Star Trek has always been good for providing parallels to real-life through science fiction. There are so many lessons to learn by watching each episode. We can learn about our own society by looking at this fictional future.
One of those parallels is the Cardassians. The Cardassians are an empire ruled by their military. They’re often portrayed as conquerers and aggressors. One of the major plots of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was that Bajor had just gotten free of a fifty-year occupation by the Cardassians. The Cardassians enslaved the Bajoran people, committed lots of atrocities, stripped Bajor of much of its resources, and left a 50 year legacy on the Bajoran people.
In the wake of that oppression, a lot of Bajorans who have lived through the occupation have developed a lot of resentment towards Cardassians.
In a Deep Space Nine episode called “Duet” in the first season, a Cardassian posing as the leader of a Bajoran labor camp arrived at the station. He boasted about the atrocities and murders committed under his command at the leadership. His taunts brought out some feelings of hatred from Kira, who has resentment towards all Cardassians. She blames the entire race of people for what the oppressors did to her planet.
Kira has reasons to feel resentment. The occupation orphaned her and forced to live in caves and learn to fight in the resistance when she was still a child. Her years of being exposed to constant bloodshed and violence, to witnessing brutality and abuse, to always being on the verge of starvation, has made her an angry, traumatized, shell shocked individual with some intense animosity towards Cardassians.
So when this Cardassian arrives on the station claiming to be the fictional Star Trek equivalent to a Nazi death camp leader, Kira was naturally upset. But later research revealed that the Cardassian, Maritza, wasn’t the camp leader at all but a simple file clerk. He had no part in the massacre and had been so affected and traumatized by it that he devised this elaborate scheme, changing his face to look like the camp leader in hopes of getting put to death. He thought his death would force Cardassians to recognize their guilt for what they did to Bajor.
This man was heroic but also suicidal. He felt that even though he wasn’t responsible for the massacre and the atrocities, he was willing to be punished for them. In the end, he was murdered by a Bajoran who couldn’t stand the sight of him simply because he was a Cardassian. This Bajoran man never took the time to learn about the Cardassian and learn that he wasn’t responsible for the massacre; he only cared that the Cardassian needed to be punished.
This was a compelling episode, and it made Kira realize that as horrible as the Cardassian occupation was, many Cardassians were just regular people, and it isn’t okay to judge an entire race for what their leaders did.
In another episode in the second season called “Cardassians,” we meet a Cardassian orphan boy who was abandoned on Bajor after the Cardassians withdrew from the planet and was adopted and raised by Bajorans. This boy grew up surrounded by the people his people helped to subjugate. All around him, he was exposed to the terrible crimes Cardassians committed against the Cardassians.
Although this boys adoptive parents treated him well, they didn’t hide their hatred for Cardassians from him and this boy developed some severe self-loathing and self-esteem issues that stemmed from being told day after day by everyone else around him, that he was the member of an oppressive race and that he should feel ashamed for what his people had done, even though he had nothing to do with them. This so emotionally damaged him that he said things like “I wish I wasn’t a Cardassian,” and when his real biological father showed up, the boy had nothing but hatred for him.
The metaphor for the Cardassians can be seen in real life society by looking at those descendants of conquerors in Earth history. English, Spanish, French, Dutch, and other descendants of Europeans who had nothing to do with the subjugation that their ancestors wrought upon the rest of the world.
These two Cardassians are good examples of Cardassians who did nothing to warrant the hatred shown to them by Bajorans, and it illustrates the tendency by subjugated people to villainize all members of the ‘oppressor race’ regardless of actual guilt. This creates a culture of self-loathing, poor self-esteem, and a feeling that no matter what you accomplish in life you have to continue to prove yourself because you are still the member of an ‘oppressor race’ and you should be made to feel guilty for the sins of your forebearers, regardless of whether you committed such crimes.
I don’t think these episodes are promoting the idea that it’s okay to forget the past. What they are pointing out is that there comes a point in time when you have to learn to move on from the past. You have to heal from it and not blame innocent people for those who wronged you. And that is one of the many lessons Star Trek provides us with.