Friday, October 31, 2008

Of Gene Roddenberry and the Geneva Convention

Using one of his episodes on the original 1960’s Star Trek series as an example, does Gene Roddenberry have reservations about our currently existing Geneva Convention?

By: Vanessa Uy

I hope that the Gene Roddenberry estate won’t sue me for doing a long-distance psychoanalysis on him akin to what some shrinks did with Barry Goldwater back in the 1960’s. But more often than not, the question whether Gene Roddenberry has reservations about the Geneva Convention does come up in hardcore Trekkie circles.
For the benefit of those Trekkies who still don’t know what Eugene Wesley “Gene” Roddenberry does for a living before the success of Star Trek, here are the pertinent facts, which could also serves as a basis in support of our current discussion.

Gene Roddenberry acquired first-hand knowledge on the action-adventure workings of Star Trek when he joined the US Army Air Corps back in 1941 (the US Air Force is a post-WW II entity). He flew many combat missions on board the B-17 Flying Fortress over the Pacific theatre with the 394th Bomb Squadron 5th Bomber Group which he was honored with the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal. After World War II, he enlisted in the police force before quitting to find a more lucrative job to support his family. Then came the successful breakthrough of Star Trek, and the rest is history – so to speak.

Many Trekkies that I know of harbor a belief that Gene Roddenberry is somewhat dissatisfied with our current Geneva Convention because of an episode on the original Star Trek series titled “A Taste of Armageddon”. On this particular episode, two warring parties – through a binding but arcane agreement or treaty – made war neat and painless. Especially when it comes to damage inflicted on their respective cultures and civilizations by sending their citizens – who were designated as dead by a supercomputer modeling a thermonuclear attack – into a “disintegration chamber” were they are killed and their bodies disposed of in a neat and efficient manner. When Captain Kirk, who visited this particular civilization became one of the casualties and was sentenced / designated to die for real in their civilization-safe arcane war. This resulted in Captain Kirk breaking the Prime Directive (a set of protocols Starfleet Personnel must follow like non-interference of alien cultures and practices etc.) to save his crew members who got embroiled in the arcane conflict. Captain Kirk’s “cowboy diplomacy” caused the war between the two civilizations to turn real – as opposed to being just a simulation on a supercomputer. Sadly, Gene Roddenberry have not shown on that particular episode how Starfleet Headquarters reacted on Captain Kirk’s “cowboy diplomacy” or if the captain is ever punished or reprimanded.

Using this example, one might conclude that this is Gene Roddenberry’s critique on the Geneva Convention and it’s effects on every post-World War II low-level conflicts. I too believe that our current Geneva Convention is somewhat hypocritical in it’s oversight and the arbitrary legislation of “Rules of War” on every number of low-level civil conflicts that happen after World War II. Like the prohibition of soldiers to use tear gas to flush out entrenched combatants. The US Army was reprimanded for their violation of the Geneva Convention on their use of tear gas on NVA regulars and the Vietcong during the Vietnam War, while the use of dioxin contaminated defoliants like Agent Orange were allowed. Or why the 5.56mm X 45mm rounds used in M-16 rifles weren’t banned by the Geneva Convention despite causing inhumane levels of suffering by allowing personnel hit by the said round to die slowly. The legal precedents of banning the use of the 5.56mm X 45mm round is already established – i.e. the legislation of banning the use of dum-dum bullets back in 1901 for example. This example even has an analogue in the Star Trek universe like Klingon and Romulan Disruptor-type weapons killing “inhumanely” compared to Federation approved Phasers.

An excellent example of the arcane way the Geneva Convention legislates laws – which gained widespread press exposure during the late 1990’s – was the ban on the use of laser-based weapons in the battlefield that temporarily blinds enemy combatants. Which to me is utter hypocrisy. If I was a soldier for example, it is ok for me to stab my enemy in the heart with a shovel or trowel. But under the Geneva Convention, it is illegal for me to temporarily blind my enemy for half an hour or so that I can take my enemy as a prisoner. During the 1990’s the Geneva Convention’s adverts are all over the major news channels like BBC and CNN with the tagline: “Even wars have limits.” Wars have limits all right, but it is the poor enforcement of existing Geneva Convention legislated laws (the sensible one’s anyway) that’s killing civilians. The April 1994 incident in Rwanda is a case in point.


Germaine said...

I just wondered if Eugene Stoner were even mindful during the design of his now famous assault rifle - the M-16 - that the 3 gram or so projectile from the 5.56mm X 45 mm round due to it's lightness could tumble end over end as it enters the center-mass region of a human target with nary a body armor.
Yes, I too agree that the Star Trek original series episode A Taste of Armageddon does highlight the futility of our current Geneva Convention and it could be Gene Roddenberry's critique on the subject.

Annuit Coeptis said...

This episode had one of the biggest impacts on me and my views on war. The Geneva convention sounds reasonable given the assumption that war is “ necessary ” but given the possibility that war may just be a mistake of human kind, it just seems like a hindrance of our social evolution.