A striking title such as this was sure to get Star Trek fans' attention, especially considering that the very essence of Star Trek is supposed to be about peace, compassion, and honor. To have decorated Starfleet personnel commit atrocities is not too uncommon within the Federation, with a handful of spies, traitors, and downright nasty characters hiding within the utopian corporation. But to say someone so revered as Captain Kathryn Janeway is a war criminal? That's a different story.
Firstly, it's important to note the context of said villainous activity. It’s also important to say that to call her a villain is a step too far. Rather, in her plight to get home, Janeway made a few tactical and weighted decisions — but that it just so happens that one of these technically classifies as violating international and intergalactic rules of war (that’s an abridged, existing definition suitable for a culture of space entrepreneurs). Janeway has gained a reputation with many Star Trek fans as a bit useless — some of her blunders include getting herself and the Maquis crew stranded unnecessarily (when she simply could have set timed photon torpedoes to blow up the Caretakers Array after returning to the alpha quadrant); leaving the Kazon factions to fend for themselves against the Trabe when she could have teleported them away; and blatantly disregarding the sovereignty of Kremin territory. However, none of these measure up to giving the cybernetic mega villain Borg a biological weapon in order to commit genocide.
That’s right, Janeway indirectly commits genocide against an entire species, but let’s rewind. In the episode “Scorpion,” a two-parter spanning the Season 3 finale and Season 4 premiere, Voyager enters Borg space. This is something that they, as well as resident rehabilitated Borg human Seven of Nine, had been dreading for multiple episodes. The area is so large they are forced to travel through it, but upon arrival, they discover the Borg are at war with another race named Species 8472 — this was their Borg designation as no other official name was discovered. These are a powerful race of notably non-humanoid lifeforms who were native to another dimension of existence called fluidic state, which could only be accessed through quantum singularities. These beings were considered apex predators by the Borg, who regarded them as the pinnacle of biological evolution, and thus of course they were desperate to assimilate them to add their biology and technology into the hive-mind. The only problem was they were immune to assimilation, and once provoked relentlessly fought back, slowly but surely wiping the Borg out.
In comes Voyager, and poor Harry Kim, repeated punching bag for all strange alien infections, becomes contaminated by skin tissue from Species 8472. While slowly dying, the holographic Doctor aboard the ship works tirelessly until he discovers a cure — something that could, coincidentally, incapacitate and eventually kill 8472. So what does Janeway do with this biological weapon, something capable of committing genocide on an obscenely large scale? She gives it to the Borg in exchange for safe travel through their space.
The decision here is, in a way, understandable. Janeway was just trying to get her crew home, something that had almost become a religious motto for her by this point. Yet, it's impossible to deny that this tactic was extremely unethical. What’s worse, nobody at the time had concerns in the ethical sense; instead, the crew is more concerned with the Borg double-crossing them than the potential extinction of an entire species. This has a lot to do with the way 8472 are presented. They are ruthless, aggressive beings — but then again, so are the Cardassians and the historically warmongering Klingons. What sets them apart was entirely their non-humanoid appearance. Species 8472 were depicted as too different from humans and thus were “monsters,” going against everything Star Trek stood for regarding differences and acceptance.
This could have been swept under the rug. When looking at 8472 as a race of animal-like, thoughtless monsters who only wish to destroy, this act might not really count as a war crime — more like a heartless execution of all the country foxes plaguing the chicken coops. However, the writers shot themselves in the foot, or more accurately stabbed Janeway in the back, when they reintroduced 8472 in the Season 5 episode “In The Flesh.” This episode reveals that there is a greater intelligence to Species 8472, and that, instead of mere animals, they are capable of rational thought and can even be negotiated with. They are brutal, xenophobic, and nasty, but they are self-aware. Somehow, despite Janeway's actions, the episode ends with peace being made between Voyager and 8472, but it leaves a sour taste in the mouth knowing what Janeway had done, vicariously causing the deaths of thousands of sentient lifeforms.
This flip-flop episode showed 8472 in a whole new light, and when examining what exactly happened, it was hard not to empathize with them. Fundamentally, ignoring their xenophobia and universe dominating agenda, they were simply defending themselves after being attacked by the Borg, and are not quite the monsters they were misunderstood to be. This makes Janeway's actions inexcusable, though granted, hindsight is 20/20. But what’s most troubling is that her genocidal actions don't seem to bother her that much, and Starfleet even promotes her to Admiral, glossing over her ever so slight war crimes. In light of her decisions here, and her own reflections on them, she's not really great captain material after all.
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