Throughout the entirety of Star Trek there are few crews as hated as the USS Valiant’s Red Squad.
In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “Valiant”, Jake Sisko and Nog get up close and personal with a group of elite cadets who have been stranded behind enemy lines for nearly eight months. What they fined is a extremely driven crew under the command of a captain who is determined to get everyone killed.
Red Squad is considered to be somewhat mystical at Starfleet Academy. They’re the best of the best, the cream of the crop, and also very, very egotistical. In the episode, Paradise Lost we learn how much they like having their egos stroked when it’s revealed they blindly followed the commands of Admiral Leyton and plunged Earth into darkness.
Leyton was making a bid for control of the Federation and he learns about the interview above he sends Red Squad on a ridiculous mission to circumnavigate the Alpha Quadrant in a ship capable of only warp 3.2, which was perhaps part of the plan. He wanted to keep them as far away from Sisko as possible as they were the proof of his crimes.
What drives me up the freaking wall is that no one, not even Leyton after being caught, bothered to recall the ship. It was later reported that the Valiant had gone missing in action, but how did anyone know the ship was even there if this was a secret mission? Plot holes! They sent off a few Starfleet officers and a crew full of kids out in space because they were afraid of getting caught. Heck, I wouldn’t put it past Leyton to have sent them on a suicide mission in order to get the ship destroyed thus covering his tracks entirely.
The reasons why we all hate Red Squad is their elitism, their blind trust in orders, and lack of humility. In Valiant, the ship’s acting captain decides it’s a good idea to try to destroy a Jem’Hadar ship three times more powerful than a Galaxy class starship. Spoilers, almost everyone ends up dead because of his actions.
The ship’s crew blindly follow their leader into the gaping maws of heck, but is their fate really their fault?
The Valiant is captained by Tim Watters, a 22-year-old cadet who was given a field commission after the ship’s original commander died in a fight against a Cardassian vessel.
Captain Ramirez passed his orders onto Watters who was told to maintain radio silence and gather intelligence on that new Jem’Hadar battleship. Ramirez was presumably appointed to the position by Admiral Leyton, but that’s not explicitly said.
If I was 22-years-old (oh man those were the days), I’d have some reservations about taking control of an entire group of people and my first instinct would be to hightail it back to Federation space. However, Red Squad can do anything and Watters believes this to a fault.
The illusion of this pervasive attitude is broken by the arrival of Jake who brings a dispassionate perspective to the situation. He doesn’t want to die because of a bunch of cadets wanting to be martyrs, but who’s going to listen to a writer when Red Squad is perfect, amazing, and super short? Jake ends up being taken to the brig at phaser point because of his radical ideas that people should be able to feel emotions (Vulcans excluded) and that maybe Watters has no idea what he’s doing.
Nog, of course, maintains his ridiculous reverential attitude toward the group and starts drinking the punch after being elevated to the ship’s chief engineering position. He’s a little hesitant to accept the position at first, but after Watters gives him his Red Squad pin and strokes his ego he’s one of them, one of them.
I don’t blame Nog for being co-opted. He sees fellow Star Fleet officers in need if help and steps up to the challenge, but he’s also facing pressure from Watters who faced pressure from Ramirez. Watters wants his crew to do things that they cannot possibly do. I can blame Nog, however, for not using his experience as an actual Star Fleet officer to bring some perspective to this insanity, but the captain of the ship has a steel grip on his crew.
Watters is strict about completing their mission and anyone who gets in the way of that gets dealt with as we see when he gives Dorian Collins, the ship’s chief petty officer, a dressing over reminiscing about home. It’s pretty clear that some of the crew just wants to go home, but this is war boys and girls!
This entire situation is exacerbated by Watters taking drugs to keep himself awake and alert despite the silent protestations of the crew.
At the end of the episode, Collins, who just saw all of her friends die, says something along the lines of, ‘If the mission failed it was because we failed the captain not because he failed us’, or something like that. The problem is, as Nog points out, that if Watters hadn’t put the crew at such a great risk in the first place then no one would died.
