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First Contact


Michele Dutcher

First Contact

By Michele Dutcher

Prime Directive:  “As the right of each sentient species to live in accordance with its normal cultural evolution is considered sacred, no Star Fleet personnel may interfere with the healthy development of alien life and culture.” In the universe of Star Trek, the Prime Directive, Starfleet’s General Order number 1, is the most prominent guiding principle of the United Federation of Planets. The Prime Directive dictates that there can be no interference with the internal development of alien civilizations.  Obviously this was a basic difference in the approach of the Klingons and the Federation.

Allow me to paraphrase even further: Just because a culture has superior technology, this doesn’t make their culture superior; it doesn’t give them the right to take whatever they want.  Each culture has its own intrinsic value.  If a culture lives in harmony with their environment, that doesn’t make them weak – it might even make them wise.

On a Sunday morning in late February of this year I stood at the top of a steep land bridge, some 60 feet above the cavern floor below. I was leading a park ranger to what I hoped would become one of the few sites in Indiana where a petrogylph – an aboriginal example of rock art – could be viewed. I had to make the choice of either descending the dangerous slope or going back to the car and taking an entirely different route.  I watched the ranger run down the steep slope grabbing small trees to slow his descent somewhat. As a fifty-year-old woman, I took a less aggressive stance, sliding down the five-story-high cliff on the seat of my blue jeans.

My daughter would eventually lead the archeologist to the site, later that same day, and he would stay at the site for the afternoon, happily taking photographs of what has indeed been authenticated as a historic era Native American petroglyph site.  The petroglyphs found so far were made using a metal tool as a chisel, which would have been traded on the coastline by Europeans, probably before the inland Native Americans had even seen a European.  The petroglyphs therefore represent use of a superior technology brought to them by a culture outside their own during that sliver of time when those cultures were testing each other.

The largest petroglyph turned out to be a carving of two figures, equal in size, side by side: brothers.  I can see the artist in my mind, proud of his work, holding the new metal tool in his hands, carving the sign saying that he had been there, on this day, with his brother. I can see him watching the hawks play in the wind currents of the caverns – the same as I have often done – and being inspired to remember the day by carving the sign of the bird, because that is carved there in the stone as well. 

How was he to know that the culture who gave him the metal tool would be the same people to drive him from this land he and his tribe had lived on for so many centuries? There was no Prime Directive to save him from the greed of the multitudes that were coming – multitudes like the stars in the skies. There was no starship to protect him from those who could have treated him like a brother instead of an enemy.  How could he have known that his grandchildren would spend their lives in reservations, pieces of land that were left over, the land no one else wanted?

Brothers.  Sometimes the very stones talk to us about brothers we have left behind in the past.

Besides the metal chisel-tool, another thing the Europeans gave the Native Americans was disease.

Because of the four vulnerabilities listed above, the European diseases spread plague after deadly plague across the land. In a period of 130 years, (up to) 95 percent of all Native Americans died of disease. That number is far greater than experts (until recently) had ever suspected.

“The Native Americans who survived the plagues were, of course, completely demoralized and depressed by this tremendous loss of their loved ones, of their lifestyle, and of their ancient culture. And for most of these people, all of this happened before a European ever encountered them.

“So even first-hand accounts of "first contact" with inland Native Americans were not with the impressive cultures that recently ruled the land, not with the splendor and wonder of intelligent cultures in full bloom, but with the last remnants of a disaster on a scale we can hardly imagine.”  1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, by Charles Mann.

H.G. Wells gives a nod to this disease phenomenon in his short stories: First Men in the Moon (where the moon people are killed off by a cold) and The War of the Worlds (where the bad aliens are destroyed by disease – btw, spoiler alert).

