What We Can Learn from the Moral Leadership of the Star Trek Captains

I’m a lifelong fan of the Star Trek universe. I’ve grown up with multiple Captains adventuring though the Alpha, Delta, and Gamma Quadrants. They’ve fought off the Borg invasion of sector 001 and thwarted the multiple attempts by the Ramons to cause dissent, and sabotage among others. The Star Trek universe is chalk full of examples of the best and worst of human beings. In this article I want to discuss the moral leadership of the different Captains.

To start let’s look at the monologue from the “Into the Pale Moonlight” episode. The episode centers on the hard fact that the combined forces of the Federation and Klingon Empire were not proving enough to stop the advance of the Dominion and their Cardassian Allies. This came to a head as news broke that Betazed, the home world of Counselor Troi from The Next Generation, had fallen to a surprise Dominion attack. It was becoming clear that the war was only going to end with the fall of the Federation/Klingon Alliance.

Star Trek Captain Sisko "Into the Pale Moonlight" Episode

At the beginning of the episode, Captain Sisko comes to the realization that he might have to abandon his convictions as a Starfleet officer in order to do what he views is necessary for “the security of the Alpha Quadrant”. As the episode progresses more and more of Sisko’s moral convictions are abandoned in the effort to get the Ramons into the war. Captain Sisko felt it was necessary to save as many lives as possible, even if that meant the murder of a foreign political leader.

In a very similar situation to the McCarthy Red Scare era, Captain Picard makes a different moral decision in “The Drumhead” episode of the Next Generation series. Picard refuses to allow a crewman by the name of Tarses’ civil rights to be violated. During this episode, sabotage was suspected after an explosion in the dilithium chamber of the engine room. Rear Admiral Norah Satie, a gifted telepath, is brought in from Starfleet command to investigate the explosion. Throughout the course of the investigation Satie changes her focus from the suspected sabotage to Captain Picard’s use of the “Prime Directive” which dictates how Starfleet officers should conduct themselves regarding other civilizations.

Captain Picard "The Drumhead" Episode

Satie uses her telepath to discover that Crewman Tarses was keeping a secret. Using the worst in judicial activism, Satie is able to claw out the fact that Tarses lied on his application to Starfleet in order to hide his Romulan heritage. Tarses feared that it would keep him from being able to have a career in Starfleet. Satie uses this as a pretext to not only attack his moral character, but to also accuse him of being an agent of the Romulan Star Empire allowing her to violate his most basic civil rights as a citizen of the Federation. In the last act of the episode, Picard has had enough and stands against Satie and her treatment of his crewmen. He quotes Satie’s own father in a very stirring speech exposing her fanaticism to the entire hearing which just so happened to have a commanding admiral in attendance. In light of the revelations he calls a halt to the proceedings.

Another episode where a moral choice has to be made takes place during the Enterprise episode “Damage.” Both Enterprise and a smaller alien vessel are damaged due to spatial anomalies. The smaller alien vessel asks the crew of the Enterprise for assistance which they gladly do. However, the Enterprise needs a warp coil in order to continue on their mission to save Earth. The smaller vessel just so happens to have one. At this point Captain Archer of the Enterprise tries unsuccessfully to barter with the crew of the alien ship for their warp coil, in exchange for some Trillium –D. Captain Archer has to make a difficult choice: continue on his mission to try to save Earth, or uphold his morality.

Archer makes the tough decision to abandon his principles for practicality. Armed with a security force, he beams aboard the smaller ship, takes the warp-coil, and leaves behind the Trillium-D and other supplies as a form of compensation. The consequences of this action are severe as the alien ship captain pleads with Archer, “You’re stranding us three years from home. Why are you doing this?!” Captain Archer responds, “Because I have no choice!” Tucker, seeing the guilt weighing down the Captain attempts to console him, “You did the right thing.” Captain Archer’s response is quite telling, “It seems the longer we’re out here, the more I have to keep saying that to myself.”

Star Trek Captain Archer "Damage" Episode

Throughout the entire Star Trek Universe there are many examples of these types of leadership decisions that at the end of the day, the leader is left with the burden of their conscious. I know that I myself, though not in the scale of saving an entire planet, have had to make these choices where I look back and ask, “Did I really do the right thing?” Star Trek helps us to express and feel what the human condition from birth till ultimate death has to go through. Any day we can be left with a decision which requires us to take make a moral choice.

What choices can we learn from each of these Captains? We learn that even the best of men can at times if enough pressure is applied will bend if not break their moral convictions. Sisko learned that he is willing to reach into the deepest and darkest depths within himself to do what he felt was right. With Picard, we saw what the best of humanity is, in my opinion. It was the willingness to stand for another person against the arms of the state. And finally with Captain Archer, we learn that in the pursuit of doing what is right in the worst of times, someone with excellent character can themselves succumb to making dark choices. Even if you’re the man who would lay the foundation for the Federation itself.

Will our choices be right or wrong? Would you cause harm to another person to save someone you loved? Would you throw another nation into war to save your own? I myself hope to say I wouldn’t. Wrong is wrong, and right is right, but watching these episodes and watching the heavy burden these leaders took upon themselves spells out how easy it is to get lost while trying to do the right thing. Personally, Picard was in the right, while Sisko doing what he felt was right, was in the wrong. As for Archer, his situation wasn’t the best by any means. He was left desperate, and with little real options. I believe I would be able to find another situation that didn’t involve stealing from a peaceful crew. In closing let’s remember Saint Bernard of Calirvaux, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”.

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