Network Nazis: Star Trek’s “Patterns of Force”

The original Star Trek series laudably promoted inclusiveness and provided progressive social commentary during the turbulent late-1960s. With an international and diverse crew, the USS Enterprise travels the universe guided by the Prime Directive prohibiting the Starfleet from interfering in the development of other civilizations and imposing its will on others. This principle was put to the test in the February 16, 1968 episode “Patterns of Force.” Investigating the disappearance of a prominent historian named John Gill (David Brian), the Enterprise arrives at the planet Ekos where it is immediately attacked by a weapon supposedly too advanced for the primitive civilization. The Enterprise deflects the missile easily, but the crew is baffled by Ekos’ evolution and that of its more peaceful neighbor Zeon, which developed interstellar travel. Captain Kirk (William Shatner) suspects Gill violated the directive by assisting one or both planets.  Kirk and Spock (Leonard Nimoy) beam down to the surface of Ekos to investigate. The duo encounters Ekosian soldiers in Nazi stormtrooper uniforms, swastikas draped on every building, film footage of massive Nazi rallies, and Nazi rhetoric.

The so-called “Final Decision” is designed to eliminate the poor Zeons, who only wanted to share their culture with the Ekosians.  An Ekosian news report declares, “the Führer has ordered our glorious capital to be made Zeon-free.” Kirk and Spock soon learn the fate of Gill – he is the Führer of this neo-Nazi civilization. After stealing uniforms, the two try to infiltrate Ekosian headquarters, but are caught by Party Chairman Eneg (Patrick Horgan) and imprisoned with some Zeon resistance members. Kirk and Spock learn Deputy Führer Melakon (Skip Homeier) is the actual leader and Gill is kept in a drugged state. Gill explains his misguided initiative to introduce Nazism on Ekos to jumpstart its development, calling the Third Reich the “most efficient state Earth ever knew,” a statement Spock verifies as historical fact.[i] Predictably, the experiment failed and now the Zeons face extermination.

John Gill’s experiment in creating an efficient civilization gets out of hand.

The Enterprise crew defeats Melakon and frees Kirk, Spock and Gill.  Unfortunately, Gill is killed in the struggle, but not before denouncing the Final Decision to the people who once regarded him as their Führer. The episode ends when the Enterprise leaves the system, entrusting Ekosians and Zeons to rebuild their worlds together.    Kirk and Spock’s investigation on Ekos reveals a society can learn to hate and conform even without any discernable history of prejudice or external trauma such as war or depression. Physically indistinguishable from the Ekosians, the Zeons are analogous to German Jews, who were perceived as somehow more progressive, educated, and timid than their fellow Germans. The comparison is even more explicit with names like Isak, Davod, and Abrom.  The Zeons (like Zion) explain to the crew why the Ekosians hate them: “Because with no one to hate there would be nothing to hold them [Ekosians] together. So the party build us into a threat, a disease to be wiped out.” While Kirk can pass in this society, Spock, whose “otherness” must be concealed, lives in fear of discovery. Spock quips that Kirk “makes a very convincing Nazi” in his uniform.  Kirk replies the helmet covering Spock’s distinctive ears “hides a multitude of sins.” The fact Leonard Nimoy is Jewish reinforces the association between the Holocaust and the “Patterns of Force” storyline. Interestingly, the episode’s detailed recreation of Nazi rhetoric and uniforms prevented the episode from airing on German television for twenty years.[iv] Like other Astrofascist narratives, “Patterns of Force” implies exterminationist ideologies are not bound by Earth’s atmosphere and historic contingency. Kirk reduces the Third Reich to a simplistic cautionary tale, telling Spock the Nazis were the result of giving one person too much power.

Dehistoricizing the Holocaust and Third Reich is an American tradition, and while the motives may be commendable, such as addressing contemporary racial prejudice and political corruption, the resulting normalization hides a multitude of sins.

[i] Star Trek, “Patterns of Force,” Season 2, Episode 21, directed by Vincent McEveety, February 16, 1968, YouTube.

[iv] “‘Raumschiff Enterprise’: ZDF neo zeigt umstrittene Nazi-Folge,” Das Bild, November 4, 2011, [accessed May 18, 2018].

Published by Brian E. Crim

Brian Crim is professor of history at the University of Lynchburg and author of Planet Auschwitz: Holocaust Representation in Science Fiction and Horror Film and Television. Other books include Our Germans: Project Paperclip and the National Security State and Antisemitism in the German Military Community and the Jewish Response, 1914-1938.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: