok wrote something very important in her book Secrets: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life:

“…as government secrecy expands, more public officials become privy to classified information and are faced with the choice of whether or not to leak … growing secrecy likewise causes reporters to press harder from the outside to uncover what is hidden. And then in a vicious circle, the increased revelations give government leaders further reasons to press for still more secrecy.”

As we wade through this controversy we will see people do exactly this and the these exact arguments are being made by the people and officials directly involved as well as former elected and appointed officials as well as the press. The interesting thing to me is that very few of the people or agencies, past and present, Republican and Democrat involved really have clean hands. It is amazing to see former champions of civil liberties defend the NSA actions and those that empowered the NSA in the Patriot Act now condemn it. I find it fascinating.

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At the end of the Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges episode the mysterious Sloan pops back in on Doctor Bashir who is in his quarters, asleep and depressed by what he experienced during the operation on Romulus and with Admiral Ross.

SLOAN: Good evening.
BASHIR: Are you expecting applause? Have you come to take a bow?
SLOAN: I just wanted to say thank you.
BASHIR: For what? Allowing you to manipulate me so completely?
SLOAN: For being a decent human being. That’s why we selected you in the first place, Doctor. We needed somebody who wanted to play the game, but who would only go so far. When the time came, you stood your ground. You did the right thing. You reached out to an enemy, you told her the truth, you tried to stop a murder. The Federation needs men like you, Doctor. Men of conscience, men of principle, men who can sleep at night. You’re also the reason Section Thirty one exists. Someone has to protect men like you from a universe that doesn’t share your sense of right and wrong.
BASHIR: Should I feel sorry for you? Should I be weeping over the burden you’re forced to carry in order to protect the rest of us?
SLOAN: It is an honor to know you, Doctor. Goodnight.

We live in this kind of world and maybe it is good sometimes to find other ways to look at it. I really don’t have the answers. I am a civil libertarian who places a high value on the openness of a government to its people. I also know that there are those that have no regard for such openness or that to quote Sloan don’t “share your sense of right and wrong.”

Maybe that is not a good answer. I really don’t know. All I know is that as uncomfortable as this all is that those on both sides of the issue have valid points and concerns and they come back to the balance that a society needs to have between individual rights and responsibility to the community, openness and secrecy, civil liberties and national security. But that being said it is a debate that needs to happen, even if it makes us uncomfortable. I for one think that it is better that we be uncomfortable when looking at such an important debate than to be prisoners of our certitude.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The NSA Leaks, Star Trek the Next Generation and the War on Terror: Revisiting the Drumhead

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“But she, or someone like her, will always be with us, waiting for the right climate in which to flourish, spreading fear in the name of righteousness. Vigilance, Mister Worf – that is the price we have to continually pay.” Captain Lean Luc Picard to LT Worf in “The Drumhead” 

Back in 1991 when I was still in seminary I spent every Saturday evening glued to my television set to watch Star Trek the Next Generation.  Even today I enjoy watching the human drama that Gene Roddenberry and his cohorts created on the small screen.  Of all the Star Trek series my favorites are TNG and Deep Space Nine. Those series often touched on very pertinent social, political, medical, and technological and dare I say national security issues. In fact I have used some Deep Space Nine episodes in my previous posts about the NSA leak situation and the War on Terrorism.

One of the most chilling episodes regarding national security and potential terrorism or sabotage is called “The Drumhead.” In light of the current charges and counter charges around the NSA leaks, Edward Snowden, the Boston Marathon bombing and the overt politicization of the terrorist attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi Libya it is an episode that remains especially pertinent.

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The episode is about an investigation that takes place on the Enterprise following an explosion in its engineering spaces.  Suspicion centers on a Klingon exchange officer but the investigator, the retired Starfleet Judge Advocate General a woman named Nora Satie and her Betazed assistant soon casts a wide net which eventually brings charges against a crew member and eventually Captain Picard.

At first Admiral Satie’s investigation seems reasonable. After all the Federation was in danger and there was a possibility that Flagship of Starfleet was sabotaged and there was the possibility that the Klingons or others might be involved.  Thus as she began her investigation she was welcomed by the Captain as well as the Security Chief, Lieutenant Worf, the only Klingon serving as a Starfleet officer.  Satie investigation which is assisted by Enterprise officers find out how the Klingon scientist smuggled classified information off the Enterprise.

Lieutenant Commander LeForge determines in his investigation that the explosion thought to be “sabotage” was caused by a flaw in a recently replaced dilithium chamber.  Although convinced that the Klingon is not the saboteur Satie is convinced that another saboteur is aboard the Enterprise.  Satie and her assistant uncover a piece of information that a crewman lied about his family background on his enlistment contract. They then use it to attempt to connect the crewman to to the Klingon spy by supplying false information about the explosion in an attempt to get the crewman to admit guilt.

