Trauma, Suicide, and Kira Nerys as Freedom Fighter
This post is part I of the #VacuumOfTrauma series exploring how trauma informs and shapes key plot development and character traits in Star Trek.
In “Necessary Evil” (1993) we are permitted a view into Kira’s life with the Bajoran Underground. After being suspected of murder by Odo, we see – temporarily – a Kira who has sabotaged ore processing on Terok Nor so that the Bajoran miners might have a couple of weeks off from their labors. Though the poignant detail is that through Odo’s revisitation of those events, as he comes to understand that it was Kira that was guilty of the murder of a Bajoran collaborator after all. Dominick LaCapra wrote that “writing trauma is a metaphor” and its representation cannot capture the essence of the experience. The trauma of the occupation is re-written, re-visualized as memory in “Necessary Evil,” though without the heightened nuances that comes from that suffering. Instead, we see a testimony of the realities of the occupation, as told through Odo’s narration and (re)memory.
However, as Rudolf Freiburg describes in Contemporary Trauma Narratives: Liminality and Ethics of Form, “testimony can never cope with the limit-case traumas it describes, which will reveal the nature of a ‘negative sublime,’ a dark emblem of existential ‘otherness’” (2014, 76). Kira’s self-testimony both at the mark of the episode in which she hides her mission and instead presents herself as a saboteur as well as at the end of the episode when she confesses to the killing mark the occasion of her own testimony, that, through the eyes of Odo and for the viewer, fail to capture the reality of the trauma of living under the occupation.
Deep Space Nine was a re-visioning of Star Trek of the 1990s. The entire premise is the rising out and above from the trauma of the Cardassian occupation. Leigh Gilmore writes in “Limit-Cases: Trauma, Self-Representation, and the Jurisdictions of Identity“ that the memoir boom of the 1990s reflected not the economic boom that coincided with it, but “trauma’s centrality to contemporary self-representation,” further adding that,
Telling the story of one’s life suggests a conversion of trauma’s morbid contents into speech, and thereby, the prospect of working through trauma’s hold on the subject. Yet, autobiography’s impediments to such working through consist of its almost legalistic definition of truth-telling, its anxiety about invention, and its preference for the literal and verifiable, even in the presence of some ambivalence about those criteria. Conventions about truth-telling, salutary as they are, can be inimical to the ways in which some writers bring trauma stories into language. The portals are too narrow, and the demands too restrictive. Moreover, the judgments such accounts invite may be too similar to forms in which trauma was experienced. When the contest is waged over who can tell the truth, the risk of being accused of lying (or malingering, or inflating, or whining) threatens the writer into continued silence. In this scenario, the autobiographical project may swerve from the form of autobiography even as it embraces the project of self-representation. These departures offer an opportunity to calibrate our attention to the range of demands made by autobiography and the silencing or shaming effects they impose. (2001, 128)
The 1990s, an era of ineffectual trauma writing, were a prelude to the alarming increase in young people taking their own lives in the 2000s and 2010s.
After declining for nearly two decades, the suicide rate among Americans ages 10 to 24 jumped 56 percent between 2007 and 2017, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And for the first time the gender gap in suicide has narrowed: Though the numbers of suicides are greater in males, the rates of suicide for female youths increased by 12.7 percent each year, compared with 7.1 percent for male youths.
It can be argued the reassessed ineffectualness of trauma testimony through narrative and visual art precede these tragedies out of the absence of justice. Many studies in conflict resolution and peace studies have shown that those who have experienced mass trauma are more able to recover – are only able to heal – when there is an adamant and clear offering of mutual recognition of what has been lost. The other side must acknowledge what they have done to those who have experienced oppression. Likewise, this is not only true for large groups, but also on an individual level with those incidents of trauma at the hands of closed societies or interdependent families. This can be seen with the suicide of Vedek Yassim in “Behind the Lines,” struggling against the tide with her last words “Evil must be opposed” (1997). Vedek Yassim understands that the narrative of oppression has lost its meaning without rightful recognition; the valuation of the memory has been disenchanted and with that the cycle of suffering begins anew.
Freiburg cites Gilmore in “Historical Trauma and Its Narrative Representation,”
Something of a consensus has already developed that takes trauma as the unrepresentable to assert that trauma is beyond language in some crucial way, that language fails in the face of trauma, and that trauma mocks language and confronts it with its insufficiency. Yet, at the same time, language about trauma is theorized as an impossibility, language is pressed forward as that which can heal the survivor of trauma. (2014, 77)
This dead language of trauma is reflected how Odo might have never vocalized or linguistically confronted Kira upon coming to understand that she killed the collaborator, Vaatrik. For Kira, all these years it was left unspoken, so as not to mock Kira’s own trauma of the action of her duty with insufficient words. Odo clearly does not see Kira as a murderer or, through association, he also clearly does not see the Bajoran resistance as terrorist. Otherwise, Odo would be the first person to disrupt the agency of the plot and would have informed Gul Dukat that Kira was a member of the Underground. In an instant, Odo sympathizes with the Underground’s motives despite not fully realizing the gravity of their full interactions on the space station.
