Turning Words Into Actions


For those who follow Star Trek, the words “Kobayashi Maru” have a special significance. For those that don’t know, this is the name of a ship in a Star Fleet Academy exercise. It is an exercise to determine how potential Star Fleet officers will respond to situations; in this case, a situation that is a “no-win” situation.

The Kobayashi Maru is a space freight trapped in the Neutral Zone between Federation space and Klingon space (at a time when the Federation and the Klingon Empire were not friendly) and sending out a distress call. Federation ships are forbidden from entering the Neutral Zone and thus the commander of the star ship in the simulation is faced with his or her first dilemma. Do they enter the Neutral Zone and rescue the freighter and its crew or obey the prohibition to not enter the Neutral Zone.

Should the decision be made to enter the Neutral Zone, the commander quickly finds out that it was a trap set by the Klingons. The Federation starship is out-numbered and out-gunned and is ultimately destroyed. No future starship commander had ever successfully passed this simulation test until James Kirk took it. It is said that it took him three times to pass the test and he only passed the test because he modified the program controlling the simulation so that a win was possible. In other words, he cheated.

The object of the simulation is to see how future and potential commanders face death and Kirk admitted that he did not like that option. I would agree; normal (and I stress normal) conflicts should never be a “no-win” situation. But conflicts are often never normal and while our thoughts and our feelings are directed maybe directed towards situations where there is a clear cut winner and a clear cut loser, we often are faced with “no-win” solutions.

A case in point has to be the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Those who lived during that time frame of thirteen days in October can tell you of the urgency and crisis that enveloped not only this country but the entire world. Those who have watched Kevin Costner’s 2000 movie, “Thirteen Days”, can get some sense of that crisis. I believe that a better depiction of the crisis is given in the 1973 made-for-television movie, “The Missiles of October”, if for no other reason that it is a starker, black-and-white presentation.

It is clear from watching either movie that the outcome could have easily been nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States. One of the benefits of the collapse of the Soviet Union was an examination of papers and materials that tell their side of the story and the realization that we were closer to nuclear annihilation than we even thought back then.

It seemed to me from my reading of Robert Kennedy’s book (the basis for the two movies) and watching the movies that there were those on both sides who wanted war and there were those who wanted to avoid war. And it was also clear that one false step by anyone on either side would result in a war that no one wanted. Because what some might have thought might be a small tactical war would quickly expand in a global conflict with the exchange of nuclear weapons. And the result of that exchange would be a world where the living would envy the dead, a “no-win” solution.

It seems to me that we need to somehow include such visions of what the future might be in our current political process. We have the technology to make simulations that involve complex decision making; in fact, we make such simulations right now. But these simulations are treated as games to be played by children.

We need to expand such simulations and get those who desire to be our political leaders to actually show us what they would do when they are faced with potentially no-win situations. We need to see how they would react when one false step is taken or a word is misunderstood; we need someway to show politicians to the consequences of their words when they are forced to put their words into action. We need someway to see how those who seek to lead will respond when those who follow seek solutions that run counter to the desired outcome or whose solutions are for their own personal glory rather than the good of the people.

We love reality television shows; we love games. Here is a chance to put together the ultimate reality show. This will not replace elections; elections are the will of the people but the people need to be informed. We need to be informed as to what those who seek to lead will do when faced with problems where the only solution is a no-win one.

We have the capability to make it so (to borrow another Star Trek phrase); shouldn’t we find a way to turn words into actions so that we can make better decisions?

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Cross-posted to RedBlueChristian

1 thought on “Turning Words Into Actions

  1. I would suggest reading “The Prisoner’s Dilemma” by William Poundstone. It covers, in detail, the work of the RAND Corporation during the 1950’s and 1960’s, which primarily dealt with simulating “nightmare scenarios” involving nuclear weapons.

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