In the end, she brought her crow home safely, but does the well-known Starfleet captain harbour a sinister plot?
Even though Star Trek is supposed to be all about peace, compassion, and honour, a title like this was sure to catch the attention of fans. A few spies, traitors, and downright evil characters lurk in the Federation, and it is not uncommon for honourably discharged Starfleet personnel to commit atrocities. But to say that Captain Kathryn Janeway is a war criminal? That’s ridiculous. Another storey, though.
To begin, it’s critical to understand the setting in which the nefarious activity took place. In addition, calling her a villain would be an exaggeration. Although Janeway made a few strategic and weighted decisions in her quest to return to Earth, one of these actually violates international and intergalactic war rules—an abridged, existing definition suitable for the culture of space entrepreneurs. Many Star Trek fans consider Janeway to be a bit of a jerk; among her gaffes are leaving the Kazon factions to fend for themselves against the Trabe when she could have teleported them away, and blatantly disregarding Kremlin sovereignty. But none of these measures up to handing over a biological weapon to the cybernetic mega villain Borg in order to carry out genocide.”
So Janeway inadvertently commits genocide against an entire species, but let’s take a step back and look at the context. Voyager travels into Borg space in the two-part episode “Scorpion,” which airs in both the Season 3 finale and the Season 4 premiere. All of them, including resident human Seven of Nine, had been dreading this for a long period of time. There’s a lot of land to cover, so they’re forced to travel through it, but they soon discover that the Borg is at war with another race, known only as Species 8472 by the Borg. Non-humanoid lifeforms from another dimension of existence known as the fluidic state, which could only be accessed through quantum singularities, are an extremely powerful race. It’s no surprise that the Borg were eager to incorporate these creatures into their hive-mind because they were considered the pinnacle of biological evolution by them. One problem was they were immune to assimilation and when provoked relentlessly fought back, slowly but surely wiping out the Borg population.
With the arrival of Voyager comes contaminated skin tissue from a species known as Species 8472, which infects Harry Kim. Even as he succumbs to his illness, the ship’s holographic doctor works nonstop until he discovers a cure, which could also render 8472 ineffective and eventually kill him. Now that she has a biological weapon that has the potential to perpetrate genocide on an absurdly large scale, what does Janeway do with it? In exchange for safe passage through the Borg’s space, she gives it to them.
That decision is understandable in a way. Getting her crew home was all Janeway cared about at this point; it had almost taken on a religious significance for her. However, this tactic’s unethical nature cannot be disputed. The worst part is that no one cared about ethics back then; instead, the crew is more worried about the Borg betraying them than they are about the extinction of a whole species altogether. This is largely due to the way in which 8472 are displayed. As with the Cardassians and the Klingons of old, they are ruthless and aggressive beings. Their non-humanoid appearance was the only thing that distinguished them. Species 8472 were depicted as “monsters” because they were so different from humans, which goes against everything Star Trek stands for.
This is something that could have easily been overlooked. When viewed through the lens of 8472, a race of mindless, animalistic monsters bent on annihilation, this act may not be considered a war crime at all, but rather the cold-blooded murder of all the country foxes responsible for the chicken coop plague. Writing staff made an error when they resurrected 8472 in Season 5’s “In The Flesh,” and Janeway was stabbed in the back for it. It is revealed in this episode that there is a higher level of intelligence in Species 8472 and that they are capable of rational thought as well as negotiations. However, they are self-aware despite their ferocity, xenophobia, and meanness. In spite of Janeway’s actions, the episode ends with Voyager and 8472 establishing peace, but knowing what Janeway had done, causing thousands of sentient lifeforms to be killed, leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
Flip-flop episode 8472 was shown in a new light, and it was hard not to empathise with them when examining what exactly happened. To put it another way, they weren’t the monsters they were made out to be because of their xenophobia and world-dominating ambitions. They were simply defending themselves from the Borg. Janeway’s actions are therefore inexcusable, even if it is true that hindsight is always 20/20. As troubling as her genocidal actions are is that she is promoted to Admiral by Starfleet despite her ever so slight war crimes being ignored. The decisions she made here, as well as her own internal reflections on them, suggest that she may not be the best candidate to serve as captain after all.