The Pueblo Incident

In his article “Cold War Pop Culture and the Image of U.S. Foreign Policy: The Perspective of the Original Star Trek Series”, Nicholas Evan Sarantakes outlines the various instances in which the science fiction classic Star Trek used allegories to explore, support, or condemn the issues of the day. For instance, the Star Trek episode “The Enterprise Incident” references the incident involving the USS Pueblo. On January 23, 1968, the crew of the USS Pueblo was captured by North Korean forces and accused of espionage. While the outside world waited to learn the fates of the captured seamen, Gene Roddenberry, the show’s creator, decided to proceed with filming an episode of Star Trek based off of the event. Both the writer, D.C. Fontana, and Roddenberry realized that the story’s origin lacked subtlety; Roddenberry went so far as to refer to the episode as “The Pueblo Incident”, while Fontana assumed the television network, NBC, would be unhappy with the story. Changes were made to the initial script, Sarantakes writes, as “sensitivity to public sentiment demanded such a move”.

In the episode, Captain Kirk orders his ship into enemy territory in order to steal cloaking technology that the Romulans have developed. Taken hostage aboard the Romulan vessel, Kirk proceeds to fake his own death with Spock’s help then goes undercover as a Romulan to search for the cloaking device. Although Kirk is successful in retrieving the device, Spock is captured and put on trial, where he claims that as his duty as a Starfleet officer is “to protect the security of the Federation”, the course of action that he and Kirk pursued was justified. Sarantakes states that “the theme of the episode is that efforts to preserve international peace and stability, even actions such as theft, deception, and espionage that would be unacceptable in some other context, were legitimate because they served the moral and ethical purpose of prevent large-scale death and suffering”. This episode therefore also upholds the moral right of the actions of the USS Pueblo crew.

The speculative nature of both the science fiction and fantasy genres allows writers to explore the extremes of the possibilities of our actions and the potential consequences of our beliefs. Furthermore, science fiction and fantasy has mass appeal; the use of storytelling captures a large audience that might not be engaged through other means, while relatable characters can provide a foundation through which the reader might gain a new perspective. Through science fiction and fantasy, we can effectively analyze the risks or rewards a certain path might bring. For example, The Sultana’s Dream, first published in 1905, was written by Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain as a response to gender roles in Indian society. It presents a feminist utopian vision of a futuristic India governed by women: the men are now the ones forced to observe purdah while the women run the community. Through the lens of a science fiction short story, Hussain imagines how a society in which gender roles are reversed might function; furthermore, she examines common beliefs of how gender should be performed.

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