An interesting two-part video essay on the different narrative representations of “terrorism” or politically-motivated violence by non-state actors in the Stark Trek entertainment franchise from the YouTube channel Trekspertise. In the real world the classification of “legitimate” or “illegitimate” violence in the pursuit of political ends often boils down to a matter of partisan opinion. Or government policy. To borrow inspiration from a line in the 1985 sci-fi novel Contact by the late great American astronomer Carl Sagan: freedom-fighters are the ones we support, terrorists are the ones we oppose, and guerillas are the ones we haven’t made our minds up about yet.

12 comments on “Terrorism In Star Trek

  1. marconatrix

    Nice Sagan quote there 🙂


    • The exact quote from the book is: “If we like them, they’re freedom fighters . . . If we don’t like them, they’re terrorists. In the unlikely case we can’t make up our minds, they’re temporarily only guerrillas.”
      A great mind and great enthusiast for science and learning as tools to liberate and guide us. And now his country is led by the personification of anti-science and the anti-intellect. And look where that has led it!

      Liked by 2 people

      • As for freedom fighters. I think you CAN objectively assess whether a group’s goals involve any kind of freedom other than what you think of their methods. For example, you can easily make a case that Palestinians are seeking freedom, in a way you can’t with ISIS or Al-Qaeda. You can see many South American groups as seeking freedom for their country, but this is clearly NOT the case with drug-lords such as Pablo Escobar. In Africa, there are many groups you could label freedom fighters but the Janjaweed militias, the Hutu militias of the Rwanda genocide and the groups that were cutting off peoples’ limbs in Liberia don’t deserve that label. Nelson Mandela could still be considered a freedom fighter at a time when Amnesty International wouldn’t take up his case due to his methodology, but he still had a goal of freeing his country from Apartheid. The same cannot be said of South African drug lords who might have broken the same laws.

        I’ve seen many cases where the term “guerillas” was applied to people the user of the term clearly sympathized with.


        • I think in this context the question of political motivation is the primary idea behind the definitions. Or politics by other means, with a nod to Bismarck.

          It’s still a snappy way of illustrating the hypocrisy in much of the labelling of terrorist and non-terrorist. And here I hold my hands and plead guilty. I did not/do not see (P)IRA as a terrorist organisation. Despite the many desperate deeds it committed, up to and including actions that were military crimes, which I freely acknowledge. I give no such largesse to loyalist gangs. So, partisan sentiment or ideology really does make for the belief thatone man’s terrorist can be another man’s freedom-fighter.


          • It’s as much my own background as an anti-war protesters that makes me not want to give into such cynical relativism and as somebody whose political development was always, always, and always under a shadow of a nasty Dolchstosslegende.

            I believe that the distinction between terrorist and non-terrorist has a lot of gray areas. However, one big thing I don’t want to see given up or waved away is the idea that legitimate and elected nation states SHOULD be held to a higher standard than any band that can make a pipe bomb or plan a clever attack. If you are opposed to an ill-conceived war that is being pushed as a response to terrorism, the Just War Criteria of “Proportionality” is almost always a good argument.

            Having once opposed a war with largely that argument-“That responding to terrorists with full open war fails the criteria of Proportionality, and most people who will suffer for it are not to blame.” I really don’t want to take concepts like that and just “swap them out” for clever opportunities to take an edgy, edgy dig at the supposed hypocrisy of whoever, or whatever institution.

            I believe some things really do warrant serious moral ambiguities and using a label like “terrorist” (such as calling John Brown, General Sherman, or Nelson Mandela) a terrorist isn’t a good way to “hold two thoughts in your head”, if you know what I mean.


            • +1 to Mantronix, great quote there ASF from Sagan. Have you read the Demon Haunted World by him?

