President John F. Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis

John F. Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis

Missiles in Cuba 1962

Radio-TV Address of the President to the Nation From the White House October 22, 1962
Full Text

President Lyndon B. Johnson and the Vietnam War

Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam War

Tonkin Gulf Resolution August 10, 1964
Full Text

Walter Cronkite Editorial

Walter Cronkite CBS News

CBS News-Walter Cronkite's Vietnam Commentary February 27, 1968
Full Text
Video Clip

President Lyndon B. Johnson's Address to the Nation Announcing Steps to Limit the War in Vietnam and Reporting His Decision Not to Seek Reelection March 31, 1968
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President Lyndon B. Johnson's Address to the Nation Upon Announcing His Decision To Halt the Bombing of North Vietnam October 31, 1968
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Defense Secretary Robert McNamara

Lyndon B. Johnson and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara

New York Times Article
"Robert S. McNamara, Architect of a
Futile War, Dies at 93"
Overview of Robert McNamara's Role in the Vietnam War
Full Text

 

Star Trek, The Cold War and Vietnam

In the 1960s Cold War tensions involved many dimensions, including fear of nuclear devastation, which were both legitimate and at the same time overemphasized to justify United States national policy in Vietnam.

The Cuban Missile Crisis was a prime incident that gave legitimacy to the tensions and fear of nuclear war between the United States and the U.S.S.R. One could only imagine the magnitude of apprehension people would have felt listening to the television and radio address given by President Kennedy on October 22, 1962 in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

In Kennedy's address he explained the danger and threat when he said, "The characteristics of these new missile sites indicate two distinct types of installations. Several of them include Medium Range Ballistic Missiles, capable of carrying a nuclear warhead for a distance of more than 1000 nautical miles. Each of these missiles, in short, is capable of striking Washington D.C., the Panama Canal, Cape Canaveral, Mexico City, or any other city in the Southeastern part of the United Sates, in Central America, or in the Caribbean area." [1]

If nuclear missiles on the doorstep of the United States and parts of the Western Hemisphere were not frightening enough the proposed response to this threat by the Kennedy administration was even more terrifying.

"It shall be the policy of this Nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union." [2]

This incident of the United States teetering on the brink of a full scale nuclear war with the U.S.S.R. only served to reinforce fears the public in the United States already felt about nuclear war and helped etch into the minds and memories of the public from that point forward the precarious nature of relations between the East and the West. The precarious nature between the East and the West was magnified by the fact that the Cold War was not just an antagonistic relationship between the United States and the U.S.S.R. On a larger scale the Cold War was a conflict between the political ideologies of Democracy and Communism, and China was another main player in this world wide conflict of ideology.

The complicated nature of the Cold War is evident in a 1965 New York Times article about Vietnam. The assessment was, "the Soviet-American friction over Vietnam, Chinese-Soviet friction over the United States and over Vietnam, and the Soviet efforts to reassert Moscow's position in the international communist movement have become a hopelessly intertwined tangle in which each tug at any one string causes immediate and incalculable dislocations all along the other strands."[3]

This international conflict of ideologies manifested itself in numerous ways which included the Vietnam conflict. As far as the relationship between China and the United States was concerned, China was one large thorn in the United States' side due to China's involvement in the Vietnam conflict.

China's military strategy to promote communism and thwart the United States certainly did not help the success rate of military endeavors in Vietnam for the U.S. An assessment of China's involvement in Vietnam by C.L. Sulzberger in the New York Times from 1964 clearly explained China's strategy known as Revolutionary Warfare. "Originated by Mao-Tse Tung and modernized by General Giap, aims at organized subversion of a designated area by coordinated guerrilla infiltration, persuasion, sabotage, and terror." It creates its own military and civil administration by clandestine 'parallel hierarchies'. A special apparatus (called Dich-Van in Vietnamese) combines friendship and brutality to undermine resistance and gain support of rural areas."[4]

Needless to say China's activities in relation to the United States generally and more specifically being an antagonist in the Vietnam situation was just another facet to the international Cold War hostilities which influenced the mind set of many during the 1960s. Roddenberry and Star Trek were no exceptions in being influenced by pervasive Cold War concerns and fears.


