Check out how Star Trek handled the subject of terrorism

Originally published at: Check out how Star Trek handled the subject of terrorism | Boing Boing


Wait, what? Luke and the resistance were terrorists?

I thought they were battling terrorists?


They were battling fascists, but they weren’t terrorists in the sense that they didn’t specifically target civilian population or infrastructure.


When you are fighting someone that blows up an entire planet to demonstrate a weapon you aren’t the terrorists.


@dnealy technically terrorists

Cite, please.

Cite, please.

I’m not trying to be an ass, but as a country the US throws around the word “terrorist” pretty freely. The best the FBI can come up with is something along the lines of “an international terrorist” is someone who is “inspired by” or “associated with” a terrorist organization, without bothering to clarify how someone gets designated as such. So you’re a terrorist if you hang around with terrorists.

A domestic terrorist is someone who commits a criminal act to further ideological goals related to “political, religious, social, racial, or environmental” causes. Blow up a women’s health clinic because your god tells you abortion must be punished? Terrorism according to the FBI. Except when it’s not.

The US Department of State says terrorism is “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.”

So, you can bomb “non-combatants” to “influence” people, premeditatedly, if you are a country, but not if you aren’t recognized as such. So, Israel? Yep, all good. Hamas? Nope.

A few more definitions (PDF).

I once watched an MA thesis defense for an International Politics candidate whose advisor should have had him much better prepared for the ordeal. It was about non-state actors, and the candidate used the word “terrorist” to describe the actions of some of the folks he wrote about. After about 10 minutes of letting him go on, one of the faculty asked “could you define terrorism? It’s not outlined in your thesis.” All hell broke loose as the faculty couldn’t even agree amongst themselves.

In the video the narrator says “is terrorism in the eye of the beholder.” Yes. As he goes on to say “there’s no agreed-upon definition.” True. He also says that the term is full of “grey areas.” False. It’s all grey.

One constant (and this can help us understand why the folks in Star Wars are definitely not terrorists) is that it’s almost always used to designate people of color who (rightly or wrongly) use extralegal means to fight for what they see as justice. PLO? Terrorists. The IRA . . . well, yes. Unless you’re one of the many many Americans, including elected politicians, who helped fund them. In a typically-whitewashed story, the New York Times used the phraseology “may have allowed their enthusiasm for the militant Provisional wing of the Irish Republican Army to carry them beyond legal fundraising and into illegal gun‐running.” What a weird what a weird way to write “help fund terrorists” and it makes me wonder how the NYT writes about people who may have allowed their enthusiasm for Al-Qaeda “carry them beyond fundraising.” It also helps explain why, as the video notes, the ToS episode “The High Ground” wasn’t aired in the UK. Can’t muddy the waters between freedom fighters and terrorists, especially with the Deal Barracks Bombing, which was a military target, having happened just a few months before the episode came out in the US.

[For those of you into IRA neighborhood murals, Boston had a few.]

An interesting way to see two sides of the same coin is to watch the two westerns “The Magnificent Seven” and “The Wild Bunch.” They are essentially the same plot: American adventurism in a foreign country with a “peasant” population. The Wild Bunch had the benefit of a few years of the Vietnam War to help the story, and gone were the backward Mexican peasants who could barely function without the help of the virtuous American knights. Instead Pike Bishop has to content with people who are entirely capable of fighting their own battles, and for whom American interference is an unwelcome intrusion. It’s clear in the latter movie who the terrorists are.

Anyway, this wen ton longer than I’d intended. I appreciate the video, and the (yet again) thoughtful prompt you’ve provided, @dnealy. I’ll carry it into my classroom when we spin back up in a few weeks.


As best I can tell, the only consistent definition of terrorism is “political violence of which the speaker disapproves”.


I will put it to you this way. A terrorist is objectively defined as a person who takes on the role of a combatant in a conflict who:

  1. Does not wear a uniform to distinguish themselves from civilians
  2. Does not segregate themselves from a civilian population

These are important because the goal of a terrorist is to bring reprisals on a civilian population. Either in the form of attacks by uniformed combatants or ramping up harsh security measures to alienate the population.

Your take on The Wild Bunch/Magnificent Seven misses a few details. The Mexican peasants in the “Seven” were not involved in any outside conflict one can think of, but were victims of fellow peasants/bandits. The story being a direct adaption of Seven Samurai, with all the attendant social issues muted as North America did not have a version of the samurai class. Wild Bunch takes place during the time of an actual conflict (The Mexican Revolution of 1910’s) and the Mexican peasants involved were already combatants in it. The setting is already politically loaded having prior Italian and US Westerns use it for left wing messages.


The Empire was the recognized governing body of the Galaxy, an outgrowth of the Old Republic that retained at least some veneer of democratic representation via the Galactic Senate for decades after the Chancellor rose to his position as Emperor (to “thunderous applause,” as on Senator put it).

Nobody elected the Rebel Alliance. They just took it upon themselves to decide when it was in the Galaxy’s best interest for them to blow shit up.


