The Prime Directive is at the very core of Starfleet operations, and at the heart of the guiding precepts of the United Federation of Planets. But one veteran actor from the franchise argues the Federation’s rule is “fascist” BS. Here’s what you need to know about what he said and why, along with a primer on the basics of the Prime Directive.
Robert Beltran Says Prime Directive Is ‘Fascist’
In an interview with CNET, Star Trek: Voyager actor Robert Beltran spoke out against the Prime Directive, a core principle at the heart of the space-faring organization at the heart of the series.
Beltran, who played Commander Chakotay, had this to say: “The idea of leaving any species to die in its own filth when you have the ability to help them, just because you wanna let them get through their normal evolutionary processes is bunk — it’s a bunch of fascist cr**. I much prefer the Cub Scout motto.”
For reference, the “Cub Scouts” is a K-5 program that encourages learning new skills. The Cub Scout motto is “Do Your Best”, and a related concept is the Cub Scout promise. The promise was retired in 2015, but scouts who entered the program prior to that date likely memorized the old promise, which was:
“I promise to do my best
To do my duty to God and my country,
To help other people, and
To obey the Law of the Pack.”
What is the ‘Prime Directive’ on ‘Star Trek’?
Essentially, the Prime Directive is an oath taken by Starfleet officers who serve in the Federation. The Prime Directive prohibits interfering in the natural develpoment of planets, peoples, or cultures, most especially “pre-warp” cultures that are not capable of faster-than-light spaceship travel. In the Star Trek universe, the concept is discussed in multiple episodes of the long-running TV franchise, and even becomes central to the plot of some of the Trek comic books.
A 2013 poll on StarTrek.com revealed that the majority of fans think Captain Picard was the captain with the most respect for the Prime Directive.
When Was the ‘Prime Directive’ Introduced?
— Ars Technica (@arstechnica) January 27, 2021
The Prime Directive is introduced in the TOS episode The Omega Glory, in which Kirk famously states, “A starship captain’s most solemn oath is that he will give his life, even his entire crew, rather than violate the Prime Directive.”
The concept has been repeated multiple times throughout different eras of Star Trek. In the TNG episode Who Watches the Watchers, Picard states, “Each of us, including Dr. Palmer, took an oath that we would uphold the Prime Directive – if necessary, with our lives.”
What is ‘General Order 1’ on ‘Star Trek’?
There is an additional complicating factor to keep in mind. In some Star Trek media, the Prime Directive is a concept that doesn’t yet exist. In the early years of Starfleet, the Prime Directive existed as a general concept, but had a different name.
In a helpful 2019 breakdown on Tor, it’s explained that “People in Star Trek: Discovery don’t call General Order One ‘the Prime Directive,’ because Trek history demonstrates the exact definition of the Prime Directive doesn’t actually exist until toward the middle of the Original Series, in 2268…Discovery is currently set 11 years before that, in 2257.”
It’s worth noting that the concept of the Prime Directive has come under fire, not just from character on the show, but from critical fans. SyFy has a list of 11 times when Kirk himself violated the Prime Directive. A 2016 report by Ars Technica argued that, at least in the real world, such a directive is impossible to actually enforce, from a legal standpoint. The subject of the Prime Directive even prompted one Loyola student’s thesis for a Masters program.