Romulan Society - Totalitarianism?

Discussion in 'General Trek Discussion' started by cultcross, Jul 24, 2017.

  1. cultcross

    cultcross Polite scientist Moderator

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    The Romulans are an interesting antagonist. They lack the development of the Klingons largely because they are portrayed as secretive, sneaky, running around in cloaked ships keeping power by reputation as much as by force.

    I'm interested in how Romulan Society is portrayed, especially in the TNG era. There seem to be many contradictions at play here. There are strong hints that their society is totalitarian in nature, especially in Unification, and we are introduced to one of the main indicators of such a society, a seemingly all powerful secret police in the Tal Shiar. However, in Face of the Enemy, the Romulan commander happily slags off the Tal Shiar in front of one of their operatives, while telling the story of how her own father was killed for speaking his mind. The Tal Shiar we see in DS9's early Dominion arc also appear more military than secret police, perhaps something more akin to special forces.

    Then by the seventh season of DS9 when we finally get a glimpse of Romulan politics directly, it's full of intrigue and backstabbing as you might expect, but lacks some of the hallmarks associated with Totalitarianism - the leader cult, the redundancy in government departments with the same agendas competing with each other, the placing of an ideal above the state. Perhaps what we are seeing is a corrupt constitutional state instead?

    How do you think Romulan Society is structured? Going beyond the 'text' as it were, how do you imagine them?
     
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  2. Timo

    Timo Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    Much would depend on where the humans got the idea that these folks were called Romulans. I mean, them living on twin planets would probably be a fact unknown to humans if we accept the idea that humans had no idea what the Romulans looked like - if a sensor reading associated them with the planet humans call Romulus, said reading would also suggest their biological identity, at least in the usual case.

    The other option is that they are "Space Romans" in some respects - an idea rather supported by a number of other human translations of Romulaneseianish words such as Praetor or Centurion or the Senate or the Empress. Perhaps there was enough data (even if bordering on the subliminal) for the UT to decide that the society of the Romulans was a relatively close match for the Imperial Roman one?

    Imperial Rome did have a totalitarian streak, with a powerless Senate whose positions still carried symbolic and financial weight, with an elite military force that fell hard on civilian dissent and enforced rather arbitrary laws, rules and restrictions primarily intended to demonstrate the absolute power of the Emperor over his subjects, and with an overall ST:NEM style setup of the military dictating who the new Emperor would be but not bothering to support a floundering one much. And then there are the Praetors, vying for power by launching audacious schemes often involving private little wars...

    How much of this could be divined from the few interactions the Feds had with the Romulans before the UT settled on the name "Romulans" is debatable. The UT sometimes works miracles, apaprently inventing the translation "Troglytes" for alien cave-dwellers and taking our heroes by surprise with it - but it arguably had more time and data to come up with that one for the Ardanan society than it had for "Romulans".

    Then comes ENT "Minefield" and suggests that "Romulan" is in fact a Vulcan word, their perversion of the native word "Rumalin" (or then "Rumalin" is the Romulan perversion of the original Vulcan word for Those Who March Under the Raptor's Wings and Don't Like Surak Much). So the most direct connection to "Space Romans" is immediately lost. But the slight parallels to Imperial Rome do remain.

    Perhaps the Feds learned of the Romanlike nature of the Romulans relatively late, and whenever we hear "Romulan" in early Trek such as ENT or TOS, it's actually doubly translated for our benefit - the second time from Kirk's outdated name to the modern TNG era one?

    Timo Saloniemi
     
  3. Tenacity

    Tenacity Commodore Commodore

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    We see little of the Romulan civilian world, there are hints that the Romulan senate is a democratic institution. Describing a senator as a "man of the people" to me suggests that the senators are popularly elected.

    The Remans are a (iirc) "unpopular caste," so perhaps the greater Romulan society is divided into various caste, with the descendants of the Vulcan immigrants at the top, and the other people within the empire being 2nd, 3rd, 4th (so on) social castes, depending on different factors.
     
  4. Timo

    Timo Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    Roman Senators in the Imperial era were seldom elected by popular vote (and never elected as Senators - they could be indirectly elected as officials of other sorts and then automatically get appointed as Senators), yet they could represent factions that were "closer to the people" than others.

