The crew of the USS Enterprise ponders an ethical dilemma in the latest film, “Star Trek: Into Darkness”.
Reeling from a series of deadly terrorist attacks, the Federation dispatches the Enterprise on a vengeance mission. The target? A terrorist hideout deep within sovereign Klingon territory.
Armed with dozens of long-range torpedoes, the Enterprise silently parks just inside the neutral zone, as the crew debates their options. Is it ethical to kill from such a range? Is it human?
In the end, Kirk shelves the long-range strike idea in favor of a night raid on the Klingon homeworld.
Of course, his reasoning has nothing to do with violating the sovereignty of a major power. Instead, Kirk yields to the Prime Directive of sci-fi combat, which states that space combat can only take place when ships are a.) within visual range, b.) on the same two-dimensional plane, and c.) aforementioned ships must fire broadsides at one another.
This rule, of course, holds true despite all the advances in beyond-visual-range technology pioneered in the 21st Century. Sci-fi script writers have long realized that long-range missile combat lacks suspense. A shootout on the Klingon homeworld is no less ethical than a long-range missile strike…but it’s a lot more exciting.
And, perhaps that’s why there’s such hysteria about “drone ethics“. Drones are yet another step removed from the battlefield. Indeed, drones alter the notion of what it is to be a warrior: their pilots return to their homes at the end of a combat mission A recent proposal to offer valorous awards to drone operators was met with universal snark and mockery. In fact, many manned aviators even argue that drone operators aren’t really pilots.
In short, we expect our warriors to be more like Captain Kirk–even though Captain Kirk’s reckless disregard for regulations would hardly make him a good captain. Given the cinematic Kirk’s penchant for insubordination and sexual harassment, we would have expected him to be drummed out of Starfleet years ago.
Well, either that or perhaps promoted to Chief of Starfleet’s Sexual Harassment Prevention Task Force.