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As the investigation widens Picard discusses it with Lieutenant Worf. I find this dialogue to be quite relevant to today in the twelfth year of the War on Terror and the passage of the Patriot Act.

Lieutenant Worf: “Sir, the Federation does have enemies. We must seek them out.”
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: “Oh, yes. That’s how it starts. But the road from legitimate suspicion to rampant paranoia is very much shorter than we think. Something is wrong here, Mister Worf. I don’t like what we have become.” 

When Picard objects to the grilling of the crewman, Admiral Satie and her chief assistant begin an investigation of Picard.  He confronts the admiral saying:  “Admiral! What you’re doing here is unethical; it’s immoral. I’ll fight it.” And the Admiral replies “Do what you must, Captain. And so will I.”

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This brings about the final confrontation where Admiral Satie calls a Senior Admiral from Starfleet to watch her interrogate Picard who she has labeled a traitor. The investigation ends with her interrogating him and in the process revealing that she has become so consumed with “defending liberty” that she is willing to trample the rights of anyone that she suspects of disloyalty to the Federation.  The questioning of Picard by the Admiral is fascinating and thought provoking because there are people that think and act just like the Admiral, believing like her that they are defending the United States or in her case the Federation.

Admiral Satie: Tell me, Captain, have you completely recovered from your experience with the Borg?

Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Yes, I have completely recovered.

Admiral Satie: It must have been awful for you… actually becoming one of them. Being forced to use your vast knowledge of Starfleet operations to aid the Borg. Just how many of our ships were lost? Thirty-nine? And a loss of life, I believe, measured at nearly 11,000. One wonders how you can sleep at night, having caused so much destruction. I question your actions, Captain; I question your choices, I question your loyalty! 

Capt. Picard: You know there are some words I’ve known since I was a schoolboy: “With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably.” Those words were uttered by Judge Aaron Satie, as wisdom and warning. The first time any man’s freedom is trodden on, we’re all damaged. I fear that today…

Admiral Satie: [stands up in anger and interrupts Picard] How dare you! You who consort with Romulans, invoke my father’s name to support your traitorous arguments! It is an offense to everything I hold dear! And to hear those words used to subvert the United Federation of Planets. My father was a great man! His name stands for integrity and principle. You dirty his name when you speak it! He loved the Federation. But you, Captain, corrupt it. You undermine our very way of life. I will expose you for what you are. I’ve brought down bigger men than you, Picard! [Admiral Henry gets up and leaves the room]

Admiral Henry ends the investigation then and there and sends Admiral Satie home.  Of course this is fiction but the mindset and attitude of Admiral Satie seems to have been embraced by some in our government and security agencies, including the TSA and the NSA. But the talk is out there, former Senator and Secretary of Defense William J. Cohen said: “Terrorism is escalating to the point that Americans soon may have to choose between civil liberties and more intrusive means of protection.” Well the choice has been made and I don’t think that there is any going back despite the posturing of politicians on both sides of the political divide. The fact is that polls show that the majority of Americans are willing to sacrifice freedoms for security.

Frederick Douglass once said:Find out just what the people will submit to and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” 

I contend that we must fight this war but in the process not lose who we are as a people and surrender the ideals, principles and freedoms that made us the envy of people everywhere.  While Edward Snowden may have acted illegally and for all we know may now be attempting to work some kind of deal with the Communist Chinese to keep himself out of the United States justice system. Since what he revealed to Glenn Greenwald actually is a matter that needs serious debate by Congress, the administration and the body politic I think it would be better for him and the country if he came back and stood trial rather than hiding out in a country that repeatedly attacks us with cyber warfare. I think that Snowden damages his credibility by fleeing and in the process will derail the debate that is needed on how we balance legitimate security concerns without destroying our political system and hard won freedoms in the process.

The balance has to be found in this effort; right now the pendulum is so far to the security side that it seems freedom is no longer even a concern at least for the vast majority of the population and our political leadership. The current situation has raised the issue but unless we undertake a real debate in the issue it is very likely that it will fade away and the national security state that we have become will grow even stronger with the inevitable loss of even more civil liberties.

One only has to look at what politicians on both sides of the political chasm have said about “protecting the homeland” to realize that this is only the beginning and that if we do not have a spirited public debate that we risk our Constitutional liberties under the 4th Amendment as well as potentially the 1st Amendment.

