Tag Archives: star trek deep space nine

They are Not Just Names: September 11th 2001 at Seventeen Years

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In Star Trek Deep Space Nine there is a scene where the deputy commander of the Space Station, Major Kira Nerys gives a casualty report to Captain Benjamin Sisko. It resonates with me every time that I see it and especially on the anniversary of September 11th.

KIRA: Sir, the latest casualty reports have just been posted.
SISKO: How many this time?
KIRA: Including the troops lost at AR five five eight, seventeen hundred and thirty.
SISKO: Seventeen hundred thirty.
KIRA: That’s a lot of names.
SISKO: They’re not just names. It’s important we remember that. We have to remember.

Today marks the seventeenth year since the attacks of September 11th 2001 and we do have to remember those who lost their lives that day, all those Americans and our coalition partners who died, and all the innocents lost, even to those of American military action. None of them are just names, they are real men and women, as well as children cut down by terrorism and unending war.

When we were attacked on September 11th 2001 I had already passed twenty years of service, though about half of them were service in the reserves and National Guard. Now I am over 37 years of service and by this time next year I should be on the retired list unless something very unexpected happens.

My base will be marking it with the dedication of a nature trail that now has plaques commemorating over 80 eighty men and women from our base who have died in action, on deployment, or training to go to combat since that occasion. While this ceremony is taking place I will be driving out to a Veteran’s Cemetery an hour or so away to perform the internment of a retired Navy Chief Petty Officer whose family requested me by name.

Thus I will be turning over the big high profile ceremony to my deputy chaplain. It will give him a chance to be on the big stage and get recognized for his own talents and abilities while I do something less visible but very meaningful to that Navy Chief’s family and to me as the son of a Navy Chief. In addition to conducting the service I will have the honor of presenting the colors of the nation to his daughter.

For me it is a chance to pay back the goodness shown to my dad and family when he passed away in 2010. The base ceremony and the internment were pretty close together time wise. My Commanding Officer and I talked about it decided and decided that since I am now in pretty much constant pain with knee and hip injuries since I fell down my stairs last month that I shouldn’t be doing back to back ceremonies with a long drive in between.

But anyway. Since September 11th 2001 I have lost count of the number of friends and comrades who died during the attack and the subsequent wars. This includes those that died by their own hand during or after their service due to the effects of combat trauma, PTSD, or Traumatic Brain Injury,  or the never ending pain of physical wounds and injuries. I often see their faces when I think about the past 17 years, their names are forever etched in my memory, but they are not just names and we cannot forget them. I cannot and I will not.

It seems like every week or so we lose another soldier, sailor, marine, or airman in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Africa. I loom at their names, where they are from, and the number of deployments that they have made. Some entered service well after me but because of their specialities and assignments made far more deployments that I can imagine. One soldier who was killed in action serving in Iraq had made 13 deployments, 9 of which were combat deployments in a 16 year career, and for the most part they are forgotten by all but their family, friends, and comrades, most barely get a mention elsewhere.

Sadly at this point in my career I believe that for many Americans, especially the faux patriots of the Fox News set, the political preachers of the Christian Right, and the President himself, that the troops are merely a prop to place in the background to promote their political causes and slam other Americans for not being patriotic enough.

Today I will continue to serve and I will mourn in my own way the friends, comrades, and shipmates that I have lost over these past 17 years. For me they are not just numbers or names, they are real people and no amount of flag waving will bring them back. No amount of corporate sponsored “patriotism” will make up for the lost lives, and the destruction of these wars. We can remember and honor the lost, and those who still suffer, including the wounded in body, mind, and spirit, and of the widows and children of the men and women who never came home or were never the same. I came home, but I am not the same.

They are not just names.

So as you go about your activities today take time to remember the victims of war, terrorism, and as I do the men and women who I knew who never came home, couldn’t make the transition back from war, or who still suffer in mind, body or spirit.

Never forget, they are not just names.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under History, middle east, Military, ministry, News and current events, philosophy, Political Commentary, star trek, terrorism, Tour in Iraq

Faith & Terror

Winn_and_Neela

Faith & Terror

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As couple of days ago I wrote about my own recollections of believing political propaganda. That post was important for me to write, because like I did, many well meaning and idealistic people believe the lies and follow the propaganda of various politicians, pundits and preachers. They often do so without thinking and without examining their claims in light of the knowledge that they already have.

