Gimme That Star Trek Ep.15: Is Starfleet Military?

Siskoid sits down with Mike Lacroix of the Canadian Military History Podcast to ask the big question: Is Starfleet a military organization? And if so, how do its practices compare to those of the military in our own world? What's wrong with Michael Burnham's court martial? Could Dr. McCoy really be recalled into active service in The Motion Picture? And where are all the non-coms? All that and more, plus Star Trek news and your feedback.

Listen to Episode 15 below!

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"Star Trek Theme" by Alexander Courage, with the Irredeemable Shagg on vocals. End theme: "Deep Space Nine Theme" by Dennis McCarthy.

Bonus clips from: Star Trek The Next Generation's "Peak Performance", starring Patrick Stewart; Star Trek Discovery's "The Vulcan Hello", starring Sonequa Martin-Green; and DragonCon 2010 Marina Sirtis Star Trek: The Next Generation panel.

And thanks for leaving a comment!

13 responses to “Gimme That Star Trek Ep.15: Is Starfleet Military?

  1. A–dare I say it?–fascinating episode. It’s always good to hear new perspectives on subjects we geeks know so well (in this case Trek), and while I have never been particularly interested in the military, I have always wondered just how the Federation operates as a military unit, since it seems so casual at times (as Mike mentioned a few times). From what I have read, Roddenberry took issue with the movies more militaristic bent, something that left Harve Bennett and Nicholas Meyer a bit baffled–after all, the characters are given military designations!

  2. It was very interesting to hear a Canadian military point of view on Starfleet’s protocols and operations, as well as learn how similarly the U.S. military operates (much of my early career entailed supporting the U.S. military and Coast Guard in various civilian roles).

    Is it conceivable that the definition of mutiny could change to a single person as a result of early space travel having smaller crews? I have to imagine that many current military definitions and protocols would need to adapt and change over time simply due to the changes in conditions and environments.

  3. A very interesting topic. Based on the composition of the fleet itself, Star Fleet does not appear to be geared towards warfare. I’m not an expert on the subject, but most Star Fleet vessels, of which I’m aware, appear to be multipurpose ships, and, while all of them appear to be armed, often carry civilians, including infants and small children. In addition, when you see specialized vessels, they tend to fill nonmilitary roles (e.g., the Reliant was a science vessel). I believe the Defiant is the only (or first???) specialized warship in the fleet, and it was only constructed out of necessity during the Dominion War.

    This raises all sorts of questions about the role of the military in society, particularly in a more utopian society like the Federation. What is the primary role of the military? Is it to wage war? Is it to defend the state? If the latter is true, then one could argue that diplomacy and exploration fall under the umbrella of military operations, just as easily as warfare.

    Lots of interesting food for thought.

  4. A great show, Siskoid and Michael! I particularly liked the contradiction of the lone mutineer and the discussion of the divided “messes”.

    I also grew up watching Star Trek on channel 29. I remember having friends over and staying up late to catch the occasional three episode or six episode marathon. The same channel also aired the 1960s Filmation superhero cartoons, and I believe the 1960s Batman and 1950s Superman live action shows.

    When Picard said Starfleet was not a military organization, my friends and I thought he was kidding himself. They had military ranks, a military academy, courts martial. They served a government and, fought wars. And there was a clear distinction between Starfleet and civilians working for Starfleet.

    When Worf’s foster-father first called Chief O’Brien a chief petty officer, some of the officially licensed guides tried to claim that Sergey Rozhenko was mistaken. (To be fair, O’Brien was called a lieutenant in at least one earlier episode.) Of course, DS9 firmly settled this point — perhaps most hilariously when O’Brien said of Nog “It just occurred to me. As soon as that kid graduates from the Academy, I’m going to have to call him ‘sir’.”

  5. Going with the title of Fleet Captain I just assumed it was based on what the U.S. and the British had in the 1800’s. In the U.S. fleet it’s Fleet Captain, in British it was Captain of the Fleet. It was a title that told who you commanded over but not your rank. So figured he was called that because the Admiral was at some star base and he was out in the field as it were (well maybe since he was injured on a training vessel¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ). Guessing Kirk would have been the Flag Captain since he was one the Flag ship but this doesn’t exactly work since no Admiral on the Enterprise.

  6. Wow, great show. I’ve never bought that Starfleet WASN’T military. That was just Roddenberry’s new humanist point of view trying to retcon that aspect of Trek away in Next Gen. It’s why Nick Meyer’s and Harve Bennet’s more purely naval approach rankled his feathers so much.

    But you guys brought up some great points to support when Trek got it right, and so very wrong in these regards. I never even thought of the mutiny angle. I did always figure Trek was VERY lax with punishing insubordination. And all those red shirts…man, I never even thought of that!!!

    I have a childhood friend who is a retired US Marine Warrant Officer. Oddly enough, one of his favorite G.I. Joe characters when we played as kids was Flint, who was also a Warrant Officer, although I think the cartoon totally botched the portrayal of his rank and title.


    1. Not to go too far off-topic, but G.I. Joe’s rank structure was simplified for the cartoon (series staffer Buzz Dixon, a military veteran, tried to make as much sense of it as possible) while the comic took a more realistic angle thanks to Larry Hama’s previous military service.

  7. I suppose the most direct extrapolation of Starfleet from a modern aspect would be NASA. It’s certainly not a military organization, but is charged with defending the planet from exterior threats (at this point, it’s mainly brainstorming about asteroid protection), executing American space efforts, and working with other nations to conduct various missions (the ISS, for example). Mission personnel are a mix of military/non-military and expected to follow a command structure led by a mission commander.

    Starfleet having the trappings of a military organization in all but purpose isn’t that much of a stretch (to me anyway). Operating a starship requires a lot to be done and done correctly, and a rigid hierarchy/chain of command allows that to happen without the ambiguity present in the bureaucracy of a purely civilian organization. Extending that to operating fleets of starships and the necessity for a military-type organization, with its attendant discipline and protocol, becomes clear.

  8. I just finished listening to this episode on Veteran’s/Armistice/Remembrance Day. Nice timing, Siskoid.

    Mike was a fantastic guest, and explained the military aspects so well. It’ll be great to have him back on F&W network. (I guess discussing the military operations in Star Wars would be too derivative, but I’d love to hear it!)

    It took about halfway through the episode for me to realize my own twice-removed ties to military life, which play nicely with this discussion. First, my mother worked as a civilian government employee at a US Navy R&D Center. The base has a guard post at its main entrance, you say where you’re going, and for unrestricted areas (like the bowling alley or movie theater), off you go. For restricted, you need a badge or to check in with the post, and then pass through another guard post around that specific building, showing how base life can be part of the local community. As for civilians and enlisted working together, in my mom’s job, the higher ups were navy, but immediate supervisors tended to be other civilians, very similar to what Mike described.

    Presently, my wife works in marketing for Virginia Military Institute. For those who don’t know, it’s a university that gives a military experience, so all students and “cadets” and go through similar things as basic training, plus working towards their college degree. Plenty of military instructors, and the president is an actual general. But certain positions in the institute can have civilian employees, and others bestow a military rank to fit the institute’s mission. So professors are majors, department heads are colonels, etc. even though they are not enlisted in the military. My wife’s boss, basically a writer/editor/photographer, is a major and wears the uniform, but it’s an honorary rank. It wouldn’t even be a non-com rank. But it fits the Starfleet model in interesting ways, accepting that it’s a fictional military. The cadets are trained as military, and the organization uses ranks to enforce clear chains of command, but has room for bringing in experts to suit the mission of exploration. Maybe?

    Thanks for another thought-provoking episode!

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