The latter is a real possibility not in the matter of Snowden, but Greenwald and other reporters who did their job reporting the story. Republican Representative Peter King has urged that charges be brought against the reporters. Prosecuting Snowden is one thing, should we be able to get him back because he did break the law, even if one agrees with his reasoning for doing so. However prosecuting reporters for doing their job is something that would be chilling. I cannot see that happening, but the fact that a prominent legislator on important committees dealing with national security would suggest it shows how close we are to surrendering even more freedom in the name of security.

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The last lines of “The Drumhead” are interesting. Lieutenant Worf comes to Picard to let him know that Admiral Satie and Admiral Henry have left the Enterprise. Worf is apologetic about his rather overzealous role in the investigation and realizing the danger says: “after yesterday, people will not be so ready to trust her.” To which Picard replies Maybe. But she, or someone like her, will always be with us, waiting for the right climate in which to flourish, spreading fear in the name of righteousness. Vigilance, Mister Worf – that is the price we have to continually pay.” 

Eternal vigilance in the face of both terrors from abroad and self imposed tyranny designed to protect us from the terrorists. Yes James Madison, God bless him was absolutely right when he said The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home.” However I fear that those that warn of such dangers will themselves be labeled the enemy.

Henry Steele Commager said Men in authority will always think that criticism of their policies is dangerous. They will always equate their policies with patriotism, and find criticism subversive.” This, my friends is the reality that we live in and the danger that we face.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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When Disaster is Not an Option: The NSA Leaks, Security and Freedom the Perspective of those in Command

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JARESH-INYO: I never sought this job. I was content to simply represent my people on the Federation Council. When they asked me to submit my name for election, I almost said no. Today I wish I had.
LEYTON: We appreciate your feelings, Mister President, but we don’t have time for regrets. You accepted the job and now it’s yours.
ODO: Mister President, there are people all over this planet right now huddled in the dark, terrified about what might happen next. They’re waiting for a sign, something to reassure them that everything will be all right. But they won’t wait long. Fear is a powerful and dangerous thing. And if you don’t act, if you don’t show them that they’re not alone, then fear will surely take over.
SISKO: Give us the authority we need, Mister President, and we will take care of the rest.
(There’s a long pause, then Jaresh-Inyo taps his PADD – 4567 security codes.)
JARESH-INYO: Earth is in your hands, gentlemen. Do what needs to be done.
LEYTON: Thank you, sir. You’ve made the right decision.
JARESH-INYO: I hope you’re right, for all our sakes. (From Star Trek Deep Space Nine, Season 4 Episode 10 “Homefront”) 

After the attacks of 9-11-2001 things changed in the United States. The question of security became paramount in the minds of many Americans who, quite a few with great misgivings approved of the passage of the Patriot Act and other laws to strengthen law enforcement, intelligence and other defensive measures, especially electronic surveillance and data collection done at the Top Secret level.

The fact is that President George W Bush, regardless of what one thinks of his subsequent actions regarding the invasion of Iraq did what any President of any party affiliation would have done in the wake of those attacks. He initiated legislation that would allow security agencies much wider latitude in collecting data and investigating any possible threats to national security. Now 10 years later, without a comparable attack many people question those decisions. President Obama, like him or loathe him has elected to for the most part continue, extend and even expand the Bush policies. If he wasn’t a Democrat he would be lauded by most of Bush’s supporters.

The real truth of the matter is that the President of the United States holds a unique position and amount of responsibility that no one who has not held that office can truly fathom. If the President, no matter who he or she is, or what party they represent has not done everything the laws allow to prevent major terrorist attacks in the post 9-11-2001 era and just one major attack is successful, he or she will be blamed forever. No one wants that, even men like President Obama who before their election were staunch civil libertarians. I can only imagine the look on his face, or that of George W Bush when they received their first National Security Briefing after taking office and realized that from now on whatever happened, for good or for bad would be blamed on them or credited to them despite the fact that almost everything that they had to decide would be formed and shaped by intelligence and national security experts as well as political advisors with more National Security and Foreign Affairs experience.

Since both of them, and President Clinton before them had minimal exposure or experience in such matters I can only imagine that it was overwhelming. I can only compare what it was like to become an Army Company Commander in Cold War Germany in 1985 and realizing that every one of the 110 men and women assigned to that unit and everything it accomplished or failed to accomplished would fall on my shoulders. I have provided counsel and support as a Chaplain to men and women in positions of greater authority than I held and I honestly cannot comprehend what the responsibility for a nation at war is like.

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In the Star Trek Next Deep Space Nine episode Homefront, the Federation President President Jaresh-Inyo tells his Starfleet advisors when giving them practically unlimited powers to defend Earth: “It took centuries for Earth to evolve into the peaceful haven it is today. I would hate to be remembered as the Federation president who destroyed Paradise.”