I have been watching my DVDs of Star Trek Deep Space Nine over the past week. I just finished the final episode of the first season entitled In the Hands of the Prophets. The episode, which aired in June of 1993, was about a religious conflict between rival claimants to the head of the Bajoran religious world, which enveloped the Deep Space Nine Space Station.

In the episode, the claimant of the fundamentalist sect, Kai Winn, played by the great actress Louise Fletcher uses her religious authority to subvert the teaching of science on the space station, and then uses violence and terrorism to attempt to rally Bajorans against the Federation. The story is amazing because it is so real. It involves the clash of cultures, fundamentalism versus modernism, and terrorism. The fact that the episode aired over twenty years ago does not make it any less pertinent today.

I think that the most chilling moment is a conversation between Vedek Winn and a young Bajoran officer and follower of her sect on the station. The officer has already killed a Federation officer, and Winn tells her that she needs to commit another murder, this time of the rival, but progressive Bajoran religious leader, Vedek Bereil, even though her means of escape has been lost.

The young officer says, “I have no way to escape.” And Winn tells her, “Then we must accept that as the will of the Prophets.” 
The young officer replies, “But if I go through with this now, I will be caught and executed,” and then Winn says, “The sacrifices the Prophets call on us to make are great sometimes, my dear, but the rewards they give will last through eternity.”

When I read or hear about the demands of some stridently militant religious leaders today, I am reminded of that conversation. The comments of Winn are so banal and so lacking in empathy I cannot get them out of my head. They remind me of words that I heard from various pastors and bishops who served over me when I was younger, men who had no empathy, but only demanded that those under them fulfill their “duty.” The fact is that many religious leaders are the ultimate exploiters of idealistic young people, young men and women who want their lives to count for something and who think that their religious leaders actually speak for God.

Thankfully, I broke away from that, but at the same time the words and actions of those men who I served under for years still haunt me. When I was younger I would have done anything to win their approval, but when I no longer suited their purposes, they turned on me, but thankfully what I did for them before they turned on me was as not bad as what so many others are commanded to do by their religious leaders. Sadly, that is what so many people who follow sociopathic religious leaders never learn until it is too late.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

3 Comments

Filed under ethics, faith, Political Commentary, Religion, star trek

Your Fear Will Destroy You

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Last night the U.S. State Department issued a worldwide travel alert as Belgium’s government continued its lockdown of Brussels. As this went on the French continued their search for DAESH terrorists who took part in the Paris attacks. Over a week ago the U.S. Government issued an order for military and other government agents to not travel to Paris.

As all of this is going on I am thinking about an episode of Star Trek Deep Space Nine entitled, Paradise Lost that deals with suspected Dominion shape shifters infiltrating Earth that conducted a terror attack in Antwerp. The fact that the episode premiered in 1996 only underscores the fact that human nature is very consistent. We cannot forget the many times in history where peoples and nations have sacrificed essential liberty for the illusion of security.

In the episode Starfleet command declares martial law on Earth, and everyone is a potential terror suspect. Troops were deployed; citizens were subject to random blood tests to determine if they were really human, and false flag operations were conducted to instill even more fear, and for a time the plan worked, people submitted to the measures because of fear.

However, Captain Sisko, of Deep Space Nine who was called back to Earth to head security operations, discovers the plot. In a talk with the commander of Starfleet Captain Sisko asks why he has been brought back to Earth, the conversation is interesting in light of recent events:

SISKO: Then why did you bring me here?

LEYTON: Because I needed someone who knew how to fight shape-shifters, and that’s you. And I suppose on some level I hoped that when you saw what we were accomplishing, you’d join us. You’ve always had a strong sense of duty.

SISKO: My duty is to protect the Federation. 


LEYTON: That’s what we’re trying to do. 


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

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


SISKO: So you’re willing to destroy paradise in order to save it.

In light of the threat posed by DAESH, with real, suspected and imagined terrorist attacks in Europe, in the Middle East, and potentially in the United States, the conversation is quite relevant.

As the episode unfolds a shape shifter impersonating Chief O’Brien confronts Captain Sisko:

Changeling: Let me ask you a question. How many Changelings do you think are here on Earth right at this moment?

