We Need a Prime Directive

My husband and I recently watched a re-run of Star Trek: Voyager. The story-line revolved around the application and importance of the “Prime Directive.”

For those of you unfamiliar with Star Trek (is that even possible??), the Prime Directive is the guiding rule developed by the future’s Federation of Planets: officers of Starfleet are expressly forbidden from interfering with the internal affairs of other planets and civilizations, no matter how well-meaning that interference or how potentially disastrous the results of non-intervention. The difficulty of complying with the Prime Directive has obvious dramatic possibilities, most of which have been mined extensively by the various Star Trek spin-offs.

On rare occasions, where the provocation was overwhelming, interference with other civilizations worked out, but usually in episodes where the Prime Directive was ignored, things ended badly.

Americans could learn a few things from Star Trek. At this stage of planetary development, we are the “big kahuna’s,” the analogs of the sheriffs in the old westerns, or the Federation forces in Star Trek. We are all too easily seduced by the temptations–and delusions–that come with power.

A Prime Directive might have kept us out of Viet Nam and Iraq. It might have kept us from confusing self-interest with self-defense.

At the very least, the existence of a Prime Directive would require serious public consideration of the  reasons being offered to justify a proposed intervention, the adequacy of those reasons, and the validity and reliability of the facts offered to support such justification.

When I hear Santorum, Gingrich and Romney rattling sabers at Iran and spouting nationalistic bromides in an effort to pander to the least thoughtful elements of the electorate, I can’t help marveling that an old science-fiction series displays more substance, more gravitas,┬ámore maturity, than the Republicans who are currently competing for their party’s nomination for President.

I can’t imagine Santorum, for example, a man who feels no compunction telling other people and other nations how (his) God wants them to live, and who promises to impose (his version of) “morality” on the rest of us should he be elected, embracing–or even understanding–a Prime Directive.


  1. You miss the second point of the saber-rattling toward Iran. Yes, in part, it is to play to hard-core elements within the GOP; but equally important to them is the “side effect” of this war-mongering/pandering: Higher gas prices. By beating their chests and threatening to bomb Iran, these crazies reap their completely-intended effect of driving up gas prices, which they then blame on Obama.

  2. A prime directive makes sense, but it would also be problematic. Would it keep us from intervening in a situation crying out for humanitarian help, such as Rwanda in the 1990s? Any exception would be exploited by people–I could see the neocons hammering the idea of invading Iraq based on “helping the Iraqis.” (Yes, of course, they did that.)

    You’re right, though. Too many people in “leadership” positions can’t grasp the concept of limited power, much less a prime directive.

  3. Hi, Shelia:

    I would like to comment on your Prime Directive.

    I believe we have two issues, here.

    1. The Prime Directive
    2. Iran

    I am a big believer in the Prime Directive, as I am of your generation . I believe our civilization could learn a lot from the philosophies of Star Trek. Also, in the world of Star Trek, there is basically no monetary system. Everyone has their job, as a contribution to society, and everyone’s needs are taken care of. It’s kind of like a utopian Kibbutz. Oh, and one other thing. Energy is free! Because of dilithium crystals and matter/anti-matter reactors, energy is free and quite abundant. Yes, this is a very idealistic society. Everyone has everything they need, there isn’t much crime, or any reason to steal from another. Greed is pretty much a thing of the past.

    In the real world, however, that isn’t the case. The world is driven by the combination of money, power, and greed. If you want to find the source of most problems we have in the world, today, follow the money trail. Have you heard of inventors who developed carburetors that allowed cars to get 100 miles per gallon? The oil companies bought up those patents and shelved the inventions. If people are using less gas, the oil companies aren’t making as much money. The needs of the few (greedy corporations), far outweigh the needs of the many . Didn’t Spock say something similar?

    Have you ever heard of Nikola Tesla? He was a Serbian genius appearing in the late 1800’s who revolutionized electricity. He invented wireless radio, AC electric motors, the AC current you get when you plug an electrical appliance into the wall, the AC light bulb, and FREE electricity. There are also many other inventions Tesla created. In 1900, Tesla got J.P. Morgan to fund a project where Tesla was going to provide free wireless electricity to the masses. Apparently, Morgan didn’t really understand what Tesla was up to, at first. When Morgan found out what Tesla was doing, he withdrew the funding and the project was never completed. Tesla was tapping the electrical energy that comes from the earth. If we could use Tesla’s ground breaking technology, today, we wouldn’t have the energy problems we currently have, and everything would be green. But the greed of the oil companies will never let that happen, Shelia.

    Tesla ended up going to George Westinghouse and got funding to build the first hydro-electric AC generators in the country powered by Niagara Falls. Buffalo, NY., was the first city in the USA to get AC electrical power.

    We need to get away from internal combustion engines, altogether, unless we are using inexpensive sources of hydrogen. We don’t want to rely on foreign oil, which means we need to provide our own inexpensive oil. And we need to get away from using petroleum based products for fuel. You don’t do that by raising gasoline to $10.00 per gallon and bust the economy, Shelia. You do that by providing super incentives to the engineering based companies that can invent this technology.

    As far as Iran, the country is being led by a madman. He has said on several occasions that he wants to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. I truly believe Iran is developing nuclear bombs and they must be stopped before they complete that task. You can’t reason with Iran. If you believe you can treat Iran with respect, and expect them to treat you with respect, I have some swamp land in Florida I’d like to sell you. Sanctions don’t work. There is only one thing that works when it comes to Iran, and that is a strong threat of military action or force. I don’t even think that a threat of military action will be enough. Either Israel or the USA will have to make a preemptive strike on Iran to stop them. They aren’t going to listen to reason, Sheila.

    And, yes, I am well aware of the ramifications and problems that will cause. Russia, China, and the other Muslims nations will back Iran, and the Allies will back the USA and Israel. And that will start WWIII. The only thing that can stop this is some kind of supernatural intervention, Sheila. I don’t like talking about doom and gloom, but I can’t think of any other logical choices. It’s not “if” Iran will be attacked, it’s a matter of “when?”


  4. Both my other half and I are consummate Star Trek (all series) junkies, as I know you are for at least some, Sheila. However, for some time his Prime Directive to me has been: “We’re not ever going to be caught NEAR one of those Star Trek Conventions.” I think it’s the pointed ears.

  5. IIRC, there was a lot of lip service paid to “the Prime Directive”, then the plot had one (or more) major character(s) finagling a way around the restrictions, or just flat out breaking them.

    I’ll have to say that I’m pretty sure there was plenty of “careful thought” that went into the decisions to become involved in Vietnam and to invade Iraq. The problem likely was that dissenting opinions were likely dismissed by the small group who made the final decisions (because they were all like-minded). In retrospect, I don’t agree with the way either of those decisions were justified, but I understand why they were (in their own time).

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