Star Trek's Representation of the Cold War and Vietnam

Throughout Star Trek the Klingons and the Romulans were portrayed as the evil empires of the galaxy. Producer Gene Coon described the Klingons as, "We have always played them very much like the Russians." [5] The Romulans in The Making of Star Trek were described as, "highly militaristic, aggressive by nature, ruthless in warfare and do not take captives" and described the government as a "dictatorship". [6]

Along with these fictitious evil adversaries which were representative of U.S. enemies at the time, many episodes alluded to the Cold War tensions such as Balance of Terror, Space Speed, Friday's Child, Assignment: Earth, and Errand of Mercy. In addition, The Omega Glory and A Private Little War went beyond alluding to and were outright blatant in portraying Cold War tensions with a Pro-American slant with Roddenberry's written episode the Omega Glory being over-the-top with Pro-American stance.

The Omega Glory

Roddenberry's original story treatment for The Omega Glory outlines the premise that followed through to the on air version. Roddenberry describes the situation on planet Omega IV as,

"Up until now they've considered Omega a case of similar evolution, but has it occurred to the Captain that this planet might be an even closer parallel with Earth than they suspect? Take the legends, with the existence of a white and yellow race, the fact they've noticed the villagers live a disorganized communal existence. Is it possible that the "Kahm" is a contraction of Communist? And the word "Yang" what does that suggest? Centuries ago could it have been "Yankee"? Although only half-human, Mister Spock knows Earth history intimately, points out that mankind once reached a place where war between white and yellow was narrowly averted." [7]

The "Yellows or Kahms" and "Whites or Yangs" were further described in excerpts by Roddenberry as, "Even the restricted view shows the savage whites are attacking and taking over the town. The yellows, confused and disorganized, are surrendering without much of a fight" and "a closer look at the dress and customs of the whites. Their clothing, weapons, and ornamentation, dictated by the desert environment, bears some resemblance with that of the American Continent Indian. But other customs more nearly resemble the history of the white race on the same continent. Both male and female are proud and independent, all with equal voices in tribal affairs." [8]

In Roddenberry's story treatment the "Yellows/Kahms" are weak minded incompetents whether in fighting or the general organization of their society. The "Whites/ Yangs" are imbued with superiority both in their fighting prowess and their American Continental culture that combined both the cliche noble savage and the virtuous "white" democratic ideology. The superiority of the "American" culture was further portrayed without any attempt to be subtle in the ending of the episode when the American flag is pulled out as a sacred item to the Yangs and Captain Kirk delivers a Pro-American/Pro-Democracy greatness speech in which he says,

"Here this! Among my people we carry many such words as this, from many lands, from many worlds. Many are equally good and are as well respected. But, wherever we have gone, no words have said this thing of importance in quite this way. Look at these three words, written larger than the rest with a special pride never written before or since. Tall words proudly saying, We The People!" [9]

Roddenberry's and partly Star Trek's world view was evident within this episode and this world view is contradictory to the concepts of embracing diversity, tolerance and understanding of other cultures and their world view.

A Private Little War

A Private Little War was specifically an allegory about the Vietnam conflict. A Private Little War completely went against Star Trek's enlightened concept of non-interference with other cultures known as the Prime Directive. The episode promoted the Pro-Democracy/ Anti-Communist policy of the United States and justified in this episode the necessity of interfering with other cultures to maintain a balance of power. Some on the Star Trek team objected to this story treatment; however, Roddenberry did not.

Associate Producer Robert Justman's objection of the story treatment was, "I realize that you are attempting to draw a parallel between this story and the Vietnam situation with respect to escalation and balance of power, but I don't think that we are doing our moral position in Vietnam and appreciable good at all" and "Remember, 'STAR TREK' takes places hundreds of years in the future and from what is being said on these pages, the present viewing audience can have no expectation of a better life for succeeding generations." [10]

Ultimately, though, Roddenberry and the Star Trek production went ahead with the story treatment and Roddenberry took the time himself to write the teleplay based on Don Ingalls' story that clearly had a Pro-American/ Pro-Vietnam message.

Overall, in the Star Trek universe having tolerance, understanding and rectifying conflict by peaceful means with other cultures seemed consistently only to apply to the internal affairs of Earth and other friendly civilizations to Earth. Unfortunately, somehow these enlightened concepts could not be utilized to understand certain cultures as the Klingons or Romulans and ultimately just redirected Earth's intolerance, lack of understanding and resulting aggressiveness outward toward their foreign space neighbors who did not share in Earth's mind set.

This depiction of ideology and political attitudes in Star Trek's 23rd century is a direct parallel to the United States ideology and political attitudes in the 1960s.


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Footnotes


 

Star Trek, The Cold War and Vietnam

The Cold War
Pro-American/ Pro-Democracy

Omega Glory

Omega Glory Pledge of Alligance to the Flag

Pro-Vietnam

A Private Little War

A Private Little War Teaching Natives How to Use Flintlocks

Pro-American/ Pro-Vietnam
Video Clip

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