Captain Sisko: I’m not going to play any guessing games with you.

Changeling: Ah. What if I were to tell you that there are only four on this entire planet? Huh? Not counting Constable Odo, of course. Think of it – just four of us. And look at the havoc we’ve wrought.

Captain Sisko: How do I know you’re telling me the truth? 


Changeling: Four is more than enough. We’re smarter than solids. We’re better than you. And most importantly, we do not fear you the way you fear us. In the end, it’s your fear that will destroy you.

The fact is that the numbers of DAESH terrorists are extremely small, and yes they are capable of doing a lot of damage. But at the same time what are we willing to sacrifice to ensure our security? It seems that we are becoming ever more willing to sacrifice liberty in the name of security and to cast suspicion, and on an entire religion, including loyal citizens due to the actions of some. If that happens, DAESH wins, no matter how secure we think we are; but do not get me wrong, security is important, but sacrificing liberty in the name of security has seldom been effective, and once surrendered, liberty seldom returns.

I think the very last line of the spoken by the changeling is the most important. In the end, it is our fear that will destroy us.

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under civil rights, laws and legislation, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary, star trek, terrorism

Mass Movements, Devils & Tipping Points

anti-jewish poster

The Nazis made the Jews their “Devil”

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The great American philosopher, Eric Hoffer once wrote, “Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.”

Hatred is an amazing emotion. I the day and a half that I have been home from Europe I have been almost overwhelmed by the amount of hatred being posted on social media, blogs, and by supposedly Christian preachers, politicians and pundits. Of course if you want find a politician, pundit and preacher all wrapped into one person look no further than Baptist preacher, conservative media pundit, and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, but I digress…

It is funny when you even mildly disconnect from this climate for even a week, just how overwhelming returning to this can be, and how easy it would be to respond in kind, because unlike love, hatred is easy to conjure up. It is kind of like what you need to build a fire; fuel, oxygen and heat. To generate hatred on a massive scale all you need is a disaffected populace, a convenient target, and an agent to ignite the mixture.

Shrewd politicians, preachers, and pundits do this well. They demonize the target group or population and then let the hatred of their disaffected followers flow. The leaders need that disaffected and angry base in order to rise to power; such was how Hitler, Stalin, and so many other despots gained power. They took advantage of a climate of fear, and found others to blame. For Hitler it was the Jews; while for Stalin it was various groups like the Ukrainians, or the Poles who were the devil to be feared and destroyed. Timothy Snyder in his book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin wrote:

“Dead human beings provided retrospective arguments for the rectitude of policy. Hitler and Stalin thus shared a certain politics of tyranny: they brought about catastrophes, blamed the enemy of their choice, and then used the death of millions to make the case that their policies were necessary or desirable. Each of them had a transformative utopia, a group to be blamed when its realization proved impossible, and then a policy of mass murder that could be proclaimed as a kind of ersatz victory.”

Snyder is quite correct, demonizing a people and making them some kind of “other”, “they”, or “them”, is a wonderful way to blame a group of people for the ills of society. It is also a good way to deflect the blame for the corporate failures of societies and governments onto a convenient scapegoat; and to blame others for the personal failures and petty jealousies of the people doing the demonizing. It also allows people to abandon ethics and the simple notion of the Golden Rule an engage in genocide.

Mass movements and their leaders; of which the contemporary “Christian Right” is one, love to use this technique; especially when using it against those of other races or religions. The technique is not at all new, it has been used from antiquity but has become much more dangerous in the modern era with the spread of instant communications technology. History shows us all too clearly how it has happened and how easily it can happen again. Witch hunts, slavery and Jim Crow, the extermination of the Native Americans which inspired Hitler in his campaign of genocide and the Holocaust; the Soviet gulags and ethnic cleansings, the Rape of Nanking, the Chinese Communist “Cultural Revolution” the Rwandan genocide, Srebrenica, the Turkish genocide of the Armenians, and the current crimes against humanity of the so called Islamic State. Sadly, the list can go on and on.

