At Star Trek’s military service Star Fleet Command, there’s a strict code of conduct for its captains. Officers have to play nice with others, no matter how many ridges or spots or off-putting facial features other Federation of Planets species may have. In other words: fairness to all, no matter the discomfort it may cause you.
And there is also a hard-and-fast rule that transcends all else: the Prime Directive. It dictates that none of its captains can interfere with the internal affairs of other species. And that seems to go double for any aliens who haven’t attained the same level of technological advancement as the Federation.
In the original series, Captain Kirk violated the Prime Directive on numerous occasions, with dubious rationale.
- In A Taste of Armageddon, Eminiar VII was fighting a war with its neighboring planet. The 500-year-old conflict was fought like a computer game, with no collateral damage. But those marked for dead voluntarily disintegrated. Kirk sabotaged the disintegration stations — thus inviting a real war. Maybe now they’ll end the conflict, he reasoned … or hoped.
- In A Private Little War, Kirk armed the primitive Hill People with deadly rifles. But as he pointed out, the Klingons started it first by arming the townspeople. All seven-year-olds concurred.
- On Sigma Iotia II, the population had adopted a 1920s-style gangster culture that they’d learned from an earlier ship’s visit. In A Piece of the Action, Kirk et al combated the severe cultural contamination by dressing up as gangsters too and “leaning on” the inhabitants to shape up.
There are other examples of starfleet captains’ misbehavior, but Kirk never really paid a price for his conduct — other than to be labeled the worst kind of cowboy diplomat. Perhaps because of Kirk’s example, subsequent captains viewed the Prime Directive as more of a suggestion than a hard-and-fast rule.
In The Next Generation, Captain Picard found the PD understandably inconvenient when he rescued ensign Wesley Crusher from a death sentence while visiting a new world. Wesley had committed a capital crime by falling into a bed of flowers.
In Voyager, Captain Janeway violated Federation policy by allying herself with the Borg to defeat Species 8472. Still, the Federation was tens of thousands of light-years away — so out of sight, out of mind.
Archer’s adventures in Enterprise mostly occurred before the formation of the Federation, so he gets a pass for ignorance of its subsequent code of conduct.
Sisko’s misconduct in Deep Space Nine, however, goes way, way off the scale of bad behavior when he puts the entire Alpha quadrant at risk with a deceitful scheme.
- For those bad at geography, the Alpha quadrant is our home — along with the Cardassians, Klingons, Romulans, and all of our favorite Federation aliens.
Realizing the value of this real estate, the Dominion — a race of shapeshifters — decides to move in. And they don’t intend to be accommodating co-inhabitants. They breed genetically-engineered soldiers who live to fight and take territory. They’re called the the Jem’Hadar, and they’re quite effective.
The Dominion is also good at subterfuge. They peeled away the Cardassians from the Klingon-Federation alliance, and they signed a nonaggression treaty with the Romulans. The alliance was getting boxed in.
Worsening weekly casualty reports strained morale, and things went from bad to worse after a Federation member world, Betazed, fell unexpectedly. Time for a new ally, reasoned Sisko.
In the excellent Deep Space Nine episode In the Pale Moonlight, Captain Sisko devised a scheme with the morally ambiguous Garak. They would falsify evidence to convince the Romulans that the Dominion were planning to attack them. Had the plan been exposed, Sisko risked the Romulans actively joining the Dominion’s side of the war, dooming any chance for the Federation and Klingons. Bye, bye, Alpha Quadrant if so, thanks to Sisko’s monumentally questionable conduct.
But after a few false starts, the Romulans unknowingly bought into the lie and joined the alliance, turning the tide of the war.
In this case, the ends arguably justified the means.