As I mentioned in my other articles about the NSA leaks there are many gray areas in the practical measures and laws instituted after 9-11-2001 and in the manner that both the Bush and Obama administrations have conducted the War on Terror. The NSA leaks and the actions of Edward Snowden point us to policy conversations and debates that we need to have regarding how we as a society balance our security with freedom. But as we do that we have to remember that in our system of government and our current laws drafted after 9-11-2001 that we have given the President powers that previous Presidents seldom had, or desired. Whether the President was Bush or is Obama or someone else in the future the fact is that they have the job and we don’t.

In the episode Admiral Leyton the Starfleet Commander voices his doubts about the Federation President, sentiments that some have pretty much applied to President Obama.

BENTEEN: The bottom line is a changeling infiltrated the grounds of Starfleet Headquarters, imitated the Admiral, and got away scot-free. Our security measures aren’t working.
SISKO: We’re doing everything the President will let us do.
BENTEEN: Maybe that’s not enough.
ODO: We could talk to the President again.
LEYTON: I’m afraid that would be a waste of time. Jaresh-Inyo would be a fine president in peacetime, but we have a war on our hands. He doesn’t seem to understand that. All he cares about is not upsetting people. But humans are tougher than he thinks. We’ve created a paradise here and we’re willing to fight to protect it.
SISKO: And you think the President isn’t willing to fight?
LEYTON: I think the President is a long way from home. This isn’t his world. We can’t expect him to care about it the way we do.

These are perilous times and serious issues. Facebook Memes, snarky tweets and bellicose blog posts that paint everything in easy black and white terms are seldom right and the fact is that the questions we fact now is complex and multifaceted. If we are to face them we have to do so in a serious manner acknowledging that the world that we live is not the same as it was even 20 years ago.

Until tomorrow or Friday,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Security and Freedom the Precarious Balance: Looking at the NSA Leaks and Terrorist Threats in Light of Star Trek Deep Space Nine

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Odo: Am I the only one who’s worried that there are still Changelings here on Earth?

Joseph Sisko: Worried? I’m scared to death. But I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let them change the way I live my life.

Captain Sisko: If the Changelings want to destroy what we’ve built here, they’re going to have to do it themselves. We will not do it for them.

The current leaks of FISA documents regarding NSA data phone and internet collection programs including the PRISM program by ex Booz Allen Hamilton employee Edward Snowden have provoked a long needed debate. That debate is less about Snowden then it is about the broader issues that have been shunted to the side in the wake of the 9-11-2001 attacks and the passage of the Patriot Act.

Of course much of the debate right now is about Snowden himself, his actions, his loyalties, his motives and institutional questions regarding how he was given such broad access to Top Secret documents not directly related to his job. As important as the later is, the more critical issue is how we as a republic governed in a democratic manner balance legitimate security needs and individual liberty.

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I wrestle with these issues all the time as a Priest, historian, theologian, ethicist and Naval Officer. I am a civil libertarian who also happens to know a thing or two about National Security policy. The fact is that as much some pundits and politicians are ready to jump off the edge entirely on one side of the divide or the other, their previous political differences notwithstanding we see men and women lining up to praise or condemn Edward Snowden with little regard to the deeper issues involved.

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The real question is how we balance the legitimate need for security with freedom and regard for Constitutional liberties. The fact is there are terrorists in our midst. The Tsaraev brothers who carried out the Boston Marathon bombing are a case in point. There are others who I am sure are interested in or capable of much more devastating attacks. Somehow we have to attempt to protect our people and way of life without destroying the Constitution and our liberties in the process.

In the Star Trek Deep Space Nine Episodes Homefront and Paradise Lost four Changelings from the Dominion reach Earth and in a series of relatively minor terrorist attacks create a chaotic situation. In response Starfleet officers take drastic action to convince the Federation President and Council to declare what amounts to Martial Law and the suspension of civil liberties on Earth.

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One of the Changelings takes the form of Chief O’Brien and contacts Captain Sisko, who due to his experience in the Dominion War and with Shape Shifters was recalled to Earth to assist Starfleet Command. The Changeling engages Sisko in a conversation near Starfleet Headquarters.

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.

The thing it it doesn’t take many terrorists to disrupt a society but at the same time the society’s response can dictate how deep the impact of the terrorists are on it. Terrorists create suspicion and tend to make people distrust others, in fact anyone that might be different than them. The response to terrorist attacks or threats is frequently disproportionately felt by regular citizens, anyone who has flown on a commercial airline in the United States since 9-11, the passage of the Patriot Act and formation of the TSA can testify.

