Sunday, May 24, 2009

Genocidal Trek

There is no doubt that the recently released movie version of Star Trek features many of the same traits which fans have embraced for years, such as futuristic plots, stunning special effects, and phrases which have entered the popular lexicon. Indeed, it is easy to watch the new Star Trek and be so caught up in the plot that the actual meaning behind the plot lines becomes secondary. And yet, to do so would be an injustice to a story that highlights important issues facing international law and the international community.

The nemesis in the current installment of Star Trek is Nero, initially described as one of the last inhabitants of the planet Romulus. Eventually, the audience learns that, over a hundred years in the future, Romulus is threatened by a black hole and faces extinction. The future Spock offers to save Romulus and its inhabitants – and nearly does so – however he is thwarted by the quickness of the black hole. As a result, Romulus disappears, taking with it the majority of its inhabitants, including Nero’s wife and unborn child. Nero then vows revenge on Spock and both go back in time; Nero arrives first and captures Spock, who he condemns to live on a small planet until Nero is able rework the past and destroy Vulcan (Spock’s home planet) before Spock’s helpless eyes. Nero explains to Captain Pike of the USS Enterprise – whom he captures and tortures for information – that he intends to avenge the loss of his family and planet through a “genocide” similar to that which they suffered. He plans to destroy all planets in the “Federation,” including Earth and Vulcan, because he sees the entire Federation as responsible for the destruction of Romulus. Nero goes to great – and somewhat successful, at least in terms of the destruction of Vulcan – lengths to carry out this goal. Ultimately, Nero is killed by Captain Kirk, young Spock, and the crew of the USS Enterprise, and the remaining planets in the Federation which Nero so methodically targeted are saved. However, Nero’s impact extends far beyond the end of the movie credits.

In Nero, we see the figure of someone who has suffered a deep and profound personal loss. Rather than being a sympathetic character, however, Nero is portrayed as evil. His losses drive him to seek the destruction of planets – which can be analogized to states in the international system – and deaths of billions of people and traditional ways of life. Beyond a personal vendetta, Nero’s co-opting of other surviving Romulans to assist in his plot – and his statements that he is engaging in his plot to avenge all Romulans – is emblematic of recent genocidal regimes, which have used the propaganda of past wrongs by other groups in order to dehumanize them and give rise to a climate in which genocide and attempts at human and state destruction can be perpetuated with perceived justification.

The type of justice sought by Nero for the deaths of his family and the destruction of his planet is not justice as the rest of the movie characters and communities know it. Instead, it is itself another crime – greater in planned scope than anything done to Romulus. And, rather than seeking impartial justice for what Nero perceives as Spock’s failure to save his family and planet, Nero’s choice is to sentence Spock to a punishment of Nero’s creation and which was designed to make Spock suffer the same sense of loss and horror that Nero experienced. This shunning of impartial justice is again similar to the choices made by many actors in recent genocides and civil wars, where the decision to seek individualized and greater vengeance outside of the established national and international court system has perpetuated the cycle of war crimes and destruction.

Certainly there is a good deal of storytelling and creativity in the overall plot of the newest Star Trek movie. In addition to other cinematic commendations reaped upon Star Trek, it should receive attention for subtly yet powerfully relating aspects of many current and past genocidal acts and conflicts that have changed the state of international law and the international community.

Information on Star Trek is available at .

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