“We're human beings with the blood of a million savage years on our hands, but we can stop it. We can admit that we're killers, but we're not going to kill today. That's all it takes. Knowing that we won't kill today.” —Captain Kirk, "A Taste of Armageddon"
No truer words were spoken than those by Captain Kirk in this first season episode of The Original Series. We do have the blood of savage years on our hands. According to The New York Times, out of the past 3,400 years of recorded human history, we’ve only been at peace for 268 of those years. We barely get out of one war before another begins.
And now, it hasn't been uncommon, this past year, to hear people speak casually of civil war because they’re panicked at the thought of losing their rights. They want to make sure they have enough guns and ammunition, and they threaten to kill others with impunity. But most of these people making these threats have never been in a war, and they assume that violence is the only way to resolve issues we humans have with one another. Certainly, our history has proven that we’d rather fight than make the effort to solve our problems without guns, bombs, and tanks.
In “A Taste of Armageddon,” the people of Eminiar VII conducted a neat and tidy computer-simulated civil war. When someone got “killed,” they simply reported to a disintegration chamber to be executed. There was no blood, no destroyed buildings or families, and no messes to clean up. It was, to them, the perfect way to wage war. After Captain Kirk destroys the computer, the hard, cold realities of that war stare the citizens in the face. Because there is nothing neat or tidy about it, and there is no perfect way to do it. And it shouldn’t be as easy as pushing a button without thinking about who might die because of it.
In the fictional world of Star Trek, this particular war had been ongoing for 500 years with no end in sight. Sadly, that’s the thing about war. Once it starts, there is no end in sight. And it’s certainly easy to talk of war when the casualties are hypothetical. After all, people are just gearing up, getting ready in case it happens. In actuality, they are getting ready to kill other people.
If we could talk to the many men and women who have served in wars over the centuries, would they tell us the battles were worth the losses? Or would they ask why people hadn’t tried a little harder to negotiate peace? Would they tell us the talks of peace should have continued longer, that people should have worked a little harder at it?
War shouldn’t be the go-to when fighting for our rights or our freedoms. We’re more than capable of fighting with words and actions; we just have to choose to do so. Sadly, threats of violence come easily, even when you have no intention of doing so because you’re hoping the threat will be sufficient for the other party to back down. But at some point, when the threats are stripped away, what's left are humans who will die, and the only way we can make sure that doesn't happen is to silence the notion of war.
Humans in 2021 don’t have the option of having an orderly war that doesn’t involve bloodshed or the trauma of life lost on a massive (non-pandemic related) scale. But we do have the ability to think before we act. We can walk away from the violence of our past, and we can come up with a better way to resolve our differences. There will never be a time when everyone in this world agrees, but as Star Trek teaches us, learning to compromise, without malice, is what can make a difference.
We can realize that we don’t always have to be right, that we can let things go, and even just agree to disagree. We can meet in the middle and stop drawing lines in the sand. Though it may sound simplistic, simple steps will keep us peaceful but only if we’re willing to take them.
Peace or utter destruction. It’s up to us.
Rachel Carrington (she/her) is a published author of suspense novels and a freelance writer. She also teaches writing classes. Follow her on Twitter @rcarrington2004.