Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Star Trek, the Bishops and Drones

"But a 21st Century Catholic bishop said..."
Being a Trekkie (devotee of the Star Trek franchise) is at least vaguely similar to being a Catholic. Both groups display intense devotion to time-honored canons of stories, people, values and entire universes governed by laws and ancient wisdom.

And sometimes both of them raise questions about the morality of drone strikes.

Bp Pates: Drones are not logical for peace.
On May 17, Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, wrote letters to National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon and leaders in Congress, urging a public discussion on the use of drone strikes by the United States. Shortly thereafter, President Obama announced that his administration was tightening guidelines for drone strikes, with an apparent eye toward scaling back their use. A few days later, the Pakistan Taliban's second in command was reportedly killed in a U.S. drone strike. On June 4, Bishop Pates reiterated the moral questions raised by drone attacks in a piece on the Washington Post's "On Faith" blog.

The end result hasn't been so much the public discussion Bishop Pates called for, so much as drones fleetingly returning to our collective attention before being brushed aside as "too complicated to think about" somewhere around the second cup of coffee. Fortunately, Bishop Pates hasn't been alone in raising these questions. The other voices, however, are aboard the Starship Enterprise at a multiplex near you.

(Minor spoilers ahead.)

J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek Into Darkness," released the same day as Bishop Pates' letter, finds Captain James T. Kirk (also from Iowa) and the Enterprise crew sent deep into space, to the edge of the Neutral Zone, to find a terrorist. The terrorist is hiding on the Klingon home world, Kronos, and while the Klingons are hostile to the Federation, they aren't technically at war. Star Fleet's solution: don't invade the Klingon world to catch this man. Simply take him out with these handy new torpedoes we've developed.

(It doesn't exactly take a stroke of foreign policy/storytelling genius to have words like "Pakistan" and "drone strikes" running through one's mind at this point.)

The order doesn't go down well with the crew. Mr. Spock raises the question of how it's moral to essentially assassinate a person without anything resembling a trial. Another crew member resigns over the issue of the Enterprise being used for combat purposes. Both objections resemble concerns raised by Bishop Pates about how drone strikes struggle to apply Just War requirements to actions outside of a war zone.

And while the Enterprise crew fears sparking a war with the Klingons, Bishop Pates talks more generally about how drones are not a recipe for lasting peace. "Targeted killings sow anger and unrest among the countless people whose lives are upended," he writes. "The use of attack drones should be inseparable from the question of whether it promotes peace and security around the world."

In the 2003 documentary "The Fog of War," former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara (an architect of the Vietnam War) said "the human race needs to think more about killing." The new Star Trek movie provides a vision of a 23rd Century with people for whom the value of human life -- and the taking of  it -- is still a big deal. They have apparently had the discussion Bishop Pates calls for, given much thought to killing and found it immoral and, yes, illogical.

(CNS Photo/Paramount)

1 comment:

Dan Page said...

Don, nice piece, very elegant blend of current events, pop culture and Robert McNamara. Maybe we can resolve this moral issue by the end of this century? D. Page, Huntington Beach CA