All of these events simply required the elements of a disaffected population, a devil or scapegoat to blame, and a leader or leaders to ignite the volatile mixture; fuel, oxygen and heat. Hoffer was quite correct that “Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” The really successful leaders of such movements understand this. For Hitler it was the Jews and other untermenschen; for American Southerners after the Civil it was the Blacks and their white supporters. For the American “Know Nothings” of the 1840s and 1850s it was immigrants, especially Irish and Germans who were Catholic; for Stalin it was non-Russian ethnic minorities. For the leaders of the Islamic State, it is Jews, Shi’ite Moslems, less than “faithful” Sunnis, Christians and well for that matter anyone who does not line up one hundred percent with them on every issue. The examples are so plentiful to support this fact that it is almost overwhelming.

The problem is that when any society, or government begins to label or stigmatize a race, religion, ethnicity, sexual preference, or political ideology, and then in the process demonize those people to the point that they become less than human we have reached a tipping point. We reach the point where we are just one crisis away from all of those crimes against humanity that we believe that we are no longer capable of doing. But sadly, we human beings are not nearly as evolved as we think and I think that the tipping point in the United States may be far closer than we could ever imagine.

Those that follow my writings on this site know how much I love the various Star Trek television series and movies. There is an episode (The Siege of AR-558) of Star Trek Deep Space Nine where the Ferengi bartender Quark, makes a truly astute observation during a battle for survival at an isolated outpost:

“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.”

I really do not think that we are too far from some tipping point where the politicians, pundits and preachers; especially those of the political right and the media whores who are more concerned about market share than truth, decide that their “devils” must be exterminated. Of course when they will do they will claim a higher moral, religious, or racial, purpose; or perhaps use the language of Manifest Destiny, the Lost Cause, or the Stab in the Back or some other historical myth that suffices to justify their actions.

In the Star Trek the Next Generation episode entitled The Drumhead Captain Picard has to warn his security officer, Lt Worf about the dangers of rampant paranoia. Worf starts: “Sir, the Federation does have enemies. We must seek them out.”
 

Picard pauses and then notes:

“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.”

To claim Picard’s words for myself after being somewhat off the grid in Europe the past week and having come home to the fusillade of hatred being spewed forth, I have to admit that I don’t like what we have become either.

Peace

Padre Steve+

3 Comments

Filed under ethics, faith, History, Political Commentary, Religion

Living in the National Security State

Patriot-Act-HR-3162

Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges, in time of war the law stands silent…

James Madison wrote that “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.”

After September 11th 2001 the National Security State went into overdrive with the passage of the so called Patriot Act. That act opened the floodgates for an ever expanding national security state.

I have a lot of apprehension when I read the reports about the activities of the National Security Agency, other intelligence and police agencies at all levels of government and the pervasive erosion of civil rights.  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. Of course the use of similar methods by the private sector, often in conduction with government agencies is another concern, but that needs to wait for another day.

I also understand from history and empirical evidence that many others, many from unfriendly countries do not share those apprehensions. Many of these competitors are willing to use whatever openness that we have as a society against us, using similar technology and methods used by our intelligence, police, governmental and private sector. It makes for an ethical, legal and even constitutional conundrum. I know that I am not comfortable with this, and perhaps maybe none of us should 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. The same can be said of foreign intelligence agencies which all engage in similar activities including the British GCHQ, the German Bundesnachrichtendienst and so many others including the Chinese and Russians.

Likewise it is equally easy in light of history, current events and national security concerns for people to jump to the other side of the fence and not only defend the activities of the NSA and agencies like it, and to demonize those that protest or expose such activities.

When I see the talking heads on cable news shows defending or condemning such activities and not agonizing over the complexity and issues involved I get worried. Because there are legitimate concerns voiced by critics as well as defenders. But since we live in an era of soundbites, gotcha and half-truths being portrayed as all truth I find it helpful to use either historical examples, literature or fiction, and even science fiction to wrestle with the fundamental truths. So I find looking at such issues through the prism of Star Trek sometimes more interesting and provocative than simply doing the whole moralizing pundit thing.

enimsilentleges_210

There was an episode of  Star Trek Deep Space Nine that aired well before the events of 9-11-2001, and the subsequent Global War on Terror, that I find fascinating. The episode deals with a secretive agency in Starfleet operating in the gray areas between the laws and ideals of the Federation and the threats that the Federation faces. Even when the Federation is a peace, Section 31, as it is called is engaged in activities against historic or potential enemies. In a way it is somewhat like the NSA or the Defense Intelligence Agency.

