Experiencing the '60s With Captain Kirk

Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com

We were both experiencing the Sixties, Captain Kirk and I. Admittedly, I was still in the 1960s and the captain was somewhere in the 2260s. I was on an insignificant planet circling an unimpressive sun in an obscure solar system, while, for three years before the USS Enterprise was grounded and his travels put into syndication, the captain was moving at light speed through the "United Federation of Planets." In those years that we shared across the millennia, I was swept away by a movement protesting American military interventions in several countries -- Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia -- so far away and culturally alien that, before we went to war there, few Americans could have told you where they were or even, perhaps, that they were. The captain, on the other hand, was repeatedly landing in peace on a series of strange planets peppered with what looked distinctly like papier-mâché rock formations and filled with curious creatures he was sworn by a "prime directive" never to harm or change. In the parallel years, on my planet, American Captain Kirks were piloting their aircraft carriers off the Vietnamese coast and launching planes that, according to an American prime directive then operative, would slaughter uncounted "aliens" and, in the end, with the help of the U.S. Air Force and up to three million troops, destroy whole worlds.

Stranger yet, in those years (1966-1969) I watched both of these events on television. And while the Starship Enterprise and its Trekkie successors have come back so many times on TV screens and in multiplexes nationwide to deal with Khan, save the whales, tangle with Q, and explore ever stranger worlds filled with even more alien beings, on Earth, my country has stuck tenaciously with its particular version of the prime directive -- in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, and elsewhere. There, as it blindly and repeatedly went where Americans had often gone before, killing by plane, drone, missile, and a bevy of other weapons, it continued to wreak havoc of every sort and gained nothing in return.

Intervention, it turned out, looked so much prettier in outer space. In "The Star Trek Fallacy," however, John Feffer suggests that whether in bloody reality or in relatively peaceful fantasy, the essential problem in the 1960s, 2015, or the twenty-third century has been the very urge to intervene and that, if we don't somehow ditch it, it may turn out that our own prime directive will destroy us and the very framework for life on this planet.