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Starfleet is Clueless About the Military

Updated 11/11/11, original article published 10/3/11

It’s stated in every Star Trek episode that the Enterprise’s mission is “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man/one has gone before.”  Yeah, what they left out, though, is the amazing firepower on the ship.  We all know that Starfleet gives good lip service to being a “science and exploration” organization, but everyone knows that it’s really the Federation of Planets’ military branch.  Even General Chang considers Captain Kirk to be a warrior.  Starfleet organizes itself in a military manner, adopting militaristic uniforms and ranks that are lifted right out of the Navy.  But what’s amazing is that Starfleet seems to have no concept of what being a military organization is all about.  For example:

Starfleet Leaves Its Base of Operations Unprotected
Namely, Earth–where Starfleet headquarters is.  Time and time again, the Earth falls under attack from whale probes, sentient clouds, or space drills and Starfleet is nowhere to be found.  It’s never clear how many ships Starfleet has, but it’s estimated to be in the thousands.  Yet, time and time again, when there’s a threat to Earth or in the vicinity, the only ship available is the Enterprise, even if it’s not fit for duty.

Take the presumptuously titled Star Trek: The Motion Picture, for example.  The Enterprise has just undergone a total refit and its systems aren’t fully functional yet (you know, minor things like transporters and the warp engines).  Some “thing,” as Kirk said, is heading straight for Earth that seems to eat whatever is it its way.  No other ships are handy, so off the malfunctioning Enterprise goes to save the day.  This worked so well that an unfit Enterprise was sent off on life-or-death missions in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, and Star Trek: Generations.  Meanwhile, an unprotected Earth was threatened in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and 2009’s also presumptuously titled Star Trek (after all, why does this get to go sans subtitle when it’s the eleventh film in the series?).  You’d think that the Federation would want to make sure their home planet was a little more secure.  At least when the Borg attacked in Star Trek: First Contact, there was a huge battle with every imaginable ship.  Well, sort of.  This bring us to…

Starfleet Sent Its Most Qualified Captain on a Menial Mission When the Federation Is Ready to be Destroyed
Who else would be more qualified than Picard, the Captain of Starfleet’s flagship?  He had once been taken over by the Borg and turned into Locutus, a mouthpiece for the hybrid race.  He was rescued, returned to human, and suffered psychological damage.  So what does Starfleet do when these big bad meanies return to destroy Earth?  Understandably worried about his allegiance to Starfleet, they temporarily relieve him of command and place him in a position where he can advise without possibly doing harm.  Oh, wait…no that’s not what happened.  Starfleet ordered him to take the Enterprise (the largest ship in the fleet) and patrol the Romulan Neutral Zone.  Yes, the only ship that survived a Borg encounter is off cruising around while the rest of Starfleet gets decimated.  Of course, Picard ignored orders and saved the Earth, but if he had listened to his superiors, the Earth would have been assimilated.  On the subject of captains who don’t follow orders…

Promoting a Disobedient Cadet with Three Years Experience to Captain
This happened with the new-and-improved James Tiberius Kirk of J.J. Abrams’ prequel/sequel/reboot/alternative universe/lens-flare-athon.  Kirk, who was on board the Enterprise illegally, was made acting first officer even though he was a mere cadet.  Then when Acting Captain Spock was relieved of duty, Kirk took over.  He was commanding officer for a few moments longer than his father had been, and yet Starfleet felt it was in perfect order to promote him to Captain and take over the Enterprise.  Don’t we wish all promotions happened that way?  While we’re talking about promoting officers…

Allowing an Underage Civilian to be an Acting Officer and Helmsman
Yes–Wesley Crusher.  Picard was so impressed by the boy genius saving the ship, that he made him “Acting Ensign,” basically ignoring Starfleet rules and protocol.  Who needs Starfleet Academy when the ship’s captain can just randomly enlist you?  And then Picard allowed Wesley to pilot the ship.  He can’t get a driver’s license, but he can drive Starfleet’s flagship.  Speaking of officers…

Starships Have Nothing But Officers On Board
Quick, name an enlisted man on the Enterprise.  If you said Chief O’Brien, then you did it.  You’ve successfully named the only non-com on the ship.  There’s some question as to what exactly Janice Rand was, but seriously, does anybody care?

