Friday, February 29, 2008

Gene Roddenberry and the Sino - Indian War: An Unexplained Fixation?

Is Gene Roddenberry’s somewhat frequent (though never overwrought) references to the Sino – Indian war on his various works somewhat propped up his mythical status?

By: Vanessa Uy

From Star Trek to the Earth: Final Conflict TV series, Gene Roddenberry’s use of the “apocryphal escalation” of the Sino – Indian Border Conflict of late 1962 which he refers to as the “S-I War” has become one of his most distinctive “literary tools”. The “SI War” always fires up my personal imagination because none of the Trekkies (Star Trek fans) I met so far (except one) really know what started this conflict and it’s historical significance. Have I finally found a topic that should be a “required reading” by all Trekkies, yet majority of them squirm away from it? But first, allow me to discuss the historically factual version of the Sino – Indian Conflict.

During the annexation of Tibet by the Peoples Republic of China back in 1951, His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet was forced into exile in India. The Dalai Lama’s choice of seeking political / spiritual asylum in India where many of his followers live angered Beijing because the Dalai Lama’s status as a spiritual leader still continues and thus Beijing labeled him as a “strategic threat”. The Beijing government threatened the then Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru to surrender the Dalai Lama to them or suffer the consequences. Prime Minister Nehru held his ground even when thousands of Chinese troops massed along the Chinese – Indian border which lead to the largely forgotten Sino – Indian Conflict of late 1962. But it is a big deal back then because the worlds largest democracy by population namely: India and the worlds largest Socialist / Communist country by population namely: China. Are on the brink of full-scale war, which is likely to attract intervention by Cold War era superpowers namely the US and the then USSR.

Does the Sino – Indian Border Conflict of 1962 remind you of how the Trojan War started? The war supposedly revolves around Helen of Troy but in truth the war was really about vying control of the lucrative “trade routes” of the Mediterranean Sea. Adventure stories from the Ancient Greeks which violates every rule of Sun Tsu’s “Art of War” – like conserving precious resources when conducting a campaign – seems to gain “blockbuster status” to us in the Western World. Mao Zedong’s famous “Red Book” was purportedly based on “The Art of War” by Sun Tsu, and yet even the Beijing Government fell into this trap by engaging a border conflict with India with the threat of the US and NATO being drawn into the conflict. Didn’t Sun Tsu point out that the best way to win a war is to deny a battle? By labeling His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet a greater threat than he actually is, China would have squandered precious manpower and materiel on a conflict with dubious political significance. Even today, the Sino – Indian War / Border Conflict of 1962 is largely forgotten unless you are a hard core “Trekky” with serious interest on the subject. The row over the Dalai Lama between China and India did inspire many a Star Trek TV episodes from the Original Series to Star Trek: The Next Generation and other related Star Trek TV series like Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and the latest Enterprise TV series which stars Scott Bakula.

But the “apocryphal escalation” of the Sino – Indian war of 1962 – which is often used by Gene Roddenberry – is what gave the world the story about the “Eugenics Wars” that gave rise to Ricardo Montalban’s character “Khan” of Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan. The “S-I War” in Earth: Final Conflict and related variants of the theme that is used in Enterprise. Like the three – part episode “Borderland,” “Cold Station 12,” and “The Augments” which explained the origin of various Star Trek characters like Khan, Dr. Arik Soong, the great – great – great – grandfather of Data’s creator Dr. Noonien Soong.

In my opinion, every one of us – not just “Trekkies” should re-examine the events surrounding the Sino – Indian War of 1962. This is so because our current “operation” to capture Osama Bin Laden and to restore the Rule of Law in Afghanistan is fought in a terrain not unlike that of the Sino – Indian War of 1962. This terrain is so hostile even for casual tourist and explorers that to conduct military maneuvers on such an environment borders on insanity. I once played a military simulation exercise / game similar to the terrain found on the Khyber pass and trust me, if the overexertion doesn’t wear you down the resulting “minor” injuries will. And we haven’t yet taken into account the low prevailing barometric pressure.

In Gene Roddenberry’s lifetime (sadly, he passed away on October 24, 1991) the geopolitical antics of China almost drove anyone - who cares about these events – into a nervous breakdown of sorts because China invaded Vietnam on February 17, 1979 by launching a major attack along their 500 mile border. Chinese forces supported by artillery and tanks were able to invade four Vietnamese provinces. Plus China’s subsequent claim of the oil rich Spratley Islands which almost give the Beijing Government “reasons” to annex the Philippines. Even at present with the Beijing Government’s complicity of the ongoing genocide in the Darfur Region of Sudan. Yet despite threats of boycotting the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, China continues her intransigence with regards to her “Foreign Policy”. If Gene Roddenberry is following these events from the afterlife, his “I told you so” could probably create a new Sci-Fi TV series.

Some “Trekkies” would be asking right now ”What does this all mean?” Well, even though Gene Roddenberry was only seen as an “entertainer” during the 1960’s. To me, he did contribute something to resolve the bitter issues in one of the most tumultuous period of America’s history. Gene Roddenberry might not be as vocal as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when it comes to Civil Rights issues, yet most of the issues presented in the original Star Trek series were about Civil Rights issues. When the late President John F. Kennedy inspired Americans to go to the Moon, Gene Roddenberry did his part too in inspiring not just the American people but everyone who saw Star Trek. Gene Roddenberry’s views about the Sino – Indian War of 1962 was probably his way of reminding all of us not to forget what George Santayana said about studying history.