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The Influence of SeaPower on Star Trek

May 12, 2009

In honor of the new Star Trek film, now seems the proper time to break out this golden oldie from 2005 that originally appeared in Buzzle.com and the Navy Review Newsletter:

The Influence of SeaPower on Star Trek

At first glance of any episode of Star Trek, The Original Series (TOS- which we will limit ourselves to here), naval comparisons are immediately apparent. The ships, the uniforms, the ranks, and the military atmosphere are all reminiscent of the sailor’s life. The show has often been compared to the adventures of Horatio Hornblower, C.S. Forester’s fictional British naval hero of the Age of Nelson. Like Hornblower, Capt. James Tiberius Kirk and the crew of the starship USS ENTERPRISE patrol and defend the Empire, in this case, the United Federation of Planets, from those who wish them harm.

There are 12 starships like ENTERPRISE in the Federation “Starfleet”, just as 12 aircraft carriers defend America today. In fact, ENTERPRISE was named after a famous US carrier (CV-6) of WW2, and there is a nuclear powered USS ENTERPRISE (CVN-65) currently in service. All 12 starships in Starfleet are named after famous naval vessels. Capt. James T. Kirk, commander of the ENTERPRISE, is Hornblower in the series. On his 5 year mission to explore the galaxy, he is often the Federation’s sole representative when encountering alien life. Like the captains of the age of sail, he is an ambassador of goodwill, and a judge to interpret and dispense the laws of his government when out of contact with headquarters. In the latter role, Kirk frequently comes in conflict with the Prime Directive, or non-interference in the alien cultures he encounters. The Captain has been known to bend this rule in order to protect his ship and crew.

In one episode, “A Private Little War”, Kirk interferes to protect a race from another people who have been armed by the vicious Klingon Empire. This tale mimics America’s activities to support free people in the Brush Fire Wars of the Cold War. “The Ultimate Computer” is a futuristic tale of naval maneuvers in space. The ENTERPRISE is pitted alone against 4 other starships, but is equipped with an advanced battle computer which easily defeats her more numerous antagonists. This show tests the limits of technology when the computer runs amok and actually attacks the Federation ships, killing many crewmen. Recently, during the 2002 Millennium Challenge wargames, the US Navy was pitted against the maverick General Van Riper, posing as a Mid-East dictator in the mold of Saddam Hussein. Using fast attack craft armed with cruise missiles, Van Riper defeats the larger ships of the American Fleet, before the games were abruptly called off.

An early episode, “Balance of Terror” recalls images of the cat-and –mouse warfare between submarines and destroyers during WW2. The ENTERPRISE, as the destroyer, is hunting a Romulan warship which has destroyed several Federation outposts along a disputed border. The Romulan “submarine”, in the guise of a bird-of-prey, is literally invisible, thanks to an advanced “cloaking device” and nearly impossible to detect. After careful stalking, and a clever ruse, Kirk manages to destroy his quarry before it reaches the safety of home. In another episode, a comparison can be made to the Cuban Missile Crisis. “Errand of Mercy” is the story of a benevolent race called the Organians, who are faced with an invasion by the Klingons. Kirk leads an advance party to the planet to convince the seemingly helpless Organians to accept Federation protection. The Organians refuse aid and are soon occupied by the Klingons. Out in space the two battle fleets of the Federation and the Empire converge, and universal Armageddon seems imminent. It is then the purportedly helpless aliens prove they are not so powerless and immobilize the two warring factions. Similarly potential nuclear war was averted in 1962, when Russian missiles were discovered in Cuba, by a US Naval blockade, and certainly the intervention of a higher power.

“The Doomsday Machine” details the struggle with ENTERPRISE and USS CONSTELLATION against an alien weapon of mass destruction. A rogue planet killer has badly damaged CONSTELLATION and is headed for the populated sectors of the galaxy. Using the wounded starship as a makeshift anti-ballistic missile, Kirk manages to destroy the weapon. During World War 2, an elderly British destroyer, HMS CAMPBELTOWN, was loaded with explosives and rammed into the occupied German docks at St Nazaire. The subsequent explosion wrecked the docks, and prevented its use by the fearsome battleship TIRPITZ.

Of course, the ENTERPRISE’ primary mission was to “seek out new life and new civilizations”. This mission is comparable to that of the explorers of the New World, from Columbus to Cook. Christopher Columbus began the great Era of Exploration and Discovery, but Capt. James Cook of Britain in 3 voyages in the 18th Century provided detailed maps and charts, and found new species of plants and animals. Throughout his travels in the Pacific, Cook also met many unknown natives, which cost him his life in Hawaii in 1779. There are numerous more examples of Sea Power in the voyages of USS ENTERPRISE, too much to include here. Those given may give you an idea of how the fighting fleets of old live on in these exciting tales of the far future.

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