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Believe it or not, Star Trek's sci-fi escapades have often been based on actual events that
happened here on Earth.
Let's boldly go where no fan has gone before and look at some of the true stories that
inspired Star Trek.
Star Trek loves to talk about politics and social justice, but at the same time, the
original series seemed to contradict the message, what with its long track record of ditzy women
in impossibly short skirts who lack any sort of self-reliance or tenacity.
If you've ever found that annoying, it might comfort you to know that Star Trek writers
Herb Solow and Robert Justman often used racy content to distract television censors of
the time from the show's otherwise political content.
In the second season episode "A Private Little War," Kirk contemplates the ethics of intervening
in someone else's war, a fairly controversial subject for the time.
"We are wise enough to know that we are wise enough not to interfere in the way of a man,
or another world."
During the episode, he kisses a partially-dressed woman, with an open mouth, no less.
That particular scene was actually written for the purpose of drawing attention away
from the episode's storyline, which was a thinly veiled commentary on whether or not
the United States should get involved in Vietnam.
It was a pretty genius move, and it worked.
The episode aired in February 1968, just after the launch of the Tet Offensive.
Over a century after Jack the Ripper stopped terrorizing the Whitechapel district of London,
we still can't stop talking about him.
He's been featured in films, television shows, comic books, video games, and pretty much
every other type of media you can think of.
And for some reason, Star Trek used Jack the Ripper as inspiration for the 1967 episode
"Wolf in the Fold."
A woman causes an accident that gives Scotty a concussion, so Kirk and McCoy take him to
a pleasure planet that winds up looking rather suspiciously like the Whitechapel district
of London, circa 1888.
While they're down there, women keep getting killed, and Scotty keeps getting found holding
a bloody knife, so things aren't looking good for everybody's favorite engineer.
"This happened under Argelian jurisdiction.
If they want to arrest him, try him, even convict him, I have to go along with it."
"But he's suffering from a severe concussion!"
In case you were worried, Scotty isn't the killer.
If he were, we would've missed out on decades of his charming Scottish brogue.
"What are you standing around for?
Do you not know a jail break when you see one?"
No, the real killer is the actual Jack the Ripper, who as it turns out is a formless
entity that needs fear and also foggy streets to survive.
What a relief.
Not every based-on-a-true-story Star Trek episode is meant to be a complex political
allegory on truth and justice.
Some are written simply for the purpose of being silly and entertaining.
Some aren't even based on true stories.
Instead, they're inspired by conspiracy theories that are probably just nonsense.
Season four of Deep Space Nine tackles the complex social problem of people who actually
think the government might be hiding aliens at Area 51.
In "Little Green Men," Quark, Rom, Odo, and Nog are accidentally sent back in time to
Area 51.
"The 20th century?
You mean we traveled back through time?!
More than 400 years!"
The episode handily explains the 1947 crash of the high-altitude balloon that spawned
decades of conspiracy theories and culminated in the 2019 storming of Area 51 for what it
really was: the crash of a Ferengi shuttle piloted by a race of super-capitalist humanoid
aliens with very large ears.
Sometimes it takes a big thing to shine a light on important social problems.
Before the riot at Attica prison in 1971, many American inmates were kept in deplorable
At Attica, prisoners were allotted one shower a week and one roll of toilet paper a month.
Things came to a head when the prisoners rebelled, taking hostages and releasing a list of demands.
Notably, the prisoners' list of demands didn't include "let us out of prison."
It was mostly just a plea for more humane conditions, including religious freedom, an
end to the censorship of their personal correspondence, and better living conditions.
"They've forgotten about us."
"So what do we do?"
"We make them remember."
The Attica riot changed prisoner treatment in America, and it was the inspiration for
a key incident in Deep Space Nine's two-part episode "Past Tense."
In this time-traveling episode, writer Ira Behr drew from the Attica prison riot when
constructing the 2024 Bell Riots, an incident in which the occupants of a repressive Sanctuary
District for homeless and unemployed people rebel.
