Star Trek: Discovery – S1, E8 – War and Peace

If you want peace, prepare for war.

These words are the translation of a Latin phrase used as the title of Star Trek: Discovery’s latest episode, “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum.” The war with the Klingons has been intensifying and the Federation is in need of every advantage they can find. Commander Saru, Lieutenant Tyler, and Michael Burnham’s away mission to find such an advantage quickly becomes more complicated than expected when they meet the Pahvans, life forms whose entire existence is based on harmony and peace. The away team seeks to use these beings to help them win the war and bring peace, but this does not appear to be possible without first causing some form of conflict.

Is peace even possible if one or both of the sides think that the only way to end their conflict is through violence? At the episode’s end, the Pahvans call the Klingons to meet the Federation at their planet in what appears to be an attempt at brokering a peaceful summit. But what will happen if both sides are unwilling to lay down their arms and yield their positions? Is the episode’s title really true, that if you want peace you need to first prepare for war?

During their time on Pahvo, Burnham, and Tyler discuss their post-war plans. They both want peace to come by bringing about an end to the war, which they believe inevitably requires fighting for it. Saru’s transformation under the influence of the Pahvans causes him to want to leave the fighting and stay on Pahvo away from all of the conflict. Ultimately Saru comes to realize that he cannot hold onto that peaceful life without having to eventually fight for it.

Can true peace ever be possible without some form of prevenient conflict? Although Christians are called to peace, we know that it will never be fully realized until Christ returns. Until then, war, violence, and conflict will always be sad realities. But does that mean we should participate in them?

Burnham and Tyler’s discussion about their responsibility to fight this war culminates in a variation on the famous Vulcan proverb, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…or the one.” Their variation on this proverb conveys similar thoughts on the importance of sacrifice for the sake of peace: “The needs of the many are worth fighting for, worth dying for. But so are the needs of the few…or the one.”

Burnham and Tyler both understand that they have a self-sacrificial duty to defend those who either cannot or will not fight to defend themselves. In order for there to be an end to the war they know that they will have to make sacrifices along the way. Leaving the war behind and trying to find peace through isolation on a planet like Pahvo might sound like a great solution, but they cannot in good conscience abandon others in the galaxy who still have not found peace themselves.

This episode has much to say about the necessity of war as a precursor to peace. But what if Burnham, Tyler, or Saru would have chosen to stay behind on Pahvo and leave the fighting behind? Would they have been justified in doing so? Just because someone has the ability to fight and defend others in battle, should they do so?

Scripture is filled with admonitions to live according to a code of peacemaking. Christ tells us in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Paul urges us in Romans, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Paul does not guarantee that peace will always happen, only that we should do everything in our power to bring it about. That becomes much more difficult when someone else doesn’t hold the same view. Paul continues by quoting one of the Hebrew proverbs: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

If Paul had been listening to Burnham and Tyler’s discussion he might have replied to them with his own variation on that famous Vulcan proverb: “The needs of your enemies outweigh the needs of your allies…or yourself.”