    Pardek could have been of suitable birth, a plebeian Senator so to say. Or he could have pursued policies that wholly incidentally (or for propagandist reasons) made him popular on the streets - long after he had been elected/appointed for life. We never hear of a vote on which the fate of a Romulan Senator would hinge, after all: Senators vote on things instead.

    Timo Saloniemi
     
  5. Vger23

    Vger23 Commodore Commodore

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    A little off-topic, but I think the Romulans were actually cooler the less we knew about them.

    I'd actually like Star Trek to do an adversary out there amongst the stars that they literally know nothing about. I know that is hard...but write it so the mystery is part of the drama and excitement...the speculation about something completely alien and driven by incomprehensible values or motives. Something with different technology, behaviors, etc...

    That's kind of what the Romulan War supposedly was...with neither side really knowing anything about the other and speculating. I also liked how originally, the Romulan technology was comparable but not exactly analogous to Federation technology. They were stronger in some areas, but weaker in others. That to me was also a very interesting element of that early exploration of that race and our conflict with them. Not like the Klingons who were almost exactly like Starfleet, except they looked different.
     
  6. Paradise City

    Paradise City Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    The Tal Shiar simply has huge leverage in Romulan society.

    But not total leverage.

    Other islands of power coexist in politics and in the military that the Tal Shiar can't simply shut off like a switch but must proceed carefully against if the clash of interests is severe enough. The Romulan commander in The Face of The Enemy might be a member of an influential patronage network within the military and in politics that gives her position and enough room to vent her frustrations.

    In the same way that over in Cardassia the Obsidian Order has to go through the trouble of setting up Legate Ghemor in a complex scheme rather than just putting the guy in chains on the spot. In Cardassian society, the opposition seems to be relatively widespread within government and academia despite the Obsidian Order being the more totalitarian branch than the TS is for the Romulans.
     
  7. JirinPanthosa

    JirinPanthosa Vice Admiral Admiral

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    The Romulans in TNG strike me as how Americans viewed the Soviet Union. We don't get a lot of views of their society, but in Unification we see a civilian populace terrified of being tricked by secret police into saying something disloyal. In Face of the Enemy you see more of that only hints that the military feel slightly more comfortable in standing up to the Tal Shiar though still afraid of crossing that line where they get labeled a traitor. In season 3 in Defector and The Enemy you see them testing the Federation's defenses and trying to goad them into making the first aggressive gesture, representing the fear and paranoia of the cold war.

    In a way it paints a picture of a totalitarian society with skepticism and dissent below the surface, kept only in check by fear of getting labeled a traitor and secreted away to be executed. With those such as the military knowing they have a little more leverage and leeway to speak their mind, to a point.
     
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  8. JRTStarlight

    JRTStarlight Captain Captain

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    I might be crossing some canon of which I am unaware, but we may not have called them Romulans during that first war, but only adopted that name after the lengthy subspace negotiations to end the war and establish the neutral zone after The Battle of Cheron, the final pivotal battle that took place in 2160. Perhaps the name "Romulan" arose as a perversion of their native name, or a rough estimation they resembled a Roman culture in some ways from what little we could glean from our negotiations. Thereafter, we called them Romulans. Or that's just the closest translation the UT came up with based on their native language or codes doubtlessly shared between sides in order to even be able to negotiate a treaty.

    I wonder how Archer and ENT (which came before that 4-year war) jives with canon when they could have seen each other, despite Spock saying they didn't have the tech. I mean they might have chosen not to talk visually, but that's not what he said, IIRC. Or the fact the Romulans were clearly using warp drive in Archer's time, yet they seemed limited to impulse in Balance of Terror a century later. I have surmised that perhaps those scout ships were just impulse driven small craft dropped off from a warp capable mother ship carrier that stayed safety well on the other side of the neutral zone (otherwise how do such slow ships get so deep into space), but none of this is official. Anyway . . .