              It’s an interesting discussion on what constitutes terrorism. To me Baader-Meinhof or RAF were functionally terrorist groups in that their political aims were entirely unachievable and they were unmoored from even a fig-leaf of democratic legitimation and that their violence was almost ‘exemplary’ in the sense of seeking to point up contradictions (which most people could see in any case) but in the most bloody fashion possible. Similarly with fascist terror groups (though the history of same is different in the context of sub-state sponsors within political military apparatuses of various states – a la Gladio and stay-behind networks). One can, of course, argue PIRA’s end goal of a unitary Ireland was remote as a likelihood given the nature of the North (and South!), though not necessarily unachievable, but I think that the fact it was underpinned particularly from the late 70s by increasing recourse to democratic legitimation was key. And I’d be very critical of many aspects of the armed campaign – and early and late (or at least early 70s to late 80s) there were approaches that were simply abysmal (Bloody Friday one example, proxy human bombs another) and were also counterproductive I feel. But unlike RAF/B-M they did have a link back to actual political activity that in some ways was a stabilising feature (and small wonder R ÓB et al were wary in the extreme of same) and increasingly a limiting feature too. And it allowed them to leapfrog into a context where wielding political power advanced them much further than armed struggle did.


              • Yep, read that way back when and enjoyed it. And probably influenced by it.

                An extra layer in the categorisation of PIRA is legitimacy. Not the legitimacy claimed by the PIRA Army Council but that given by the UK to PIRA near the start of the conflict, through direct and indirect negotiations, direct and indirect ceasefires in the 1979s. When governments interact like that with a militant group it is hard to dismiss it as just a “men of violence” grouping and nothing more. The UK made the conflict an embedded one by negotiating from the get-go with its primary opponent in the north.



              • That’s a great point which I hadn’t thought of, but you’re absolutely right. From the off there were contacts, negotiations, etc. That paints the conflict in a fairly different light.


        • Forgive me but two different terms were being discussed, “terrorist” and “freedom fighter”. So as I see it freedom of some kind may or may not be being sought by someone being called a “terrorist”. And you have given some examples of groups who were not seeking freedom but might have been called “terrorists”.

          I would agree with the analysis of the term “terrorist” by Carl Sagan which makes it a completely subjective term. “Freedom fighter”, though misused by the USA to support nasty squads and movements they fund, is not, I would agree with you, a subjective term and can be defined. I would therefore agree also with the Fair Fox that the IRA and a number of other Irish Republican organisations qualify for the term “freedom fighter”. This is not conditioned by whether their methods or actions were always good, no more than one could say that about the FLN of Algeria or the “pirelli necklacing” of alleged informers by ANC supporters, etc.

          As to “guerrilla”, really it refers only to a particular way of fighting and is therefore neutral, even though the origins of the word are in the history of a kind of freedom struggle. During the Napoleonic occupation of Spain, groups in different parts of that territory fought against that occupation in small hit-hurt-and run engagements. This kind of campaign became called “guerrilla”, i.e “little war” and those who took part in them, “guerrilleros”, i.e “those who fight little wars”. The term has been misapplied in English.

          The Farc and the Contras were both groups of “guerrillas” (sic) because of their way of fighting but only one of them could be called “freedom fighters”.

          It is notable that the mainstream media is reluctant to use the term “guerrillas” to describe any group of which mainstream or dominant ideology does not emphatically approve.



  2. One reason I can see to keep the distinction between terrorism and open war pretty firm: If it’s a firm distinction than responding to terrorists with a fully declared open war can be labeled as unethical on the grounds of proportionality. Proportionality IS a key criteria according to Just War Theory, and an easy way to argue that declaring war on terrorists is immoral in that it’s very, very unlikely to save more lives than it costs. I’ve actually protested a war on exactly that premise myself.

    One overlooked fact about Harper’s Ferry is that John Brown and Company is that what happened and what they planned were two totally different things. He expected that on the first night of the raid that 200-500 slaves would run away from their masters and join him at the armory and he’d start distributing weapons to as more escaped slaves joined his army. His idea was that this was going to be a slave insurrection against the local slave patrols and militia. He had not counted on The Marines responding to his insurrection-led by Robert E Lee no less. There were a number of reasons why the massive slave revolt part of the plan didn’t work out such as communication and fear of punishment. However the assumption, that he would be dealing with slave patrols and local militia was not unreasonable given prior slave revolts. Frederick Douglas had advised and even warned John Brown NOT to go through with the Harper’s Ferry Plan, but maintained until his dying days that Brown was not crazy as many included General Lee claimed.

