Any “Star Trek” fan can easily describe the Kobayashi Maru test for you. It’s long been a fixture in the “Star Trek” universe and involves a scenario Star Fleet cadets must face when on the fast track to commanding their own vessel. It’s described as a measure of that cadet’s leadership and moral capabilities.
In the test, cadets are told that as the commander of a starship their vessel receives an SOS from the civilian ship the Kobayashi Maru, which has struck a mine and is losing all power and life support with only minutes before destructing and killing all the civilians on board. Problem is, the Kobayashi Maru has wandered into the territory of the enemy Klingons and crossing the boundary line between Federation space and Klingon space would violate a treaty between the two factions.
Does the captain ignore the treaty and rescue the civilians, thereby risking his own ship and crew from a possible attack by the Klingons, or ignore the SOS and abide by the treaty leaving the civilians to die? Starting to sound familiar?
It’s designed to be a no-win scenario. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t, just like the current situation in Syria. If we cross that boundary line and go in with military strikes to aid those civilians being gassed apparently by their own government we risk escalating tensions in an already tense region of the world. If we don’t, more of those civilians are sure to die and we’ve shown the world that tyrants now have free reign to do as they please.
As any “Star Trek” fan can also tell you, the only person every to defeat the Kobayashi Maru test was, of course, our hero Capt. James T. Kirk. He did it by cheating. Kirk reprogrammed the computer controlling the test to allow his ship to rescue the civilian crew and escape the Klingons.
Unfortunately, Syria is not a computer simulation. It’s very real with very real consequences regardless of whether the U.S. and its allies, if we still have any, decide to get involved or not. As we learned in Iraq and Afghanistan shock and awe is easy compared to what comes afterward. We certainly have the military power to take out Syria’s stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction which, in this case, no one is denying exist. We probably even have the power to take out the Assad regime itself.
But then what?
What would Capt. Kirk do, you might ask? Well, if we lived in the 23rd century he’d probably just beam Assad and the opposition leader up and lock them in a room and tell them they’re not coming out until they reach some sort of compromise that ends the fighting.
Or use that old 23rd century trick of traveling back in time to stop the conflict before it starts, maybe by teaching the Syrians how to twerk.
Unfortunately, we live in the 21st.
MARTY RUSSELL writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.