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 Doctor Julia Bashir to involve him in an clandestine operation. An operation to on the Romulans who at this point are a Federation ally against the Dominion.

Sloan makes his approach and Bashir, who expresses his reservations:

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.

I find the exchange both illuminating and riveting. The fact is that in the situation we face today the arguments of both sides should make us very uncomfortable.

Whether we 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 conundrum of liberty and privacy or security. That technology, as wonderful as it is  has enabled a generation to grow up in a virtual world in many ways detached from the moral and ethical balances between 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 certainly beyond the wildest imaginations of any of the founders who drafted Constitution.

The reality is, the things that make are lives so easy are also the things that have the potential to remove the very liberties that we treasure, either by our enemies using them, or those that defend us.

The truth is, that throughout history, even our own there have been operatives within the government in charge of secrets, as well as 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. I won’t go into the details because it is too full of twists, and turns, you can read the plot of the episode at Memory Alpha.org http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Inter_Arma_Enim_Silent_Leges_%28episode%29

There is an exchange between Dr. Bashir and Admiral Ross of Starfleet command which 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 regarding the NSA, FISA Courts, government secrecy and intelligence gathering information on its own citizens, as well as allies, friends and and enemies 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 the continuing controversy surrounding these issues we will see people do exactly what Bok said. These are the exact arguments are being made by the people and officials directly involved in such activities, as well as former elected and appointed officials, and members of the press.

nsa-operations-center

The interesting thing to me is that very few of the people or agencies, past and present, Republican and Democrat involved 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 both fascinating and frightening.

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 to sometimes step back and look at issues using a different prism. 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, 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. It is a debate that needs to happen if we are able to balance that a society needs to balance 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+

2 Comments

Filed under History, laws and legislation, national security, Political Commentary, star trek

Can you Live With It? The Moral Costs of the War Against the Islamic State

pale-moonlight

“My father used to say that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. I laid the first stone right there. I’d committed myself. I’d pay any price, go to any lengths, because my cause was righteous. My… intentions were good. In the beginning, that seemed like enough.” Captain Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) Star Trek Deep Space Nine, In the Pale Moonlight

I think that among the Star Trek series that my favorite is Star Trek Deep Space Nine. Of course all of the series deal with ethics, philosophy and morality to some extent, but Deep Space Nine is perhaps the most interesting to me. Don’t get me wrong I think that the Original Series and Start Trek the Next Generation were and are leap years ahead of most television series when it comes to addressing ethical, moral and existential issues, but somehow living in the post 9-11 “War on Terrorism” world I find Deep Space Nine to be the most compelling. I think that is that the fact that the moral issues get blurred which attracts me to the series, and to this episode in particular.

One of my favorite episodes is from season six and is entitled “In the Pale Moonlight.” The episode deals with the unsavory matter of contriving a reason to get the Romulan Empire to join with the Federation and the Klingons to fight the Dominion-Cardassian alliance that is threatening those entities as well as potentially the entire Alpha Quadrant. I have included a link to the conclusion of that episode here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTgGtJ-PisA

The ethics of this episode seem very timely as I look at the new phase of the conflict that the United States has been engaged for the past thirteen years. The fact is that in spite of our appeal to higher ideals we are having to make alliances with powers that are only slightly less unsavory than ISIS, powers whose polices have help ISIS grow. In a sense it is the classic scenario of making a deal with the devil to defeat one’s enemy. Of course this is not new, individuals and nations have made such deals, sometimes with mortal enemies throughout history.

Unfortunately we usually judge such decisions based on their results, rather than wrestle with the ethical issues involved and how we might behave in similar situations. For me the philosophical and ethical issues involved in such alliances have a special interest and as such I tend to notice or recall instances where I saw, read or heard something that makes a connection to an ethical or moral dilemma faced by policy makers and planners today.

Some of the issues involved for policy makers are related to the traditional Just War Theory, and what is called the “Supreme Emergency” exemption. This exemption basically posits that when faced with a supreme and existential emergency a person or state may engage in behaviors that ordinarily would be considered unethical if the situation were not of a supreme emergency.

Of course such decisions in the real world are difficult. Those who have a system of beliefs that help them define right and wrong behaviors, even if they are not codified in law may struggle with with such decisions, while those who act according to what they deem necessary or expedient, unbridled by religious, philosophical or other similar codes may not, instead making their decisions based on what appears to be necessary at the time.