    I do think the Romulans hold great awe and mystery if we know less about them, but likening them to Rome, or with a Gestapo force or other secret police used to crush dissent and opposition to the obvious martial structure, and knowing they are deep thinkers, like chess players, makes them one of my favorite antagonistic races with which the Federation has to contend. That, and as an offshoot of the Vulcan race, they are absolutely ruthless and violent at times.
     
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2017
  9. thewanderingjack

    thewanderingjack Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    Awesome topic...
    I think that it may not lack as many of the hallmarks as you may think. The leader cult in their case could lack an individual identity.... in other words, its not about WHO is Emperor, but about being Emperor... it's the title that acts as the focus, rather than the individual. Also, it seems like maybe we haven't seen enough to judge the redundancy. It is clear though, that both people within a department are highly competitive (even sabotaging people to get ahead) and military officials are always watching from the wings to either take over projects or kill the failing leaders of such. And then, I definitely see the ideal above the state: power. It seems to be the main motivation of Romulans (or at least the ones in charge/that we see most often. The picture we see is definitely of a dominant culture that is militant, martial, and totalitarian. Whether or not this is the popular culture is hard to say... could be the 1%.

    How about, which is the more totalitarian race, the Romulans, or the Vulcans?
     
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  10. Timo

    Timo Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    There was originally very little material on how the war ended, on which language the treaty was negotiated, and so forth. That a Battle of Cheron would have ended the war is speculation based upon the mention of such a battle in TNG "The Defector", an episode that merely establishes that the humiliating Romulan defeat at Cheron continues to anger the Romulan leadership. Might be something that happened two weeks before that episode, though. It's only in a computer readout glimpsed in ENT "In a Mirror, Darkly" that the fandom interpretation of Cheron being decisive in 2160 gets supported, for those freeze-framing the scene.

    The language spoken over subspace in the peace negotiations has never been defined. But in the 2009 movie, our heroes of a parallel 2258 know that the Romulan language has three major dialects, all similar to the Vulcan language at least to the uninitiated (if a young Starfleet communications officer counts as such). Since our heroes in the regular universe have no idea Romulans are Vulcans as late as the 2260s, the language spoken at the peace negotiations thus cannot have been Romulan, because it would hint at their Vulcan roots.

    The thing is, in the ENT episode "Minefield", the Romulans themselves are speaking an alien language we assume is the Romulan language, and Hoshi Sato hears them identify themselves as the Rumalin in that language. T'Pol "corrects" her, saying they are Romulans instead. Since the word Romulans is used ever thereafter, T'Pol's assertion seems to have been influential. It's also in conflict with the true native name which Sato cannot have misheard, and therefore probably a traditional Vulcan name for those folks that left in a huff...

    Lots of hair-splitting possibilities here. So let's quote the actual words:

    The major point of contest is this: The inability to show mercy (aka quarter) or take captives is apparently indicated to be due to the primitiveness of the weapons and ships used (or just possibly due to the choice of weapons - primitive atomics might make mercy and prisoner-taking more difficult than primitive lasers, say). Should the "Nor was" sentence be taken to hinge on technological shortcomings as well, then?

    IMHO, not. The inability to take prisoners and the fact that no visual communications took place are two separate factors contributing to the conclusion - that humans haven't seen Romulans (and if Spock's surmise is correct, no Romulans have seen humans). The two separate factors need not be grammatically locked or anything. And since

    1) we know for a Trek pseudo-fact that visual communicating has always been trivially easy between alien species,
    2) all other scifi of the time would assume vidiphones to exist, and
    3) it is most natural to assume the two sides would simply have refused to share visuals,

    there doesn't seem to be reason to think that visuals would have been technologically impossible. After all, such thinking would contradict what we see!

    Limited to impulse, when their weapon almost outflew Kirk's superfast starship? Hardly. It's simply a matter of properly defining "they": Pete "Maverick" Mitchell may fly over California at Mach 2.2 while Axel Foley drives the streets below at 30 mph in an old Dodge, and there is no contradiction.

    A distinct possibility - although the "submarine" analogy in the episode would suggest the other obvious interpretation, that of the "submarine" having two separate propulsion systems for "diving" and "surface travel". Spock claims the cloak consumes much power, so a cloaked ship might be slow while a visible ship could be capable of high warp. Just not so high as to escape from Kirk's ship, so the Romulans choose to flee under cloak instead...