As far as Star Trek's Earth is concerned, the event helped usher humans towards the
peaceful, post-scarcity society enjoyed by Kirk and friends.
"The Troubles" is the phrase used to describe the conflict in Northern Ireland between 1968
and 1998.
While the mostly Protestant unionists wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the United
Kingdom, the mostly Catholic nationalists, led by the Irish Republican Army, or IRA,
wanted to join the Republic of Ireland.
The confrontation resulted in the deaths of around 3,600 people.
Star Trek: The Next Generation's season three episode "The High Ground" is about a violent
conflict between the people of the planet Rutia Four and a bomb-planting group of rebel
separatists called "Ansata."
The parallels between Ansata and the IRA are so thinly veiled that Data and Picard actually
have an on-screen conversation about the parallels between Ansata and the IRA.
Data even says that the conflict in Northern Ireland is an example of successful terrorism.
"I have been reviewing the history of armed rebellion, and it appears that terrorism is
an effective way to promote political change."
The episode aired in 1990, when the real conflict was still very much a thing, and the content
was alarming enough to the British powers of TV that it was heavily edited in the United
Kingdom and Ireland, which included the removal of the Data/Picard conversation.
As of 2109, it has still never been shown in its entirety on the Emerald Isle.
Star Trek's habit of drawing on real life sometimes even dips into medical mysteries
of the past in order to flesh out a character or just add some depth to a story line.
One such example is the similarity between the memory condition suffered by Captain Archer
in the Enterprise episode "Twilight" and the story of a real-life medical case from 1953.
In the show, Archer suffers from a disorder caused by parasites that live in non-linear
time, which causes all new memories to fade within a few hours.
"They haven't caused any tissue damage, but they're impairing certain synaptic functions.
They're preventing you from forming new long-term memories."
The storyline seems to be based on the case of Henry Molaison, a 27-year-old assembly
worker who suffered from severe epilepsy.
Molaison underwent brain surgery to remove his hippocampus, and his seizures stopped.
But he also lost the ability to form new memories.
Molaison could remember some things from the past but nothing from the moment he emerged
from the surgery.
In the Deep Space Nine episode "Far Beyond the Stars," Sisko is given vision by a bunch
of mysterious wormhole aliens.
In the vision, he's living in 1950s Harlem, working as a sci-fi writer.
During his time in his dream, he deals with racist publishers who refuse to publish his
story on the grounds that it has a black protagonist, and he encounters various characters who look
an awful lot like his crewmates back home.
Fortunately, the episode is blissfully free from ruby slippers and talking scarecrows.
"But it wasn't a dream."
It seems likely that the episode was inspired by the Comics Code Authority's 1956 decision
to disallow the publication of an Entertaining Comics story titled "Judgement Day," which
featured a black protagonist.
Judge Charles Murphy said outright that he wouldn't approve the story if it had a black
Entertaining Comics published it anyway, even though its lack of official approval meant
that it wouldn't get wide distribution.
"Oh, I like it alright, it's good, it's very good.
But you know I can't print it."
"Why not?"
"Oh come on, Benny."
After that, Murphy embarked on a personal vendetta against the publisher, personally
reviewing everything they submitted for approval.
The company went out of business a few years later.
In 1988, the USS Vincennes shot down Iran Air Flight 655.
The incident happened toward the end of the Iran-Iraq War, while the Vincennes was exchanging
fire with Iranian ships in the Persian Gulf.
The official US Navy account of the incident said the passenger plane was mistaken for
an enemy jet.
Still, 290 civilian passengers and crew members died when the Vincennes shot two surface-to-air
missiles at the plane.
In the Deep Space Nine episode "Rules of Engagement," Worf has been accused of a similar crime — destroying
a civilian ship carrying 441 people.
Much of the episode is a courtroom drama in which the Klingon Empire is trying to get
Worf extradited for war crimes, and Sisko is trying to stop that from happening.