While security at airports may be an inconvenience the fact is that the Patriot Act also gives Law Enforcement, Intelligence and Military agencies tremendous powers to collect human and electronic data on almost any citizen. Likewise the act increased the powers of these agencies under existing counter-intelligence laws. Some say that they have actually gutted the protections 4th Amendment and that may actually be a valid point.

The conversation between Sisko and the Changeling ends when the O’Brien Changeling comments “We do not fear you the way you fear us. In the end, it’s your fear that will destroy you.”

I think that really is what we have to watch out for in this War on Terrorism. It is far too easy to in our quest for security to destroy the very foundations of our governmental system. The sad thing is that history shows us how this can happen, wars without end and suspicions of enemies within and without have destroyed civilizations and transformed republics like Athens and Rome into tyrannies.

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Fear is an amazing thing. It triggers responses that are almost predictable. In the Homefront episode were civilian family members of Starfleet personnel are forced to give blood samples to prove that they are not Changelings masquerading as them Captain Sisko’s elderly father Joseph objects and eventually is able to avoid being tested, over the objections of his son who in in charge of the program.

Joseph Sisko: Benjamin Lafayette Sisko, what the hell has gotten into your head? You actually thought I was one of them, didn’t you?

Captain Sisko: I don’t know. I wasn’t sure.

Joseph Sisko: This business has got you so twisted around, you… you can’t think straight. You’re seeing shapeshifters everywhere! Maybe you ought to think about something for a minute. If I was a smart shapeshifter, a really good one, the first thing I would do would be to grab some poor soul off the street, absorb every ounce of his blood and let it out on cue whenever someone like you tried to test me. Don’t you see? There isn’t a test that’s been created a smart man can’t find his way around.

The truth of the matter is that regardless of what happens with Edward Snowden that we really need to look at and have a real discussion of what in the name of security we are willing to give up and what we are not. Technology has increased in ways that most people never imagined that it would be able to do, and that we could not imagine non-state terrorist enemies using against us.

Those are hard questions and they require a serious discussion. If we don’t have that discussion we will be the ones that destroy our way of life and republic and not any terrorist.

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As the Paradise Lost episode comes to its climax Captain Sisko confronts the Starfleet Admiral who has implemented the martial law degree on earth.

Admiral Leyton: You’ve always had a strong sense of duty.

Captain Sisko: My duty is to protect the Federation.

Admiral Leyton: That’s what we’re trying to do.

Captain Sisko: What you’re trying to do is to seize control of Earth and place it under military rule.

Admiral Leyton: If that’s what it takes to stop the Dominion.

Captain Sisko: So you’re willing to destroy Paradise in order to save it?

I think that Sisko’s final question is something that we need to ask those that would use the law, even bad laws to gain security but which ultimately could destroy us.

Until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Questions in Light of the NSA Leaks and More Answers from Star Trek Deep Space Nine

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Doctor Bashir: What does Section 31 do, apart from kidnapping Starfleet officers?

Sloan: We search out and identify potential dangers to the Federation.

Doctor Bashir: And once identified?

Sloan: We deal with them.

Doctor Bashir: How?

Sloan: Quietly.

As I mentioned briefly last night I am finding interesting corollaries in the current NSA leak story and what we are facing in our Global War on Terror in Star Trek Deep Space Nine. I went back and watched again the season four episodes entitled Homefront and Paradise Lost. Tonight I also watched an episode called Inquisition in which Dr Bashir, the Chief Medical Officer of Deep Space Nine is abducted by the representative of a secretive entity of Starfleet Intelligence authorized in the original Federation Charter and accused of being a spy for the Dominion. It is a chilling episode because it shows the power of lawfully constituted organizations that are granted nearly unlimited powers and operate under the utmost secrecy.

What do we know? We know far less than what we think that we know, that much is clear.

So what do we know?

We know that a Booz Allen Hamilton contractor, a 29 year high school dropout named Edward Snowden leaked Top Secret FISA Court orders and other information to writer Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian newspaper. Something that he did evidently after offering them to others including the Washington Post.

We know that Snowden had worked for the CIA and NSA contractors in various capacities for a number of years. We know that he worked for the Booz Allen Hamilton contract with the NSA less than 4 months with a Top Secret Clearance and had lied to both his employer and girlfriend about his whereabouts when he left his home in Hawaii.

We know that he was unable to complete Army Special Forces entry training in 2003 after some kind of training accident.

We know that he supported the Ron Paul campaign with a financial contribution of $500 and that Paul has praised Snowden’s actions.