    To go with the idea that John Brown was a terrorist. Well even from that stance The South can definitely be accused of lacking proportionality, if you want to roll with the idea that they seceded and started The Civil War over Harper’s Ferry.

    That said nothing about the lead-up to The US Civil War was simple. The actual final straw was not Harper’s Ferry but Lincoln’s election. I would argue that the lead-up began with “The United States vs Schooner Amistad” in 1841 and the point where a the chance of a peaceful end to slavery for The US became very low came with “Dred Scott vs Sandford” in 1857. Whether Harper’s Ferry started The Civil War or merely pushed it forward a year or two is a debate that can never be answered.

    The best way to make sense of the secessionist movement is to look at the lower South’s reaction to the Haitian uprising. It’s certainly true that the Haitian revolt helped protect the US from being attacked at one point. However, in parts of The South with large slave populations, the fear became “What happened to the white population of Haiti could happen to us.” In some ways that region that region never got over the paranoia The Haitian Revolt cause in it………much like it’s never gotten over losing The Civil War.

    Bottom line? It’s really hard to say if those particular incidents, raids, slave revolts, court cases, or even Lincolns election actually CAUSED the Civil War, or it they simply set the exact dates. You could argue that after a certain point that a profoundly toxic dynamic was in play, and that to avoid a messy outcome like The Civil War would have been extremely difficult after………well years before Harper’s Ferry for sure.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I don’t believe that incidents start wars but I do believe that they can be the stray spark that sets off a heap of combustibles lying around or also, like the Gulf of Tonkin incident, can be a cynical excuse or cover for an already-intended action. I think the American Civil War was the result of a number of ready combustibles and of sections of the US ruling pulling in radically different directions. The Pentagon Papers and Watergate were also a result of sections of the US ruling class falling out over whether to pull out of war in Indochina or to continue with it — but the consequences of one side winning were not so serious for the other that they would go to war over it (though some minor players might have fatal accidents or have to go to jail).


    • These things are more than cynical excuses and plots most of the time. There was nothing cynical about the paranoia that had infected the US South after the Haitian massacre-The near extermination of Haiti’s French population regardless of whether or not they owned slaves or were overseers. This happened after the Haitian Revolution, indeed after L’ouverture died in a French prison. Of course, it was always totally unrealistic, that these events would happen in the US. The whole social and political terrain was different. The fear however was as real in much of The Lower South as fear of nuclear war was in the 1980’s. (Indeed, that’s one of the things I’ve used to try to empathize with White Southerners.) Over time it escalated from “Abolitionists are a pack of naive, sheltered, otherworldly and holier-than-thou moralists who simply don’t understand the consequences of their actions.” to “The North isn’t willing or able to protect us.” to “Most Northerners want us all killed in a slave revolt.” The reason a lot of poor Southerners fought? Besides conscription the issue was often fear of seeing their whole family slaughtered.

      Most Northerners had long since wanted to gradually phase out of slavery-as most Northern states had done. The whole basis for the Confederacy was steeped in totally unrealistic and unreasonable paranoia.

      The whole fallout with Vietnam later on cut across all segments of society and social classes. It wasn’t about any one social class or demographic.

      Far from being all about conflicts within upper class people Daniel Ellsberg who released the Pentagon Papers (and honestly feared going to jail for it!!!) came from comfortable but relatively modest background. While Katherine Graham who made the decision to publish was wealthy and had known Robert McNamara socially, print journalists even those with money were kept at an arm’s length from power. Plus she was a woman in a man’s world and at a huge disadvantage for that, when facing bankruptcy or even prison. With Woodward and Bernstein for Watergate: Bernstein was raised working class. Woodward as the son of a judge not so much, but they definitely weren’t people with access to the elite.

      In those days journalists had a much grubbier blue collar image than today. So the idea that it was about “the elite” having some fight among themselves? No that also doesn’t gel with massive opposition to the Vietnam War among the general population along with the actual players in some of those things.


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