Watters, like most flawed captains in Starfleet, has a problem with challenging authority. When given orders that are strange and unfair it’s normal to question them even if the chain of command is pulled taut. Jean Luc Picard and Benjamin Sisko question orders all of the time often to ensure the safety of their crews. Instead of looking out for his, Watters decided to seek glory and get everyone killed.
Watters is not a captain nor is he properly trained to be one, so can you blame him for the death of his entire crew? Red Squad’s training has led them to believe that they can do anything, so he believes taking down a battle cruiser is well within their story. They are programmed to believe they can do the impossible and ultimately this leads to their deaths.
Militarization of Starfleet
If we’re looking for fault there’s only one person you can blame: James T. Kirk… wait, I mean Admiral Leyton.
Earth going dark sends a chill throughout the Federation. The Changeling threat is suddenly very real and Leyton takes full advantage of the rampant fear and suspicion blazing its way through the Federation like a plague. He decides this is the time for the military to step in to bring back law and order to society (sound familiar?).
The problem is that his actions go against everything the Federation believes in and brings them dangerously close to emulating their enemies: the Dominion and the Cardassians.
During the Dominion War, we see a rise not only in the number of ships geared toward combat rather than exploration, but in a militaristic attitude. I mean, it’s war, right? The Federation needs to protect itself, but that’s not really keeping in the spirit of the organization. Even the Defiant, a ship designed to fight against the Borg, was built only for defensive purposes, not to act as a assault vessel as it’s often used.
If you’ve watched the clip right at the top you’ll also see that militaristic attitudes are also being adopted by Starfleet personnel. The cadet walks in cocksure and filled with bravado, stands at attention, and truly believes he was working for a greater good by sabotaging the entire freaking Earth. He didn’t ask any questions as to whether he should have taken on the mission. He listened to orders and did what he was told. Nog also has this attitude where he believes bravado and camaraderie are of the utmost importance to a Starfleet officer, but his character is given time to develop and eventually he comes to the realization that there’s more to being a Federation officer.
What Leyton saw in Red Squad is a clique of privileged, self-righteous youngsters who’d do what they were told. He offered them glory and they took it hook, line, and sinker. No reasonable, experienced person in Starfleet would so blindly listen to Leyton. Erika Benteen, who was closer to Leyton than anyone, eventually turns against him. The reason she’s able to go against his orders is because she isn’t programmed to be a solider unlike Red Squad. She may have shared Leyton’s fascistic views, but when push came to reason she was able to act as an individual and make up her own mind on what what is right and wrong.
Leyton pushing a group of impressionable, young people into committing a treasonable offence against the Federation is disturbing, but what’s more startling is that Starfleet is developing officers with this kind act first, ask questions later mentality. Nova Squadron from the Next Generation episode “The First Duty” is another example of this privileged attitude adopted by the elite and cliquey within the organization. They think they’re special enough that they can lie their way out of screwing up an exercise that got a teammate of theirs killed.
Both of these groups of cadets’ are different from the kind of thoughtful young people that we’ve met in the past. Officers like the ones shown in “Lower Decks” seem to exemplify the humanity (Vulcanity?) of Starfleet’s officers. They don’t act like soldiers and they aren’t afraid to question their commanding officers. They also care about one another and display that inching their way up the chain of command isn’t everything. One of Nova Squadron’s officers ends up being sent on a mission that gets her killed in the episode, but she’s able to show how much she was able to develop as a person once the lustre of the squad had worn off.
Starfleet is not a military organization, but rather dedicated to exploring the universe, helping others, and making peaceful contact with new people. It’s difficult in times of war to stick with these key foundational principles and sometimes there’s a need for soldiers, but there will never been a need for another Red Squad.
I’ve thought a lot about Red Squad over the last little while. One of the major concerns I have with them is just their attitude toward the Federation. They’re programmed to believe that glory can be found through military actions. That’s why they agreed to disable the Earth’s power grid and that’s why they attacked that Jem’Hadar ship.
Glory should be left to the Klingons.
Red Squad isn’t the best of the best. They are a privately-developed group who were used by their superiors as a means to an end. These cadets aren’t inherently bad, but the principles upon which they came to exist are. If Jean Luc Picard or Benjamin Sisko were put in charge of these cadets they’d likely send them back to the academy within a week for a lecture from Boothby.