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Cold War Images in the Enemies of Star Trek: The Next Generation

Written by: Yaron Orenstein  AKA Com Spock

Star Trek the Next Generation is the successful spin-off of Star Trek: The Original Series. The new series was first broadcast in 1987, 21 years after the first broadcast of the original series. This series portrayed the adventures of a brave new crew of travelling in the USS Enterprise. The show succeeded to attain its own enemies, to discover strange new worlds, to introduce new starships and to add new heroes. This series is a success on its own, and is considered the best series in the 30-years Star Trek saga.

Though this series was produced in the new era, after the collapse of the USSR and the end of the Cold War, the shock and terror of the communist threat still remains in the American public. The new enemy of ST:TNG is the Borg, which portrays the evil image of the communist as seen through American eyes. Its collective mind, total evilness and ultimate goal to assimilate other cultures, make it very similar to the image of the communists in the eyes of the Americans.

In the first season, the producer, Gene Roddenbery, had to introduce the viewers, as well as the characters, with a new enemy. The master villain had to be something much more frightening than the simple Klingon, which are now Starfleet's new allegiant. The new enemy can't be a simple black guy (excuse me, Afro-American) dressed up in a 19th century Japanese custom.

And so, the first new enemy was the Ferengi. The newly-found-out race named Ferengi was a race of short people, with HUGE ears. They were bold and ugly as well. Regarding their society, it is ironic that the first though-of villain was in fact a race of capitalists! The Ferengi are only considered with money and property. But, as the show evolved, the Ferengi turned out to be a peaceful race, and even provided the comical aspect of the show.

In this situation, a new race had to be created, and this was the Borg. The Borg was a cyber-human race. They were "biological units", meaning humanoid species, that were assimilated, or in other words being operated and put technological implants inside their body. Each Borg is connected to the central mind and they all think together and operate simultaneously. They have neither privacy nor an ability to think independently. They can only operate by the cooperation of their "comrades".

This race operates in a collective mind, very much like the communists. The communist ideology emphasizes the need for a communal and collective life, where each member has the exact same property as his comrade. This was nicely implemented by the Borg's collective mind. The Borg thinks collectively and works by cooperating. Both the Borg and the communists are cooperative and collective, in thought and in work.

Another similarity is the Borg's total evilness and darkness. The Borg's color is black. Their ship is shaped as a cube and painted by "circuits and wires". Thus, their image makes them the ultimate villains. This, in fact, was exactly the way the Americans saw the communists. They regarded them as savage and brutal. They considered them merciless and savages who had neither heart nor sole. Even the Borg efficiency and logic are considered an exaggeration by Starfleet, very much like the Americans' regard to the communists' efficiency.

The last similarity is the Borg's need for expansion. The Borg's main goal is to conquer other plants and assimilate more races into the collective. The communist ideology praises the same objective: the proletariat revolution must be worldwide, otherwise it will be a failure. The USSR's foreign policy implemented that ideology. They backed up the communist underground movements around the world and provided weapons for an uprising and a possible revolution, wherever there were communists. Their purpose was to spread over the globe and earn territories of influence. The Borg acts on the same basis. Their mission is to meet new races, destroy any defense power they have and assimilate them into the Borg.

In the various episodes these similarities were clearly shown. For example, in the episode "Q Who", when the Borg were first met with Starfleet, they were shown as the ultimate villains. They intruded the Enterprise, tried to take control over it and attacked it unmercifully. Only by the help of Q, did the Enterprise manage to survive. This was the first encounter with Borg. In the end, Picard faced Guinan and confessed that he's afraid. A new force is now threatening Starfleet. They could no longer roam throughout the stars freely. This was the same feeling that was spread after WWII in the Western world. Another great nation had risen and this was a new power that had to be considered upon. The international relationship had changed completely, much like Picard's shock towards the new threat, the Borg.

In the excellent double-episode (which was also a cliffhanger between the third and fourth season), the Borg has finally attacked Starfleet. Starfleet was faced with the threat of defeat and lost in a great battle, remembered till today as battle "Wolf 359". In this episode, the Borg captured Picard (the captain of the USS Enterprise) and assimilated him. He became the contact man of the Borg to the human race. This was a terrifying experience for him, which was highly scared by most Americans during the Cold War. The phrase "better dead than red" reflects this threat, that was seen by American eyes, of a communist invasion and especially being captured by the enemy and becoming "one of them".

The next episode (the fifth season) was "I, Borg". It dealt with the situation in which Starfleet seized a Borg and had to deal with a difficult dilemma: Should they deprive the captured Borg of his basic rights in order to destroy the Borg. This episode is great since he deals with the basic rights of each individual. In addition, it shows what happens to a Borg who is drawn out of the collective. The "individual" Borg named Hugh was very paranoiac and couldn't operate since it was the first time he was independent. After a lifetime (I guess…) of collective thought, he had to deal with an independent mind of his own.

The consequences of this event were shown in the double-episode "Descent" (which I consider mediocre). The Enterprise had to rescue one of the crewmates (Data) and found out what were the consequences of Hugh's individuality. Many Borgs ceased to operate and lost any purpose in their life. They drifted in space till someone (Lore, Data's brother) encountered them and took the advantage to lead them dictatorially. Hugh told the Enterprise' crew about the time when they had independent thoughts and had to operate individually. It was very frightening to him and his Borg mates. This feeling reflects the same feeling the Russian people and the Eastern European people had during the "Restroika", the "defrosting" of socialist economy and the formation of capitalism in Russia and Eastern Europe. The people never faced such an economy and were puzzled and bewildered by the new social order.

The eighth Star Trek movie dealt with the Borg's experience to change human history and conquer the Earth in the 21st century. Since this plot was meant for action-scenes only and for the mere enjoyment of the audience, it was hard to find any similarities between the Borg and the communists. The Borg portrayed the usual action-villains that had to be liquidated. But, there was one similarity that was shown by the Borg Queen. The Borg Queen controlled the Borg (it was in contrast to the Borg we watched in the series - they were thinking in a collective mind and were not operating by a single mind) and commanded them as she wished. Stalin's dictatorship was the same. He was a dictator and ruled everyone and everything. He could have ordered anything and was obeyed immediately.

In conclusion, it is apparent that the Borg is the reflection of the communist image in the eyes of the American public. Although the Cold War has ended and the communist threat was already gone, the threat still exist in the American public and appeain media forms, such as television, newspapers and radio. The Borg is an example of such image being portrayed in a television show. They are an obvious reflection of the communists as seen through American eyes.