Pod Bay One

A commentary on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine season 5: Part 3 – Bajor and the Federation

Bajoran resistance to joining the Federation offers uncomfortable parallels to the modern British viewer and leads me to consider how the Federation can make sure its benefit to incoming members is recognised.

Written by Matthew Lloyd on 29 January 2019

The episode “The Darkness and the Light” (5X11) – Bryan Fuller’s first Star Trek credit – complicates our understanding of the Bajoran resistance to the Cardassian occupation. In this episode, we learn of a bomb used by Kira Nerys to assassinate a brutal Cardassian leader which took the lives of twenty-three individuals, including civilians.

I don’t have much to say about this episode – it wasn’t terribly surprising to learn that resistance to a violent occupation led to some unfortunate casualties. As Kira argues, the Cardassians were occupying Bajor – anyone there was complicit. I remain fully sympathetic to the Bajoran resistance. But that sympathy is one of the reasons I find myself struggling to support Bajor’s petition to join the Federation, set to be decided in the previous episode, “Rapture” (5X10).

Some background: my home country, the United Kingdom, is in the process of leaving an economic and political federation, the European Union. I voted to remain in the EU in 2016, and would do so again in the event of a second referendum. But having spent a lot of time in Greece I can also see how EU countries have been treated badly by other member states, having economic austerity thrust upon them when it is not in the best interests of their people. For a small state with a strong identity and a long history, including occupation, entering into a political union may end up being more trouble than it is worth.

There are two key exchanges in “Rapture” that made me realise these complications. The first is when Kai Winn tells Major Kira that Bajor has had only five years of “freedom” between the Cardassian occupation and joining the Federation. Kira notes that Bajor will still be free as a member of the Federation, but seems oblivious to the fact that people like Kai Winn will be able to easily spin Federation membership as un-freedom and the cause of any continuing blight on the planet. The Federation will need to make damn sure its benefit to the people of Bajor is clear, if indeed membership of the Federation is in their best interests.

The second exchange is between Captain Benjamin Sisko and Federation Admiral Whatly about what’s next for Bajor after joining the Federation. There’s choosing Federation Council Members (note that the word “electing” is not used); but I found myself surprisingly troubled by the next step: “The Bajoran militia has to be absorbed into Starfleet.” Now, I never thought that I was particularly bothered by the persistent rumours that the EU might integrate the armies of its member states – the whole point was to stop them going to war with one another anyway.

But something about that line disturbed me. Perhaps it was the emphasis on Starfleet as a military organization rather than an exploratory one. Or perhaps that at an interstellar level and integrated army seems like a bad idea (protecting planets seems easier to me than protecting solar systems). I think the core idea that bothers me, though, is that I’ve come to recognise that the government becomes less trustworthy the further away it is. Local government is hated for being ineffective, not distant; when the government is far away in Brussels, or Ottawa, or Washington, or San Francisco, it is easier to view it as distant and uncaring.

In trying to think about how the Federation might combat this perspective, I found myself thinking back to 2015, when we were watching The Next Generation and I was reading Ursula K Le Guin’s A Fisherman of the Inland Sea (1994). The Ekumen of Le Guin’s Hainish Cycle is similar to the Federation, although there is little disparity between the species of each planet (all are descended from the Hain) and no scope for interstellar conflict, after the early novel City of Illusions (1967).

In the Hainish Cycle, interstellar travel is just so difficult that the kind of crisis that the Federation encounters with the Dominion is impossible, and thus space exploration cannot help but be mutually beneficial, explorative, co-operative. The Ekumen is more of a loose association than a political union. I think that it offers a more hopeful future than the Federation, but it is a future where interplanetary migration is long, difficult, and requires leaving your entire life behind. Should it be more hopeful that these planets remain so isolated from one another?