The story ends predictably.
As it turns out, the whole thing was just a setup, and Worf actually fired on a ship
full of dead bodies.
"Isn't it possible that the ship he saw was sending out false sensor images, and that
this whole affair was staged?"
As for the real-life incident, well, it's unfortunately not that black and white.
Real people died on Air Flight 655, and we probably won't ever know exactly what happened.
Star Trek often has the uncanny ability to address problems that we're still discussing
decades later.
In the original series episode "The Ultimate Computer," the Enterprise becomes the proud
owner of a new computer called the M-5, which is capable of running all the ship's systems
with minimal human intervention.
This is immediately not cool as far as Kirk and McCoy are concerned, though Spock is predictably
fascinated by the idea.
"I don't like it, Jim.
A vessel this size cannot be run by one computer."
"We are attempting to prove that it can run this ship more efficiently than man."
You can probably see the ending coming from several million light years away.
M-5 isn't really the ultimate computer, it's the ultimate killing machine.
In a mock battle meant to demonstrate its abilities, M-5 takes down another starship
with lethal force.
When Kirk convinces it that it's a killer, it shuts itself down, thus preventing a Skynet-style
takeover of the Federation.
The episode was a reaction to the rise of the computer, and genuine concern about what
would happen if we gave machines too much power and control.
It deals with questions we still ask ourselves today, like what happens when human beings
automate everything, and then everyone is left without a job and a purpose?
I can't run a starship with 20 crew."
"The M-5 can."
"And what am I supposed to do?"
Over the years, Star Trek has asked plenty of questions about war, territory, and unprovoked
"The Enterprise Incident," a third season episode of the original series, was based
on the Pueblo Incident of 1968, which involved an American communications monitoring ship
and some North Korean naval vessels.
The Koreans claimed the USS Pueblo was in Korean waters, while the US claimed it was
in international waters.
After the Koreans opened fire and then boarded the ship, they caught the captain destroying
electronics and documents.
The crew was brought back to North Korea, where they endured 11 months of interrogation
and torture.
The Star Trek version of this story is almost exactly the same.
The Enterprise is just outside the Romulan Neutral Zone on an "observation mission,"
when a bunch of Romulan ships show up and open fire, forcing Kirk to surrender.
Before the crew is taken prisoner, Kirk orders the destruction of top secret equipment.
Then, he and Spock are taken to a Romulan outpost, where they're threatened with interrogation
and torture.
"But there are Romulan methods completely effective against humans and human weaknesses."
After that, the two plotlines diverge somewhat.
Spock and Kirk fake their deaths, and then Kirk and McCoy put on pointy ear disguises,which
is evidently enough to make the Romulans not recognize them, so they can infiltrate the
Romulan outpost.
But we're going to guess that none of those last bits happened during the real incident.
Star Trek couldn't pass up an opportunity to comment on the Cold War in general and
Chernobyl in particular.
So nearly three decades before HBO's Chernobyl miniseries became a gleam in the eye of some
cable TV executive, Star Trek was busy creating an allegory on the incident with Star Trek
VI: The Undiscovered Country.
In the film, there's a major explosion at an energy facility on Praxis, the Klingon
Like the Russians, the Klingons pretend the accident is no big deal, because if they admit
otherwise, they admit weakness, and not being weak is like the Klingons' whole deal.
In The Undiscovered Country, the Klingon chancellor even has a familiar name: Gorkon.
In case you need a nudge, that kind of sounds like "Gorbachev."
Gorkon decides to open peace talks with the Federation, and there's even talk of dismantling
the starbases and other military structures around the Neutral Zone.
The real life storyline and the fake one start to diverge at this point, because no one would
like the movie if the starbases came down, and everyone had a party.
Or would they?
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Star Trek Episodes That Were Based On Actual Events

5 Folder Collection
林宜悉 published on February 26, 2020
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