One of the aspects to the science-fiction television show, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, is the recurring story of guilt and war memory from the fictional Cardassian occupation of Bajor. I already blogged about this once, but after viewing the Season 5 episode “Things Past“, I felt the need to write more words.
As previously mentioned, The evil Cardassians occupy a small planet called Bajor. After 50 years, they have still to quell the resistance that has fought occupation through bombings and assassinations. Into this scene enter the former shape-shifter Odo. As head of security at the time on Tarak Nor (the Cardassian name for the station, later called Deep Space Nine by the Federation), Odo is remembered by the majority of Bajorans in the postwar period as a judicious peacekeeper impartial to both Cardassian pressure and Bajoran influence. Employed by the Cardassians as a kind of Ombudsman security official, Odo was supposed to have independence of his office from influence, though he is extremely uncomfortable with any characterization of his actions as heroic in the episode opener, it is obvious a good deal of Bajorans look upon him as a lamb among wolves/ conscience in a unsconscionable time.
Through the episode, several characters are placed into the bodies of Bajoran men whom are sentenced to die for a crime (attempted assassination) they believe they did not commit. The head of security in this altered world is the station’s previous caretaker, Thrax, whom Odo was supposed to replace. This all culminates in Odo’s breakdown and admission that it was he, not Thrax, that had ordered the three Bajoran men guilty of murder. This admission ends the alternate reality the characters had all awoken in, as they had been the unwitting victims of a plasma storm that temporarily extended the powers of Odo’s ability to pyschologically link with others. This dark episode ends with Major Kira Nerys, Bajoran military representative, former paramiliary resistance fighter and also Odo’s lover confronting Odo about what he had admitted to his friends in their ‘link’. Odo shockingly admits that he no longer is sure if those were the only mistaken arrests he made during the occupation, and Kira admits she has a hard time looking at him after the revelation. Further, she feels crestfallen that the one person she thought was above moral culpability was just as dirty as everybody else.
While the idea of a plasma storm and etc is indeed a classic fantastical premise, the frank discussion of who comes out of scenarios as ‘guilty’ and who is ‘innocent’ becomes a complicated and a beautiful analogy for the ultimately futility of this act. Odo saw himself as preserving justice, but later admitted that his need for order cost lives. Similarity could be drawn between that experience and the community leaders in Jewish ghettos, who saw themselves as serving thew greater good while ultimately being used by the occupiers and genocidal overlords.
The problem for social historians since the Second World War is that in matters of occupation and morality, there are no easy answers and many times the brightest of humanity are among the most patently guilty. The example of Heidegger, chair in philosophy at university and in full knowledge of Nazi crimes, chose instead to stay silent. His later admission of sadness he felt goes a long way toward understanding the difficulty of German persons to vocalise the feelings of collective suffering and guilt remained for a long time and eventually became part of the study of social history.