    The Romulans are akin to the Borg in being alien and thus surprising and intimidating foes. But we basically learned all there's to know about Romulans in their first-ever appearance already, while the Borg have been gradually defined over several years and spinoffs, overturning several early false interpretations we (and our heroes) originally believed in. I greatly enjoy both approaches to "mystery", but IMHO a "slowly unraveling" mystery like that of the Borg holds greater dramatic potential than an "enduring" one like that of the ever-untrustworthy, ever-ruthless Romulans. That is, it's easier to churn out new episodes to the Borg saga than it is to think up all-new uses for the Romulans without "spoiling the mystery".

    Timo Saloniemi
     
  11. JRTStarlight

    JRTStarlight Captain Captain

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    Good deduction. I'll take it. Besides, we "won" so making them use our language seems right. We're the type to do that. Well, maybe we used the vulcan language and assumed the Romulans just accommodated us and therefore we didn't realize how close their native language was to Vulcan. That would mean the Romulans may have known about their Vulcan heritage longer than the Vulcans knew about the connection since they had bombed themselves back into the stone age for a time (after the Romulan ancestors left vulcan, who may never have forgotten where they came from). And in ENT, they did have covert Romulans on Vulcan, so they knew before Balance of Terror, and were keeping it secret, an advantage, and Spock was just wrong they were as ignorant as we were.

    So the Vulcans named them? And the 4-year war there was Humans, Vulcans, Andorians, and Tellarites vs. the Romulans, and we didn't see each other, and that's shortly after ENT but about 100 years before TOS. And the Vulcan's prior contact with them was also limited, yet they didn't recognize them or their language as a Vulcan offshoot? I wanted that war covered by ENT, but they didn't. They did something else instead, which brought up more questions than it answered. Well, maybe again any communications between Romulus and Vulcan used the Vulcan language, and the Vulcans erroneously assumed the Romulans were simply accommodating them.

    I thought yeah. But after ENT, they'd have transporters, and the Vulcans and others were even more advanced than the humans, so the tech shortcomings sounds less and less like the underlying reason, whatever Spock may have assumed or thought, and the Romulans disdain for visual communications, or tactic for hiding it, or their code of never surrender and instead die, was probably the main reason. Sounds like a lot of duty to me. They have lived their lives by it.

    I now vote this one.

    It's true their weapons are FTL, but that alone is no guarantee their ships would be. Their scout ship certainly was STL. It might be like saying since my bullet can travel at X mph, so too should my new horseless carriage be able to travel at X mph. They may not have sufficiently developed inertial compensators for that yet, so would die horribly trying to go that fast, that quickly, a problem not shared by their weapons.

    I don't think a sub has two different propulsion systems. They ran bater on top in WWII than below, and today it's the opposite, but it's the same propulsion system, isn't it?

    At no time when they were visible did they travel FTL. The difference between cloaked speeds and uncloaked speeds is probably trivial. Sure, it's a possibility, but then Scotty was completely wrong is telling Kirk the Romulans were incapable of more than simple impulse. And unlike a sub that has to hide to survive, the Romulans could have quickly gone into the neutral zone to safety since they saw the humans would not enter, so they had the means to save themselves besides hiding.

    I liked how the Romulans adopted Klingon designed ships (and I assumed warp drive then, but maybe they had it in carrier form or other ways already), and we have learned more over the years and watched their ship development, too, and their naked singularity power sources, and other stuff. But the Borg were more . . . different, and less capable of being reasoned with or fighting on the same level playing field. Less like us. The fact we may yet become fast friends and allies with the Romulans holds true, but I doubt we could ever become true allies with the Borg. They're like those fabled scorpions. So they were a great opponent, too. Just too different to really appreciate our commonalities.
     
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2017
  12. BillJ

    BillJ Fleet Admiral Admiral

    Just put pointed ears on the North Koreans, and you have the Romulans. They are an invasion force just waiting to be activated. :shifty:
     
  13. wayoung

    wayoung Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    I like to think the Vulcan gov always knew about the Romulans being the same species, but that they were engaged in a secret cold war against each other since the end of open hostilities on Vulcan with the exodus.