This Deep Space Nine episode is remarkable because we get to see an actor playing a military commander dealing with the morality of the course of action that he is taking. In one of the early scenes Captain Sisko expresses his doubts relating to the morality of a decision that he is making in a war that has already consumed the lives of tens of millions of people.

siskogarak

 

After an incident where a Federation starship was destroyed, Sisko went to Elim Garak (Andrew Robinson), an exiled Cardassian intelligence officer to uncover any evidence about Dominion-Cardassian collusion to attack the Romulans. When none was uncovered and Garak’s sources on Cardassia were compromised he agreed to allow Garak to manufacture evidence in order to get the Romulans into the war on the side of the Federation and Klingons. Sisko compounded the situation by having the Kilingons release a master forger who was on death row to help Garak. Sisko knew it was wrong and confided in his log:

“Why I didn’t listen to the voice in the back of my mind telling me not to believe a word he said, I’ll never know… But it didn’t take long for me to come face to face with the fact that I’d made a mistake.”

When the former prisoner gets drunk and attacks the owner of a tavern on the space station Sisko was in a bind. He wanted no evidence that the man had been on his station and in order to keep Quark, the bar owner quite had to bribe him. Sisko again expressed his doubts in his personal log:

“Maybe I should have put a stop to it right there. Maybe I should have said, “Thank you very much for your input, Mister Garak, I will take your suggestion under advisement,” and then gone back to my office and forgotten the whole thing. But I didn’t. Because in my heart, I knew what he was saying made sense.”

Even so Sisko still had doubts:

“That was my first moment of real doubt, when I started to wonder if the whole thing was a mistake. So I went back to my office. And there was a new casualty list waiting for me. People are dying out there every day! Entire worlds are struggling for their freedom! And here I am still worrying about the finer points of morality! No, I had to keep my eye on the ball! Winning the war, stopping the bloodshed, those were the priorities! So I pushed on. And every time another doubt appeared before me, I just found another way to shove it aside.”

When nations feel they are engaged in a life and death struggle, those who serve as policy makers, planners and military commanders often make uncomfortable compromises with their own religious, ethical or philosophical codes. Sisko continued down the path despite his doubts but justified his actions by the fact that Starfleet had approved them:

“Maybe… I was under more pressure than I realized. Maybe it really was starting to get to me, but I was off the hook. Starfleet Command had given the plan their blessing and I thought that would make things easier. But I was the one who had to make it happen. I was the one who had to look Senator Vreenak in the eye and convince him that a lie… was the truth.”

The forgery was completed and the Romulan Senator secretly arrived on the station to examine the evidence and as he did so all Sisko could do was wait, confiding in his log:

“So all I could do was wait… and see how masterful Tolar’s forgery really was. So I waited… tried to catch up on my paperwork, but I find it very difficult to focus on criminal activity reports, cargo manifests… So I went back to pacing, staring out of the window. I’m not an impatient man, I’m not one to agonize over decisions once they’re made. I got that from my father. He always says, “Worry and doubt are the greatest enemies of a great chef. The soufflé will either rise or it won’t – there’s not a damn thing you can do about it, so you might as well just sit back and wait and see what happens.” But this time the cost of failure was so high, I found it difficult to take his advice. If Vreenak discovered that the data rod was a forgery, if he realized that we were trying to trick them into the war it could push the Romulans even farther into the enemy camp. They could start to openly help the Dominion. If worst came to worst they could actually join the war against us. I had the distinct feeling that victory or defeat would be decided in the next few minutes.”

In-The-Pale-Moonlight

It did not work, Vreenak discovered that the data rod was a forgery and threatened to expose Sisko’s deception and possibly bring the Romulans into alliance with the Dominion. When Sisko’s actions blew up in his face and his deceit was revealed he was not happy and resigned himself to face the consequences:

“So it all blew up in my face. All the lies and the compromises, the inner doubts and the rationalizations – all for nothing. Vreenak was furious. I can’t say I blamed him; I’d have reacted the same way. After telling me in no uncertain terms that he intended to expose this “vile deception” to the entire Alpha Quadrant, he got back in his shuttle and headed home. There didn’t seem to be anything more to do… so I went back to work. Two days later we got the news.”

