Two sides of the same coin

One of my favourite T.V shows is Star Trek: Voyager; I was watching the episode Basics, Part 2 where the ship has been taken over, the crew dumped on a hostile planet and Crewman Suder and the holographic Doctor are the only two Starfleet personnel left on board. Towards the end of the episode, Suder breaks into engineering to disable Voyagers defences to allow Lt. Paris and a group of Talaxians to board and retake the ship. Suder dies in the process but is successful. It dawned on me that we never see Suder honoured by the crew as seems customary in Starfleet. Now, this could have been a deliberate move by the writers because in an earlier episode, Suder killed a fellow crewman in cold blood and it may have been deemed inappropriate.

But I got thinking; what if he was given a ceremony? And what would I say if I was asked to speak at it? Well, this is my attempt.

“What is a hero? Is it someone who has impeccable moral standards? Someone who has never committed any crime and always makes the right decision for the right reasons? Or is it someone who simply does something that is considered heroic? Is someone a hero by their actions or their nature?

It’s something I’ve been thinking about for the last few hours since Captain Janeway asked me to speak at this service. Crewman Lon Suder gave his life in defence of this ship and crew. In many cultures it is considered the most honourable way to die, and indeed upholds the highest standards of Starfleet. But Suder also murdered a member of this same crew in cold blood, considered by those same cultures as one of the most dishonourable and despicable things to do. The fact we are stood here to honour a man who did such a thing seems reprehensible and I know there are those who do not feel this service should be going ahead. But what should anyone’s lasting legacy be? The good deeds or the bad?

It would be extremely insensitive, not to mention stinking of revisionist history, to ignore the murder when talking about Suder. We can get into a debate later about whether there’s a cut off point for what you can commit before it matters, but murder is not the example of impeccable moral standards and seems completely at odds with holding him up as an example of a hero. But it would also be revisionist to ignore the fact that Suder died in the line of duty, disabling Voyagers defence systems to allow Lt. Paris and the Talaxians to retake the ship. These are actions that are certainly considered heroic and we would want to use Suder as an example to inspire others to do the same if the situation ever arose. This is partly why we have these gatherings.

Frankly it’s conflicting, confusing, complicated; but then, so is humanity. That the desire and ability to do both exists in one person, arguably exists in all of us, is what makes life so intense. I think we all battle dark thoughts, some more than others, and not all of us have the discipline to suppress those thoughts or the desire to act on them. Suder was working to increase his discipline but he didn’t become a different man as a result. So perhaps we shouldn’t say Suder was a hero, but a man who performed a heroic act. However, if I were to play devil’s advocate for a second, should we also say Suder wasn’t a murderer but someone who committed the act of murder? Can we really separate acts from how a person is? As I said, conflicting, confusing and complicated.

So how do we remember Suder? Is he a hero? Ultimately I think that’s down to each of us decide for ourselves. I believe it is right that Suder’s sacrifice is honoured and remembered as it would have been had it been any of us, but it is also right to remember his crimes. Perhaps the moral of the story is that no one is truly lost and the powers that drive people to such acts of barbarity, are the same powers that drive people to acts of unrivalled heroism, and to told these in tension is what it means to have humanity.

Thank you Crewman Suder.”

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