We know that some of the documents that Snowden leaked have been released by the Guardian and the Post. Likewise we know that Greenwald promises the release of more leaked information this week.

We know that this Snowden fled to Hong Kong in early May and then authorized the release of his identity and actions after the release of them by Greenwald.

We know that the documents leaked show that the FISA court authorize the sweeping collection of phone and internet data from American citizens as well as others overseas.

We know that Snowden is claiming that he is acting in the best interests of the country and the Constitution.

We know that the revelation of the FISA documents shows that National Intelligence Director James Clapper may have lied to Congress about those activities.

What don’t we know? Simply put we don’t know the truth. Likewise there is a good chance that no matter what happens in this case, no matter what is revealed and no matter what happens to Snowden or anyone implicated in the documents already released or to be released that we may never know the whole truth. Yes we may learn aspects of these operations and some activities, but believe me the real truth will remain classified and covered. And frankly that may not be a bad thing.

There have been some who are lionizing or demonizing the young Snowden. People are rapidly forming their opinions as to him being a “hero” or a “traitor.” I don’t think that we know enough yet to render judgement. He may be one or the other. He could be both and he could be neither. I do think the question goes beyond him. The fact that he fled to Hong Kong, a territory controlled by Communist China which has been engaged in much espionage against the United States is troubling. It makes it look like he may not quite be the hero after all.

The fact is that Snowden’s release of Top Secret classified documents is illegal. That is a fact whatever his motives. No matter if his motives were pure and patriotic as he claims, or were done for other reasons that we do not know including the possibility that he is working with Chinese agents. The unauthorized release of classified data has been a crime for decades, even before we devised our classification system. Even before the Patriot Act and the Global War on Terror.

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During the Inquisition episode, at the point that the Section 31 personnel determine that Bashir is innocent of possible cooperation with the Dominion and try to recruit him that the following exchange takes place.

Sloan: We’re on the same team. We believe in the same principles that every other Federation citizen holds dear.

Doctor Bashir: And yet you violate those principles as a matter of course.

Sloan: In order to protect them.

Doctor Bashir: Well, I’m sorry, but the ends don’t always justify the means.

Sloan: Really? – How many lives do you suppose you’ve saved in your medical career?

Doctor Bashir: What has that got to do with anything?

Sloan: Hundreds, thousands? Do you suppose those people give a damn that you lied to get into Starfleet Medical? I doubt it. We deal with threats to the Federation that jeopardize its very survival. If you knew how many lives we’ve saved, I think you’d agree that the ends do justify the means. I’m not afraid of bending the rules every once in a while if the situation warrants it. And I don’t think you are either.

The action of Snowden in releasing these classified documents appears to be criminal in that it broke long established law. However, criminality does not necessarily mean that he is a traitor. Could he be? The answer could be yes depending on his motive and what else may be released but quite possibly the answer could be no. For those that want to live in a world where everything is black and white that may be uncomfortable. But this messy world is the world that we live in, a world of infinite shades of gray, especially when it comes to intelligence and state secrets.

Now I can say that while I agree that Snowden broke the law I do not yet know if I can call him a traitor, nor do I know enough to call him a hero. One thing his actions have done is to spark a debate on the nature of the laws that our Congress enacted in the aftermath of the 9-11-2001 terrorist attacks. The Patriot Act vastly expanded previous laws regarding surveillance, intelligence, economic, military and law enforcement measures including the work of the FISA courts. I do think that the authors meant well, but the law that they passed has great potential as a platform for totalitarianism.

Those laws were rushed to completion and passed with strong bi-partisan majorities in both the House and Senate. Those powers were renewed by both the Bush and Obama administration and Congress. One can make good arguments for security as well as the dangers inherent in these laws and the expanded powers of the intelligence community which not only can be used for good, but can be used for evil.

I think it is time that we had a real debate over these laws as a society. We may not like what we see, but we may decide to keep some laws and restrict other powers granted. That is something that we must do as a society if we are to retain any form of our republic. We cannot afford the bumper sticker and Facebook meme type of debate in this that appeals to raw emotion and political certitude and bypasses the real issues involved.

At the end of the episode when Bashir is back on DS9 talking with Captain Sisko and the other senior staff of the station the questions asked are so pertinent to what we are doing today.

Doctor Bashir: I can’t believe the Federation condones this kind of activity.

Odo: Personally I find it hard to believe they wouldn’t. Every other great power has a unit like Section 31 – the Romulans have the Tal Shiar, the Cardassians had the Obsidian Order…

Doctor Bashir: But what does that say about us? When push comes to shove, are we willing to sacrifice our principles in order to survive?

