Star Trek: The Origins of the Prime Directive

Star Trek: The Origins of the Prime Directive

Star Trek

The captains who sat in the chair of the commander of the various starships of Star Trek were characterized by different natures, between those who preferred a direct approach like James T. Kirk and those who instead preferred to rely on diplomacy like Jean- Luc Picard. Different but often forced to face common challenges that pushed them to violate some of the strictest laws of the Federation, one in particular: the Prime Directive. Over the course of the various series of the franchise, this Starfleet regulation has often been cited as one of the foundations of relations with worlds outside the United Federation of Planets, being broken when the morality of the captains was at odds with those who represent the dogmas of the Federation itself. So why introduce a rule that is circumvented on several occasions by those who should first respect it? The answer lies in the very origins of Star Trek's Prime Directive.

Star Trek fans are aware that the Prime Directive has been used in different situations as a narrative tool that made the adventures of the Enterprise crews evocative compared to the contemporary world. If the original series saw in the Prime Directive a clear criticism of American interventionism, with The Next Generation and the following series this founding principle of Starfleet is used in a different light, no longer as an analytical tool of American interference in foreign policy, but also as a refined enhancement of the charismatic personality of the characters, Jean-Luc Picard in the first place.

Star Trek's Prime Directive began as a critique of American imperialism

When Gene Roddenberry created his science fiction series, the United States was a veteran of World War II and the aftermath of the Cold War they were making themselves evident not only in the American social fabric, but above all in its international relations. The policy of a strong presence on the international scene was driven by the ideological and concrete clash with the Soviet adversary, prompting the American government to intervene more or less openly in the national policies of minor states, which became a battleground between the two superpowers .

A vision that prompted Roddenberry to develop an opposition to American imperialist philosophy, which became yet another point of criticism to be inserted within his allegorical metaphor of his contemporaneity. In 1966, the debut year of Star Trek, the U.S.A. they were firmly committed to the conflict in Vietnam, a war which at home was provoking a heated debate between the population, pacifist, and the interventionist policies of the government. A trait that did not escape Roddenberry and the writers of Star Trek, who did not fail to make a fierce criticism of this Washington political initiative.

To bring about the birth of the Prime Directive, was the producer of the series, Gene Coon , who was inspired by the Charter of the United Nations, which in paragraph 7 of the second article establishes a principle that should regulate international relations:

Nothing in the present Charter authorizes the United Nations to intervene in matters which essentially fall within the internal competence of a State, nor does it oblige Members to submit such matters to a settlement procedure in application of this Statute; however, this principle is without prejudice to the application of coercive measures under Chapter VII.

Law which, according to Roddenberry and Coon, was not respected, prompting them to create their own version of this law which would find, at least in the future, greater respect. Faithful to this idea, Coon and Roddenberry adapted this principle to their universe, establishing that in no case the United Federation of Planets, and the Starfleet, should intervene in the development of less evolved societies, establishing as a discriminating element the discoveries of warp technology . Choice made as with the possibility of traveling in the cosmos, the possibility of meeting new alien species would have led to belonging to a larger galactic community. Choice reconfirmed by First Contact and Enterprise , where we witness, from a chronological point of view, the birth of the future Prime Directive of Star Trek , which reads:

Since the right of every sentient species to live according to its normal evolution culture is considered sacred, no Starfleet member and/or Federation representative may interfere with the normal and healthy development of an alien species and culture. This interference includes the introduction of superior knowledge, force or technology into a world whose society is unable to handle such advantages wisely. Starfleet personnel shall not violate the Prime Directive, even to save their lives and/or their vessel or installation, unless they themselves act in remediation of a prior violation or accidental contamination of said crop. This directive takes precedence over any other consideration, and carries with it the highest moral duty.

In Guerra Privata (A Little War) it is shown how Kirk's return to a planet visited about ten years earlier leads to the discovery of a civil war fomented by Klingon infiltrators, who fuel the clash by providing one of the parts advanced weapons to give them an edge over rivals. In an attempt to balance the fight, Kirk decides to give another tribe Federation weapons. In doing so, the captain himself does not fail to draw a historical parallel with 'the ruthless war on the Asian continent in the 20th century', a clear reference to the Vietnam War.

Even from a critical point of view, the approach of Kirk to the Prime Directive is however marked by a positive intervention, aimed at maintaining a balance. If episodes of the classic series such as The Force Schemes show the consequences of breaking the Prime Directive, following the adventures of the Next Generation this approach is presented in a different light.

In Who Watches the Watchers , a cloaked Federation outpost tasked with studying the pre-warp population of Mintaka III, is discovered by the locals, leading them to develop a reverence for these advanced beings who see in Picard even a god. Knowing that he has broken the Prime Directive, Picard comes to accept being shot by an arrow and risking death in order to show that Starfleet officers are really just men and women.

Picard himself must face the consequences of the Prime Directive in Star Trek: Insurrection, where the General Order 1, as the Prime Directive is also known, is used as if in a totally unrealistic way by the leaders of the Federation, ready to nullify its usefulness in order to gain access to a coveted technology that could prove to be an incredible weapon. Inevitably, Picard turns against this policy, going so far as to give up his ranks and lead a rebellion, following his own moral compass that leads him to preserve not only the Prime Directive but the very spirit of the Federation.

Star Trek's Prime Directive is one of the most typical features of the series, becoming yet another example of how Gene Roddenberry's creature has subtly but unequivocally portrayed the contemporary world, using science fiction as an analytical tool.

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