This video made me remember all over again what a colossal disappointment the precursor Enterprise series turned out to be. When I first heard that it was being made, it seemed like an opportunity that some smart writers could have a wonderful time developing. It takes place 100 years before ST:TOS. There are so many creative themes they could have explored! Imagine nearly every piece of technology that they take for granted in the later shows being showcased in the early stages of development, for example. New tech could have been getting installed and tested as a sub-theme in almost every show. And what about having some of the guest star cast be ancestors of the familiar faces in TOS? They could have prestaged some of the events that occurred in favorite episodes of TOS as well.

If you watch the intro to the first couple of seasons of Enterprise they dropped a lot of hints that this could have happened. They show a sequence of space ships beginning with the early USAF and NASA space capsules, which morph as the music plays into imagined ships that look sequentially more like the ones used in the series.

If only they had taken that riff and expanded on it to deftly flesh out an insightful and cohesive background for the star trek universe, instead of running off on an edgy and overdramatic terror war tangent. I couldn’t make myself care enough to take up season three.


Since 1977 I thought Empire Vader bad Luke Leia Han Chewy good. I might have been confused by that whole death star thing.

I really never put that much thought into a fantasy movie meant to entertain me.


They did do that with Data’s “ancestor,” a genius villain played by Brent Spiner who set up events that would relate to Khan, Klingon/Starfleet relations and his own future progeny’s obsession with cybernetics.

Honestly I find it a bit corny when they do too much of that kind of writing in prequels. What are the odds that a bunch of any given crew’s ancestors all crossed paths with each other a century earlier? Plus putting known characters in a prequel limits what you can do with them. It was a given that Brent Spiner’s character couldn’t die before he had a child, for example.


That’s one of the points of this article. Just because the Rebellion is presented as the “good guys” doesn’t mean they aren’t technically terrorists.


Yep. And as a member of the imperial senate, Leia was actively involved in that government, giving weight to the idea of its legitimacy right up until the Emperor dissolved the Senate in Episode IV. It was already an empire since before she was born, let alone when she decided to become a senator.


I thought that was the French and Dutch Resistance. There is no “objective” definition. That’s the problem.

Your take on The Wild Bunch/Magnificent Seven misses a few details.

Sure, it’s over-simplified, but it’s not a radical notion. At its base the analogy holds–the portrayal of foreign people of color as capable of handling their own military affairs. The intervening years of Vietnam put paid to the idea that a peasant army (or an army of people of color) couldn’t handle itself. [In the popular mind–of course the VC was a well-trained fighting force, and the people had been fighting for decades].


Yes, that all tracks. My grandfather was in IRA v1.0 (on the side of Collins in the civil war) and my dad was involved with “Irish Northern Aid” in the 1970’s where ostensibly one of the causes was getting kids out of northern Ireland for a summer (which did in fact happen) but also was a gun running fund raiser. So when I saw charity collections at my favorite Lebanese restaurant in Woodside (which if someone knows their US-IRA history is pretty damn ironic) I figured immediately part of this was going to some militia in Lebanon, possibly Hamas.

It’s worth remembering that reignition of armed conflict in northern Ireland - certainly my parents support of NorAid - was driven by Bloody Sunday (Bloody Sunday (1972) - Wikipedia ) and that’s basically why a lot of opponents of the “Global War on Terror” think the US has done such a poor job in war by drone, bombing weddings and funerals.

That support in the US community for the IRA starting dying pretty quickly after they blew up a rock band and Harrods. Definitely people in NYC understood immediately that blowing up subways was a tactic that would blow back immediately… Also worth noting, a lot of us in the Irish diaspora have British cousins…


Whether we like it or not, the Empire was the ruling body of the galaxy. Yes, they were fascists, but they were the governing body in the first trilogy.

Blowing up the Death Star was akin to destroying a military base. It’s as much of an act of terrorism as the Boston Tea Party.

I’m not saying Luke is a bad guy. He is perfectly justified BECAUSE the Empire is oppressive, but that doesn’t mean the rebellion didn’t TECHNICALLY use terrorism to combat them. Again, to clarify, Luke is not a bad guy. He’s not an antagonist. He’s a heroic protagonist.

Not every act of terrorism is about harming civilians.

The definition there says ESPECIALLY against civilians, not ONLY against civilians. If terrorists were to attack a US military base without harming a single civilian, it would still be terrorism.

Don’t conflate our perception of terrorists and terrorism with the actual definition. Blowing up the Death Star was an act of terrorism. Period.


Indeed, the difference between a terrorist and a revolutionary is often a matter of perspective.

The difference between Star Trek and Star Wars, on the other hand…


And of course that would be impossible anyway because any military base is going to be teeming with civilian contractors and non-combatants.

This is one of the ways Star Trek was more thoughtful and nuanced than the original Star Wars trilogy. For example, Bajoran officer Kira Nerys was targeted for revenge by a former Cardassian servant who had been disfigured in one of the attacks carried out by her resistance cell.


Absolutely. You’re right. I’m talking hypothetically, of course.

Terrorism isn’t always about harming civilians. It is 98% of the time, but that doesn’t always mean it is.

Also, to paraphrase Randall from Clerks, there were probably some innocent contractors on the second Death Star.

F in the chat for the contractors.


In the Phineas and Ferb Star Wars special they addressed that after the Death Star blew up.