Sisko learned in a Starfleet communication that Vreenak’s shuttle had blown up and that is was suspected to be the work of the Dominion. When Sisko found that Vreenak was dead he went to Garak and forcefully confronted him, striking him in the process. He accused Garak of sabotaging the senator’s ship and killing him as well as the forger, Tolar. Instead of backing down Garak confronted the results and the ethical issue. The heated exchange between the two men is fascinating:

Garak: If you can allow your anger to subside for a moment, you’ll see that they did not die in vain! The Romulans will enter the war!

Captain Sisko: There’s no guarantee of that!

Garak: Oh, but I think that there is. You see, when the Tal Shiar finishes examining the wreckage of Vreenak’s shuttle, they’ll find the burnt remnants of a Cardassian optolythic data rod which somehow miraculously survived the explosion. After painstaking forensic examination, they’ll discover that the rod contains a recording of a high-level Dominion meeting, at which the invasion of Romulus was being planned.

Captain Sisko: And then they’ll discover that it is a fraud!

Garak: Oh, I don’t think they will! Because any imperfections in the forgery will appear to be a result of the explosion. So – with a seemingly legitimate rod in one hand, and a dead senator in the other, I ask you, Captain – what conclusion would you draw?

As Sisko’s anger subsided Garak continued:

“That’s why you came to me, isn’t it, Captain? Because you knew I could do those things that you weren’t capable of doing? Well, it worked. And you’ll get what you want: a war between the Romulans and the Dominion. And if your conscience is bothering you, you should soothe it with the knowledge that you may have just saved the entire Alpha Quadrant. And all it cost was the life of one Romulan senator, one criminal, and the self-respect of one Starfleet officer. I don’t know about you, but I’d call that a bargain.”

Shortly thereafter Sisko found out that the out that the deception was successful as Garak had said it would be. The Romulans who recovered the damaged data rod believed that it was genuine and declared war on the Dominion-Cardassian alliance and had entered the war on the side of the Federation. He completed his personal log:

“At oh-eight-hundred hours, station time… the Romulan Empire formally declared war against the Dominion. They’ve already struck fifteen bases along the Cardassian border. So, this is a huge victory for the good guys! This may even be the turning point of the entire war! There’s even a “Welcome to the Fight” party tonight in the wardroom!… So… I lied. I cheated. I bribed men to cover up the crimes of other men. I am an accessory to murder. But most damning 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.”

DS9SiskoToast

My guess is that before this war is over, there will be men and women serving in positions of responsibility in our or allied militaries, policy makers and government officials who will make similar deals, violating their own moral codes and even laws in order to defeat the Islamic State and prevent acts of terror against their citizens. Most, like Sisko will not be happy but will live with their decisions. The fact is that long asymmetrical wars in which nation states have to fight non-state terrorist entities get really ugly and the longer and more bloody that they become the more decent and honorable people will make decisions like Sisko and resort to actions that in normal times they would never countenance.

This is nothing new. Those who have fought in such wars throughout history have found ways to “live” with actions that they would not approve of had things been different. Wars such as the one that we are fighting and continue to fight in the years ahead have a corrosive affect on the human spirit. They corrupt and destroy even when they are “successful.”

The question is: Can we live with it? Sadly, as much as I hate to admit it, in a similar situation I think like Sisko, that I could condone or be complicit in something like this. I too could probably convince myself that the end justified the means and that I could live with it.

Peace

Padre Steve+

4 Comments

Filed under ethics, leadership, News and current events, philosophy, Political Commentary, star trek, War on Terrorism

The National Security State thru the Lens of Star Trek Deep Space Nine

nsa-operations-center

Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges, in time of war the law stands silent…

James Madison wrote that “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.”

I am amazed when I read the reports about the activities of the National Security Agency and the reactions 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. The same can be said of foreign intelligence agencies which all engage in similar activities including the British GCHQ, the German Bundesnachrichtendienst and so many others including the Chinese and Russians.

Likewise it is equally easy in light of history, current events and national security to jump to the other side of the fence and not only defend the activities of the NSA and agencies like it, and to demonize those that expose such 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  Star Trek Deep Space Nine 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 wildest 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.

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.

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, 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+

1 Comment

Filed under civil rights, Foreign Policy, national security, Political Commentary, star trek