How many times have you settled down to watch one of the many Star Trek shows, and found yourself wishing you could enroll in Starfleet? Whether you imagined yourself on the bridge of the Enterprise, fighting the Borg in the Gamma Quadrant, or grabbing a drink at Quark's on Deep Space Nine, you're in luck — because the way real life is going, we're on track to catch up with Star Trek history real soon.
Star Trek might be known for being one of the most optimistic, progressive, and uplifting scifi franchises out there, but in-universe this hopeful future came at a price. You see, before all of that acceptance and tolerance and the whole of humanity going vegan (seriously), 600 million people had to die in the most brutal and devastating conflict the Earth has ever seen.
After decades of civil unrest, increasing oppression, and an economic downturn in even affluent countries that cost millions of people their jobs (sound familiar?), the Earth of Star Trek erupted into World War III. It was only after this, when people lived in an apocalyptic wasteland (known as the post-atomic horror) riddled with gang warfare, that the Vulcans figured we were ready to venture out into space and initiated First Contact. And the best news is? Thanks to current events, we're right on track for this. Unfortunately we'll all be dead before stuff starts to get better again.
A Cautionary Tale No-One Heeded
Before you scroll angrily down to the comment section, a correction burning on the edge of your typing fingers, yes, yes, the Vulcans initiated First Contact because of Zephram Cochrane's first warp drive, but you get my point. Star Trek has a very bleak alternate history of Earth, created as a cautionary tale to show us where our actions were leading us — and how we could move beyond the ensuing destruction.
Much of Star Trek was conceived in order to teach us some kind of lesson, and it makes sense that Gene Roddenberry — a WWII pilot who wrote during the Cold War — figured that WWIII was likely to happen in the future. Through Star Trek, Roddenberry commented on social divisions, sexism, racism, and facism, while sending the message that humanity could, and would, improve.
Depressingly enough, many of the social topics he commented on are still prevalent in society today. In fact, the concerning events of 2016 — Brexit, Donald Trump's election (despite the popular vote against him), escalating tension between Russia and Europe, etc. — is proof that the more things change, the more they stay the same. We really shouldn't be able to rewatch episodes of the 1960s The Original Series, or even the 1980s/90s The Next Generation, and still see these shows as progressive. But alas, we seem to be frighteningly on track with Roddenberry's desolate prediction of our near future.
In fact, there's a couple of episodes of Deep Space Nine that have become more and more chilling in recent years. "Past Tense" sees Commander Sisko, Dr Bashir, and Lt Dax transported back to 2024, where they discover a San Francisco that is far from the utopia they know. Post-Eugenics Wars and pre-WWIII, in 2024 an economic crisis has catalyzed extreme poverty in the USA, with the poor and jobless corralled in ghettos known as Sanctuary Districts.
"It's not that they don't care — they've just given up. The social problems they face seem too enormous to deal with."
Watching these episodes from 2017, the similarities between this dystopian future and our own reality are very uncomfortable — and as more and more people become homeless, we have to wonder how long it will be before we see Sanctuary Districts spring up in reality.
That's just one piece of the puzzle, of course, but with Trump tweeting potshots at China from the helm of the United States, many people are already joking — or seriously considering — that we may see a third world war in our lifetimes. Which is obviously a good thing because then we can hurry up and create the Federation and Starfleet and explore the galaxy!
World War III: What To Expect
Well, here's where Star Trek is on hand to help us out. According to Starfleet's archives (sourced from a timeline seen in the background of an episode of Enterprise), WWIII will kick off in 2026 — which just happens to be the ten-year anniversary of Hell Year 2016. Coincidence or dramatic irony? We'll just have to wait and see. Aside from growing international tensions, it will come down to the nations of the world enhancing their soldiers using narcotics and genetic experimentation.
In Star Trek's history, WWIII lasted 56 years. The Eastern Coalition attacked the USA, and by all accounts the conflict was unbearably brutal, with the use of atomic weapons later trapping Earth in a nuclear winter. If you manage to survive all this (good for you!) you'll probably be so poisoned by radiation (not so good for you) that the genocidal maniac Colonel Green and his eco-terrorists will kill you to eradicate all mutated impurities from the human race (yikes).
Strangely, the development of space travel thrived despite WWIII (which was totally a product of humanity's determination to explore the stars and not the Star Trek writers just playing fast and loose with the established canon history, right?), and now that Donald Trump is defunding NASA's climate change division in favor of space travel, our own version of Zephram Cochrane may well be working in the Jet Propulsion Lab as we speak.
However, we're a bit off track on the details here — in Star Trek, the main catalyst for WWIII was a previous conflict in the 1990s known as the Eugenics Wars. Remember Khan? That's when he was king of like, a quarter of Earth.
But maybe we're just a tad delayed with this part of Trek's history. After all, if any government is going to oversee genetic augmentation towards superiority, it'll probably be Trump's.
In all seriousness, though, have things really got so bad that the only way we can reach Star Trek's optimistic future is to go through yet another devastating war? I certainly hope not, and although it's easy to only see the bad in current events, there are plenty of progressive strides being made in the world too. We're also on track to save the whales from extinction, so Spock would be happy about that.
There's certainly a criticism to be made here about Gene Roddenberry's pessimistic route to our optimistic future among the stars. Personally, I'm hoping this was more to do with him teaching us a lesson than a bleak prediction of the 21st Century.
In any case, watching Star Trek lately has become less hopeful and more extremely concerning, as the parallels between the fictional history and our own continue to mount. Ultimately though, Roddenberry's message is clear — we can create the Federation, we can seek out new life and new civilizations. We can boldly go... as long as we change our ways first.
"Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms. If we cannot learn to take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there."
Here's hoping we finally learn this lesson. But even if we don't, I don't know about you but I'm willing to live through any number of nuclear apocalypses just to get a shot at joining Starfleet. Too bad we've still got 144 years to go until I can enroll in the Academy.
Tell us in the comments: Do you think our history will parallel Star Trek's?