Captain Sisko: I wish I had an answer for you, Doctor.

Likewise, I wish I had an answer…

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Some Sunday Thoughts on Freedom, Security and Star Trek Deep Space Nine

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“We do not fear you the way you fear us. In the end, it’s your fear that will destroy you.” Changeling (As O’Brien) from the Dominion to Captain Sisko (Star Trek Deep Space Nine, Paradise Lost)

I have had a pretty uneventful weekend. I had to cancel my trip north to see Judy due to Tropical Storm Andrea and a fairly eventful day at work on Friday. I was also very tired having not slept well a number of nights during the week due to so pretty strange dreams and nightmares that appear in HD now thanks to PTSD. I am wondering why I am experiencing these dreams. Perhaps it is because of how unsettled I am regarding the various controversies going on regarding our freedom and national security as well as things going in the world and the real possibility that no matter how hard we try that we could become embroiled in yet another Middle Eastern War.

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As a result I mostly caught up on laundry and other routine stuff around the house, slept a lot, listened to a 1972 edition of American Top 40, watched some DVD movies including Nuremberg about the Nuremberg trails starring Alec Baldwin and Christopher Plummer and Conspiracy about the Wansee Conference where the Nazis engineered the details of the final solution and engaged almost every section of government and industry into the Final Solution. I also watched Quentin Tarantino’s  Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. In addition it was a weekend to appreciate my dog Molly who has been incredibly sweet and affectionate this week. She must know that I have been unsettled in my sleep.

While I was doing these things I was thinking about some of the things going on in the country and especially about the revelations and leaks of top secret materials regarding the activities of the National Security Agency. It has been interesting to me to watch people who gave President Bush and Congress a pass on the Patriot Act bash President Obama and others who bashed Bush give Obama a pass. Of course there have been some civil libertarians, mostly liberals and some libertarians who objected to the Patriot Act and its potential threats to First and Fourth Amendment freedoms who have criticized both the Bush and Obama administrations as well as Congress. It is interesting that the journalist who published the leaked information, Glen Greenwald  has been an opponent of the Patriot Act since its inception in 2001 and critical of both the Bush and Obama administrations in their use of it. At least he is consistent.

I have found this fascinating to watch because there are arguments on both sides that have merit. Unfortunately most pundits, politicians and politically minded preachers, the Unholy Trinity don’t see the complexity of the issues involved nor do they adequately understand the potential dangers represented on both sides of the issue. Benjamin Franklin’s saying that “Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.” is something to keep in mind.

There are a huge amount of issues to be concerned with, I think in large part because our leaders and let us admit it we ourselves have not thought through the implications of things that we legislate. Since the vast majority of our legislators never read all or even the most critical parts of any legislation that they vote for this should be expected. Likewise the vast bulk of the population is too busy either working or entertaining themselves in virtual worlds made possible by vast technological advances in phones, computers and social networks to bother with such issues until they hit the news cycle. Unfortunately the fact of the matter is that once this has blown over, unless we stop and as a society really examine the issues, hold our legislators feet to the fire and stop being content with answers that are simply designed to help our political parties and causes that some cosmetic changes will be made and nothing significant accomplished.

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I also thought of a couple of episodes of Star Trek Deep Space Nine that I watched a couple of weeks ago from Season 4 when shape shifters from the Dominion begin to launch terrorist attacks on Earth and some in Starfleet, and the Federation begin to implement security measures that rapidly erode freedom. The episodes Homefront and Paradise Lost are actually quite timely and since they were aired years before the September 11th 2001 attacks, the passage of the Patriot Act and the beginning of the Global War on Terror (GWOT) could almost be considered prophetic.

I think I am going to write about the current situation at least a couple of times but I will probably use those Deep Space Nine episodes as my starting point. Sometimes the stories of fiction or science fiction can shed light on issues that our politicians, pundits and preachers are too blind, inept or conceited to honestly examine.

Until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Star Trek: Into Darkness

I saw Star Trek: Into Darkness yesterday and as I mentioned in my last article about the subject last week I did promise that I would do a review of it when I saw it. So I saw the movie and to sum up my experience in the words of Spock it was “fascinating.”

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Now the “Prime Directive” of writing a movie review of a recently released film is not to give away spoilers and I will not violate the Prime Directive.

I saw the film in its 3D format in a nice theater. I have come to enjoy the 3D experience as the technology continues to improve. Director JJ Abrams has put together one of the best Star Trek films of all time. I have been watching the Star Trek franchise since the very beginning of the original series when I was a kid and continued watching TOS in the early days of syndication before the first film Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released in December 1979 when I was a sophomore in college.