Professor John Bolt comments on the metaphysical difference between freedom fighters and terrorists in terms of a justified greed verses an unjustified envy, stating,
The issue at hand is not whether fighters for a noble cause often act in reprehensible, cruel, and destructive ways. Such actions, however, have as their goal acquiring or reacquiring something valuable, something highly desired. This may be land, sovereignty, or political goals such as liberty or economic equality. Freedom fighters usually come from oppressed or marginalized groups that have been deprived of something important, such as a homeland, and their struggle is to obtain it or gain it back.
The Atlantic cites Glenn Greenwald highlight that the politicalization of the term terrorists is itself subject to manipulation and doctored indiscretions.
The application of the term “Terrorist” by the U.S. Government has nothing to do with how that term is commonly understood, but is instead exploited solely as a means to punish those who defy U.S. dictates and reward those who advance American interests and those of its allies (especially Israel). Thus, this Terror group is complying with U.S. demands, has been previously trained by the U.S. itself, and is perpetrating its violence on behalf of a key American client state and against a key American enemy, and — presto — it is no longer a “foreign Terrorist organization.”
I do not easily repost a summary that equates the fight for liberty with greed. Such a summation neglects the suffering of the marginalized group. However, I understand Professor Bolt’s exacting words to be comparisons to crossing a moral boundary. Kira and the underground were without doubt not only guilty of manipulating lines of moral boundaries, but Kira repeatedly remarked herself how she suffered from a form of guilt as the consequence, just as a religious person would suffer guilt for seemingly abstaining from a perceived virtue. There is an indicated relationship.
When Jadzia Dax was reunited with Curzon Dax’s Klingon counterparts who took a blood oath to attest vengeance against a child murderer, Jadzia asked Kira how she dealt with killing someone. Kira responded, “Your questions about my experience with killing. If you’re wondering what it’s like. When you take someone’s life, you lose a part of your own as well” (“Blood Oath” 1994). Kira faces the double-trauma of not only living under the occupation, but living with her response to the occupation in the actions she and others took in their demand for liberty. The constant witnessing to the occupation through (re)memory and recalled dictation and (re)articulation in the new life on Deep Space Nine occurs as a subordinate frequency of failed remunerations on the side of the Cardassians who are constantly reluctant to return stolen artifacts or admit – testify – to atrocities. Therefore, the recital of memory does not fully stand in with the acquisition of a healing tide of fortune, but instead forces these relived memories inward.
Where does moral authority rest with Bajoran terrorism? It is the insertion of the ineffectual 1990s, distilling ingrained trauma according to the best efforts of social memory, however slighted or withdrawn? Or, does it capture a cultural prophecy that denotes the measure of capital acquaintance with what will come after this short-lived age? What of what is to come? In “Duet” (1993) we see the future of trauma. The trauma of the bystanding participant, leading to suicidal impulses with immediate gravity. Aamin Marritza’s eventual assertion that he is Gul Darhe’el, responsible for the war crimes at Gallitep labor camp, highlight the passing indifference of the average soldier as well as the indwelling truthfulness of measure of morality, whether directly responsible or by association.
Writer and dissident, Václav Havel, once stated that participation in a totalitarian system by way of allowing it, of not fighting against it, was of equal responsibility as being an orchestrator of it, to paraphrase. We are the architects of oppression when we are silent and demure of our social responsibility. The guilt of this realization drove Aamin Marritza to reframe his own identity so that he would represent the justice of punishment, not just for himself, but according to his people’s crimes. This: is the delayed generation of guilt that seeks to end their own life; the newborn resentfulness of a world that displays madness as a collar medallion. What is more, we have a generation that so assumes to be a guilty partly that they are without the associated representation that Aamin Marritza symbolized. That is the oppressive state: it instills guilt as a measure of control and violation of norms to assure its own power and now it is our younger generation that cannot find a way to be a justified freedom fighter, but instead, forces a guilt upon themselves as though they were participants in a war of reprisal.
Kira, having experiences direct oppression, knew how to negotiate to mortal territory of guilt over justification. Our younger generation now, from the 2000s to the 2010s, are forced to be witnesses of a crude post-totalitarian capitalist superstructure that does not prepare them for the currents of inequality, but instead enforces an image of self-blame as bystanders of helpless oppression.
[If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.]