2009-12-28

Prime Directive Absurdity on Angel I

Some of the plot of "Angel One"[TNG1] revolves around the notion that the Prime Directive does not apply to Federation civilians, even those who are space-faring such as the crew of the "Federation freighter Odin".

That's the dumbest point of plot in the history of Trek, because if true it would render all those heart-wrenching Prime Directive decisions absolutely moot.

After all, even an individual from a sufficiently higher civilization can be an existential threat to a lesser civilization.   Imagine Picard driving around the desert carelessly in Nemesis, having a grand old time.   Now imagine an antbed in the desert being run down without even being noticed.

Modern Earth . . . and other pre-warp societies . . . are a bit larger and more complex than antbeds, but the principle is the same.  A single 23rd Century starship (like the Constitution Class) could wipe out this planet.  A Danube Class runabout could easily conquer this planet.  And a skillfully-used shuttlecraft could possibly do the same.

We've seen this sort of thing in Trek before.  "Bread and Circuses"[TOS2] features the suggestion that 100 starship security personnel armed with phasers could defeat the combined armies of a 20th Century Rome.   Captain Tracey with a phaser was able to completely upset the balance of power on a post-apocalypic Earth ("The Omega Glory"[TOS3]).  23rd Century Historian John Gill was able to manipulate an entire world into a doppelganger for 20th Century Nazi society, proving that it wouldn't even take what we commonly think of as weapons to do the deed (a theme that is picked up in "Angel One" when the masculinity of a few landed men on a woman-dominated planet is able to cause upset and cultural revolution).

And yet, we are supposed to believe that Federation civilians could simply go drop in on whatever backwards culture they find, and we're supposed to trust that they'd do nothing?   And what of non-Federation personnel in Federation space, military or otherwise?   The Ferengi explicitly do not observe a Prime Directive, instead opening up business opportunities with "backwards" planets ("The Last Outpost"[TNG1]).  Should we believe that they would behave themselves without policing?

It isn't like the threat isn't real.  There are arms dealers at work in interstellar space (e.g. Hagath), and of course the Maquis were able to obtain hundreds of Pygorian photon torpedoes and other weapons and defenses for their raiders.  Maquis raiders would also fit in the list above of ships that could conquer modern Earth. 

However, there are fortunately some possible counterpoints to such absurdity.  Doctor Nikolai Rozhenko was an assigned cultural observer in "Homeward"[TNG7] and explicitly not a part of Starfleet, though his operating authority is unclear.   And the Odin, being a Federation freighter, was presumably also a part of the "merchant service" that the SS Beagle was a part of under Captain Merik in "Bread and Circuses"[TOS2] . . . Merik violated the Prime Directive.

Thus there is not a contradiction, provided that one correctly notes the context.   Merik violated the Prime Directive because the Roman planet was a pre-warp civilzation.   The civilization on planet Angel I, however, had already been visited by the Federation, with a last contact in 2302.  That, mixed with their technologies like matter disintegration, suggests that they were either a warp-capable society or one that was polluted by contact previously.  But in any case, they would've been considered an outside political entity . . . a separate nation, if you will.

And thus the absurdity would be resolved.  The Angel system might be considered another entity no different than, say, the Nyberrite Alliance, Talarian Republic, or Ferengi Alliance . . . individual citizens could go there and do stuff, but Starfleet would still have a non-interference directive.   The Prime Directive would still apply to citizens in regards to pre-warp civilizations.

That makes a lot more sense.   Now, as to how they could possibly keep everybody away from pre-warp civilizations . . . well, that's another matter altogether.

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