Sometimes our brothers shout to us from the past, and sometimes they whisper to us from the future, describing what is out there, just beyond tomorrow.  Science fiction writers attempt to hear their echoes and tell us what they’ve heard, to work as a link between the mistakes we made yesterday and opportunities we have coming our way.  As readers, as writers, as thinkers we must therefore endeavor to shape the future instead of being merely shoved into it, for our brothers are there waiting for us, as surely as these brothers had once stood on this hilltop. We are the physical bridge between our ancestors and our descendants.

 The past is unchangeable – at least according to current scientific thought – which is why we should be grateful that the future is still fluid and not carved in stone.



2013-04-12 05:29:26
micheledutcher - That's a good point, Tgoyette. And someone once said, 'Living a simple lifestyle can be good for the soul but it won't put a man on the moon.' But if Native Americans had the choice of moving back to a pre-city Indiana, or living in the badlands of Oklahoma - they'd probably pick the former.

2013-04-11 15:33:17
tgoyette - In Harry Harrison's second Deathworld book the hero tried to get the nomadic people to settle into communities so his group could have some of the land for themselves. He couldn't convince them so he tricked them into conquering another civilization that did live in cities. Once the people experienced the comfort they didn't want to go back. The Germanic tribes that sacked Rome did so in part because they wanted the Roman opulence instead of their own squalor. Romans enlisted soldiers for the local population to guard the frontier. After a set number of years of faithful service they were rewarded with Roman citizenship. This allowed them free movement in the Roman Empire and as the song goes: how you gonna keep them down on the farm after they've see Paris?

2013-04-10 10:05:51
micheledutcher - tgoyette has a good point, Romans and pagans (Easter); Romans and the Greek influences; Ancient Egyptian pharaohs adopted subjugated infants and raised them in their households; we have a lot of Native American names on our States and cities...interesting.

2013-04-09 04:18:13
Ironspider - "Guns, Germs and Steel" by Jared Diamond makes some interesting points about why 'civilisation' takes on different forms in different locales. One thing it doesn't seem to consider is the willingness of one civilisation to annihilate another intentionally. Sometimes, as with the British Empire, the more advanced people think they are doing the less-advanced a service, by subjugating them to their form of more advanced civilisation. But if you are happy using a ox-drawn plow in your low-intensity farming, are you really any better off being made to use a pollution-belching tractor? Are cars any better than feet when the distance you HAVE to travel isn't very great? Than there are those civilisations who have an ideology at odds with that of 'the natives' but are willing to impose it, regardless of cost to the natives, perhaps as their version of manifest destiny. There is no 'advanced nation' on Earth that hasn't subjugated or destroyed a technologically weaker nation. We can only hope that particular trait doesn't survive inter-galatic distances...

2013-04-07 17:04:03
tgoyette - Sometimes the conquered civilization rubs off on the conquerors; in some cases the melding of the two creates a new civilization.

2013-04-05 09:07:55
micheledutcher - Of course I meant - there will come a time when war alone DOES NOT determine what ideas...Michele

2013-04-03 09:04:12
micheledutcher - If mankind survives long enough - IF - surely there will come a time when war alone determines what ideas (civilizations) will survive and thrive. Perhaps that's a topic for another editorial: Will there ever come a time when war is no more?

2013-04-02 16:56:46
GordonRowlinson - Arthur C Clarke made a comment in the novel 2001 that every time in earth's history a stronger civilization has met a weaker civilization, the weaker civilization's culture dies. This is unfortunate as I'm sure that every culture can teach us something. I have to agree with the line in the editorial - "Just because a culture has superior technology, this doesn’t make their culture superior."

2013-04-01 12:21:14
The GOP has no ideas. Remember the twenties that led to the Great Depression? Poor Hoover took the fall and yet in the GOP's mind are building more Hoovervills; They "think" that's a stimulas package and this they think will cure our problems. Just because they “graduated” from elite schools - unlike many of the Dems - they are absent of much meaning, empathy and compassion. If These "thinkers" go back far enough they will be bumping their wrinkled old fore-heads into the Russian and French revolutions. JerDot living in a simpler place in time among the Litchfield Hills where no one can find us ....

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