The Prime Directive Prevents Defensive Actions

The Prime Directive is the Golden Rule of Star Trek.  It essentially says that Starfleet is not allowed to do anything that would prevent a civilization from developing on its own (even though starship captains seem to violate whenever they feel like it).  In other words, if a planet’s people have no knowledge of space travel, our heroes can’t stop by and say hi.  Of course, this also prevents them from doing anything that could alter that species’ normal progression, including providing technology, preventing genocide, or stopping them from destroying themselves.  Starfleet is supposed to just stand aside and allow horrendous travesties to take place all in the name of “We don’t want to get involved.”  No superpower would ever do that.

Decommissioning a Brand New Ship When the Senior Crew Retires

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was all about getting older.  After all, it was 15 years after the original series and the cast was showing its age (despite Star Trek: The Motion Picture trying to pass off its decade-long passage of time as only being 3 years since we last saw the Enterprise crew).  We see Admiral Kirk dealing with getting old, facing a long-forgotten foe, coming to terms with a son he never knew he sired, and ultimately dealing with the death of his best friend.  The next film saw the destruction of the Enterprise, though by the end of the fourth movie our beloved crew was given a new ship–the Enterprise 1701-A.  Star Trek V: The Final Frontier takes place a short time after this, since the recently demoted Captain Kirk and his crew are vacationing while the ship is in repairs after nearly falling apart during its shakedown cruise.

For the first time in five movies, a good portion of time passes by the time Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country takes place, since a three-year time period was mentioned.  Sulu is now captain of his own ship, but the rest of Kirk’s crew is still on the Enterprise’s bridge (except Spock, who seems to be working for Starfleet at the beginning of the movie).  After the film’s climax, Uhura receives a message from Starfleet Command ordering them back home to be decommissioned, at which point Spock responds, “If I were human, I would say go to hell.  If I were human.”  Kirk then ignores the order from his superiors (big shock there) and heads off into the far reaches of the galaxy quoting Peter Pan.

The question is, did Starfleet Command mean that the crew was to be decommissioned, or the Enterprise?  That’s a term given to ships, not personnel (they retire).  By the time of Generations, there’s an Enterprise-B being given a sendoff by Kirk himself.  He’s been in retirement for eight years, according to the movie.  Why in the world would Starfleet mothball a ship that’s only been in existence for three years?  Isn’t that a waste of resources?  It’s not like they couldn’t just put another captain in Kirk’s place, since they did that once before.  Just because the senior crew retires, doesn’t mean you destroy the entire ship.

copyright © 2011 FilmVerse

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11 comments on “Starfleet is Clueless About the Military

  1. Well the Enterprise-A, since it was brand-new, probably got turned into a training ship like the original Enterprise had been in ‘The Wrath of Khan’.

  2. Well your not dealing with movie executives that ever would’ve served in any ones military nor care to hire qualified military consultants to get Star Trek right. It cost me less to get the possible games right on a table ,then to pay to see them get it wrong in the movies. I always hated the in consitances in the Star Trek films and TV series.

    • I’m no fan of studio execs, but in this case, they’re not to blame. I think it’s the writers who are to blame for never making it clear exactly what Starfleet is. From the original series, Starfleet was supposed to be for exploration, yet carried impressive weaponry and the Enterprise was often used for battle. Ranks were based on the US Navy, yet vaguely. By the time the subsequent series and movies came out, various writers and directors took on their own interpretations (see Nick Meyers’ “submarine” look of the Enterprise interiors). The producers never set down the rule, leaving that more for the fans to figure out. If an idea was good for a particular story, then they used it regardless if it contradicted previous storylines or logic.

  3. Their rank structure isn’t *too* bad…but as the article pointed out, they’re all officers.
    Where are the senior NCO’s that *really* run a military organization?

    • I am confounded by Rene Auberjonois’s character in Undiscovered Country (that was cut for theatrical release)–Major West. Major? How did an army rank get thrown in the mix of a naval structure? I’m sure someone out there came up with an answer (like he belongs to some other previously unseen branch of the Federation), but like so many things, it’s not clear in the film itself.

  4. The militarily clueless nature of Starfleet has always driven me just a little bat crap crazy through the years.

  5. my understanding is the enterprise A was a renamed ship of the same class so would have had an
    age similar to the original enterprise.

    • That’s an explanation that has floated around the fan community, and possibly established in some other medium like novels, but it wasn’t made clear in the movies or on TV, which is canon.

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