Imagine this scenario: A massive ship rests in its dock as the crew prepares for departure. Orders are given and acknowledged. A course is laid. Whistles echo through the decks. Dock lines fall to the side, and the ship clears the last mooring. What happens next? Is this a warship cutting through ocean waves headed for the Mediterranean? Or is this a starship disappearing in a warp speed flash of light headed for strange new worlds? Their missions may be entirely different but similarities between today’s military and Star Trek’s Starfleet remain evident. On the program of Creation Entertainment’s Star Trek Convention Las Vegas last month, a panel of veterans presented and discussed military aspects of Star Trek and similarities between Starfleet and the armed forces.
The parallels between Star Trek ships of the fleet and large navy craft are obvious. Starfleet has many similarities to the naval organizations of the real world. Such examples can be found throughout each show or movie of the franchise. Although Star Trek’s prime mission is deep space exploration and research, Starfleet also exists as a peacekeeping and defense organization. Much already has been studied, reported, written, blogged, and stuck on electronic bulletin boards referencing Star Trek’s military themes. It’s almost unfathomable how many levels discussion can encompass the similarities and differences between real world military groups and Star Trek (para)military groups. Trek fans love to compare weapons, vessels, tactical engagement, chains of command, training, ranks, strategies, wars, battles and the characteristics of various groups of enemies.
But the Las Vegas convention panel event, the discussion went “above and beyond….” Panel members explored personal military experiences and personal opinions about Star Trek military themes and situations. Members of the panel were: Jeanne Domenech (US Army Ret.), AJ Kwan (USAF Ret.), Mark Strosin (Active Duty Navy), Michael Nguyen (Army Reserve), and Doug Murray (US Army).
Many questions posed of the veterans on the panel were about their service and similarities to Starfleet. The panel compared training and leadership, decision making, risk calculating, and military realism in Star Trek. The panel members talked about how their perceptions of Star Trek has not only affected their military career but also the effect their military training has had on their views about various aspects of Star Trek for each of the different series, plots, storyline situations, tactics, and technology.
The panel began with a PowerPoint presentation which included a comprehensive military background of Star Trek, starting with the service duty of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s U.S. Army Air Corps career and subsequent job as a police officer.
Reports are Roddenberry used military concepts for the initial ideas to create Star Trek. This was furthered by production staff like Robert Justman who served in the US Navy during WWII, and Matt Jefferies (designer of the starship Enterprise) who was a bomber pilot in WWII. The presentation outlined a number of Original Series (TOS) episodes containing military themes. Among these: “Balance of Terror” with its destroyer-submarine similarities; “Court Martial,” “The Menagerie Parts I & II,” and “Turnabout Intruder” with stories focusing on court martial proceedings, “Errand of Mercy” in which fleets of ships stop an invasion force and James Kirk refers to himself as a soldier.
Another segment of the convention panel’s program included a look how the name, Enterprise is used throughout history for military ships. In addition, the name Enterprise has been a motorboat, steamboat, balloon and a U.S Navy training facility. This was followed by a recap of the various Enterprise ships in Starfleet throughout history of Star Trek. Going through this naming convention again is like reviewing a short video take of how aviation evolves into space flight — similar to the video intro to Star Trek: Enterprise. It always has good audience appeal, especially to Trek fans. An entire segment of Star Trek fan culture exists to the study of ships of Starfleet, their structural design, mechanics, power capabilities, living quarters and weapons.
Members of the panel told the Las Vegas convention audience which characters in Star Trek they most admire or emulate, how realistic they believe some storyline situations were played out, their thoughts about technological developments, issues associated with command and of service and ancillary topics. What was most interesting was how some ethics or leadership lessons depicted in Star Trek shows, particularly The Original Series (TOS), aided in making decisions during their military service — and civilian life as well. One panel member, AJ Kwan described how Star Trek had an influence on him to join the military. He described: it’s common to hear how Star Trek has had an influence on young fans to become scientists or astronauts, adding Star Trek had an impact on his decision to join the military. The leadership qualities of James Kirk and lessons of values from the show inspired him.
Finally, panel members agreed that The Original Series holds more similarities with actual military service, at least as they have experienced it. They felt that military situations in the newest Star Trek films by J.J. Abrams had the least military realism. One example that they humorously cited, was from the 2009 film — when Kirk jumps in rank from midshipman to captain in a single day.
There’s a kind of common denominator at work: police officers, firefighters, astronauts, members of the armed services, even Starfleet personnel all need to operate in high pressure situations. A cool and calm demeanor and following procedure help make the mission a success even in the worst possible scenarios. In would seem Star Trek plots, storylines, production and direction not only build solid entertainment characters but they also build solid character traits of the viewers themselves.
So “to boldly go” may imply “going” with the confidence of strength and leadership, being able to carry out the mission of space exploration while maintaining the ability to keep the crew from harm’s way; whether the “harm” is a force of nature, an aggressive alien species or a vengeful, genetically-engineered human.
Thanks to panel coordinator AJ Kwan the full presentation is available as a PDF by clicking the link below:
STAR TREK & THE MILITARY