In my review of Star Trek Into Darkness, I wrote that “There’s an ill-advised and entirely unresolved subplot that involves war with the Klingons, worry about blowback from what amounts to a drone strike, and the militarization of Starfleet.” I’d like to modify this criticism just a bit in a spoiler-heavy post after the jump. But the thrust is this: Star Trek Into Darkness is actually a crypto-neocon defense of the necessity and morality of drone strikes. (Don’t worry, nerds: While there are heavy spoilers I won’t reveal the name of the villain since that’s all we you seem to care about.)
Star Trek Into Darkness is centered on the hunt for a terrorist played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Early on in the film he blows up a large library in London, killing many people, and then launches an assault on the high command of Starfleet, taking out a number of senior officers (including Admiral Pike, James T. Kirk’s mentor). After the attack on the high command, Cumberbatch flees to an uninhabited portion of Kronos, the Klingon homeworld.
Once his location is discovered, Kirk and Spock are given a controversial order: They are to fly into Klingon space, locate Cumberbatch in the uninhabited border areas of Kronos, and kill him with a torpedo from thousands of kilometers away.
Sound like anything America might be currently engaged in?
Anyway. Kirk and Spock decide that this order is immoral—Spock says something* like “There’s no Starfleet regulation about killing a Federation resident without a trial”—and, were it discovered by the Klingons, would likely start an interstellar war. So, Kirk and Spock, the moral center of the film, decide instead to lead a commando mission onto the surface in order to capture Cumberbatch and bring him back to Earth for trial.
Things do not go well for the well-meaning duo: They are tracked by three Klingon warships which, after a brief bit of jabbering, get destroyed by Spock and Kirk’s team (with a huge assist from Cumberbatch).
So, to recap: Instead of firing missiles into an uninhabited area with the intent of taking out a known terrorist, they lead a commando mission that results in the destruction of a trio of Klingon warships and the death of dozens of Klingon warriors who were, we should note, just defending their homeworld.
Please, remind me: Which of these options is more likely to spark war?
So then some more stuff happens that I don’t want to give away. But then, as the movie is drawing to a close, Cumberbatch reappears. He has commandeered a massive “Dreadnought Class” starship that he proceeds to crash into the city of San Francisco, killing what must be tens of thousands of people in the process and destroying Starfleet headquarters. We then cut to a year later, when the city has been rebuilt and Kirk is accepting command of a five-year mission to boldly go blah blah blah. Life has returned to normal!
Like I said in my review, this subplot felt kind of odd. The shallow reading suggests it is an explicit rejection of drone strikes: The moral characters don’t want to do it while the warmongering admiral is gung-ho. On deeper reflection, however, I think it’s pretty clear that the film is pro-drone strike. The non-drone mission goes horribly wrong and, if the series is being honest, will lead to an out-and-out war with the Klingons in the third entry.** Meanwhile, the terrorist they were trying to bring to trial—because justice!—ends up destroying an entire city because Kirk and Spock didn't pull the trigger on the drone strike.
What Star Trek Into Darkness is asking us to consider, then, is which world would we rather live in? One where we bend our morality every once in a while to take out an immoral, murderous monster? Or one where we accept the deaths of thousands of our fellow citizens at the hands of immoral, murderous monsters as routine because we don’t want to dirty our hands?
Seems like the answer is pretty easy, no?
*This is an approximation; I didn’t grab the line during my screening.
**To repeat: Federation forces destroy three Klingon ships and kill dozens of Klingon warriors. This would lead to war.