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Needless to say I am a big fan of the franchise as a whole and having seen every movie, every episode of TOS, TNG, DS9, most of Voyager I have to consider that I am a Trekkie, Trekker or whatever label that you want to give me. The only series that I have not seen except for a few episodes was Enterprise because I was deployed or traveling on various other military duties around the world through much of its run. The times I was home it was hard to find because the local television stations didn’t carry it.

When I was a teen ager I read most of the TOS novels that came out in paperback and when TNG came out I read quite a few of those as well. Each one kind of expanded my Trek experience, and at one time I think I had most if not all of the TOS and TNG Technical Manuals.

My preferences in the Star Trek franchise have been the TOS, TNG and DS9 series, the last of which I am currently watching in order. I watched every TNG episode in order between the end of the 2012 World Series and Opening Day 2013 before beginning DS9 which I am now into Season 5. I figure that I will get Voyager when I finish DS9. I missed a lot of Voyager episodes due to deployment or working nights in civilian hospitals.

As far as the previous movies they have been a hit or miss affair for me. Of the Original Series films I was not a big fan either of Star Trek the Motion Picture or Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock was okay for me but the three films that I can watch almost any day of the week are Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan to which the new film has some interesting connections, as well as Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. However my favorite of these has to be The Wrath of Khan and the TOS episode that is sprung from Space Seed. As for the films associated with Star Trek the Next Generation I found First Contact and Nemesis to be the best, but overall found the television series much better than the films.

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All that being said I have said almost nothing about the new film as of yet. I loved the first film in the reboot of the series, Star Trek which came out in 2009. I liked the casting, the story line which broke the old time line and paradigm which allowed the new series to take on a life of its own even which keeping connection to other parts of the series. Because to this the possibilities that Abrams and his team have opened up are very “Roddenberry” and the new film has the feel of what I think Gene Roddenberry might have imagined for the future of the series.

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The fact is that Roddenberry was not afraid to break the molds of his own creation. He killed Spock, destroyed the Enterprise and took the story with a different cast to a different century. As the creator of the series he was not afraid to take risks and to take the series to places that many fans could not have imagined. I can only imagine that after 10 feature films involving two separate series and 703 television episodes in one timeline spanning 5 separate series that Roddenberry would approve of the new life that Abrams and his team have give to the series.

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I found that the cast is really beginning to gel as the crew of the Enterprise. Even though they are different actors each has captured the spirit of characters of the Original Series. Chris Pine as Captain Kirk is younger but believable as Kirk. We see the defiant and independent nature of Kirk in his performance. Zachary Quinto as Spock is as close to perfect as to how I imagine Spock could be in the new timeline. The appearances of Leonard Nimoy as Spock Prime and his interactions with Quinto’s Spock are priceless. My favorites in the other characters brought over from the Original Series are Bones McCoy played by Karl Urban and Scotty played by Simon Pegg. Sulu played by John Cho, Uhura played by Zoe Saldana and Chekov played by Anton Yelchin are all good in their parts but because the characters are only seen briefly in each of the films they are harder to get to know, unlike the cast members of either TOS or TNG who were known to fans through their respective series before they appeared in any of the films.

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As far as the villain of the film, initially known as John Harrison played by Benedict Cumberbatch is as good of villain as you can get in Star Trek, but then he too is reprised from the TOS series, better known as…. No won’t say it, it would violate the Prime Directive, even though you can look it up somewhere else like the the Internet Movie Data Base at www.imdb.com Because of what Abrams does with this part of the story line a whole new set of possibilities remains open regarding this villain in future episodes and Cumberbatch was an excellent villain that I would not mind seeing again should they decide to reprise his role.

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The story line is excellent, especially in light of 12 years of war following the terrorist attacks of 9-11-2001. I think one think that transcends the terrific action and special effects of the movie is how it is possible for those defending the ideal of freedom to cross the line into tyranny when they believe freedom might be threatened. It really is a fascinating metaphor that is important, because the darkness referred to in the title is not really the outside threats to freedom, but the threat harbored in each of us when we give in to the temptation to not ask the hard questions about the morality of our own actions that we take in the defense of our freedoms.

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Abrams dedicates the film to the post 9-11 veterans and that is something that I appreciate because he backs that up by working with the charity The Mission Continues. Abrams had 6 veterans form the honor guard folding the flag at the somber memorial service scene at the end of the movie, something that most of us who have served over the past 12 years have seen or participated in too many. For me that was especially touching.

Anyway, I don’t think that any fan of Star Trek can go wrong in seeing this film and it may help bring new fans into the fold by sending them back to watch the series that helped begin everything in the Star Trek universe.

Live Long and Prosper,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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