    The Romulans saw the Vulcans cosying up to the more martial, warlike humans and decided to take us out before we became military allies and potentially upset the balance in Vulcans favour. It didn't go as the Rommies planned and Earth ended up being the Romulans equivalent to Vietnam/Afghanistan in this cold war.

    I don't really think anything contradicts this theory either, especially since ENT showed there were secret communications between both governments at the highest levels.
     
  14. thewanderingjack

    thewanderingjack Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    I think the idea of Romulan's Vulcan ancestry is a myth. I can't quite believe that the same people who were destroying themselves until they found logic managed to instead go interstellar just after a globally catastrophic war, settle a new planet, raise an empire... all without apparently trying to manage the uncontrollable emotional instability. I think it way more like that Romulans and Vulcans evolved independently rom a common genetic ancestor which seeded their planets. I think that pre-Surak Vulcans and Romulans were functional enough to be warp capable and have a relationship which went sour around the time of the fall of Vulcan society and became contentious after the Awakening.

    Of course I could paint a darker picture: maybe these stories of early Vulcans are true. Some (a minority of) Vulcans practiced logic before Surak. Maybe that minority united, created a society, great technology, and flourished, in a small tucked away area... but they eventually came into conflict with their savage and less technologically advanced neighbors, leading to all out global conflict: the "savages" had the numbers, but the logicals had the weapons. It was then in fact the logicals (giving into remnants of their own violent emotions) who used those weapons in an extermination campaign against the savages, setting their world ablaze. In the wake of their "victory" Surak (a citizen of the hypothetical logical culture) arose to condemn their actions and promote not only logic, but peace... which his supporters took (down the ages) to a totalitarian extreme, which they seek to further with this "reunification" talk... in fact intending to convert all Romulans (and possibly all Vulcanoids, maybe even all humanoids) to the Vulcan totalitarian monoculture of emotional repression and "holy" logic.
     
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  15. Tenacity

    Tenacity Commodore Commodore

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    If the Romulans wanted to separate themselves from the people they left behind, after leaving Vulcan they could have created a new language.
     
  16. JRTStarlight

    JRTStarlight Captain Captain

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    I once heard the Americans deliberately changed some of our word pronunciations so we'd be different from the British. I wonder if that's true. But to make a whole new language? I guess it's not impossible, but it seems unlikely you'd get everyone to go along with that.
     
  17. thewanderingjack

    thewanderingjack Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    Well, those Vulcans (i.e.: Romulans) were pretty mad and irrational... and they seem to work well in monocultures... so maybe not so far fetched?
     
  18. Timo

    Timo Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    I'd think this natural, as Romulans are Vulcans, or a dissident faction thereof. I'd also think it natural that Romulans would not really want to call themselves by the same name their bitter enemies the Surakist Vulcans called them - but the UT makes this futile, as their native name (Rumalin, apparently) is always translated to "Romulan".

    Perhaps, perhaps not. Spock says no "ally" has seen the other side, but this could include allies gained after the war concluded. Or perhaps only the Romulans had allies? ENT concludes in a fashion that doesn't dictate an allied response to Romulans but doesn't preclude that, either. That our TOS posse thinks Earth was one side in the conflict doesn't mean it was a major one, either - perhaps the war was between Vulcan and Romulus (and was the one mentioned in VOY "Death Wish"), with Earth taking part in a select few battles on side theaters?

    Romulans still remain such an unknown quantity that we could be surprised by revelations about their history, even if their current status is better known.

    Since the Romulans appear to speak the Romulan language to random passersby in "Minefield", I'd think Vulcans, too, would be in a position to hear and recognize their language. But it might be logical for the Vulcans to lie to others that such revelations never occurred.

    ST6 has the line about the Klingons "recognizing the UT", so it might be difficult to fool the listener about the language being spoken (this also covering those times Sisko had to speak ritual Bajoran, say). Of course, this would mean Kirk would have to know how to speak Romulan in "The Enterprise Incident" or the guards would recognize he's using the UT when at worst his dialect should deviate from the guards' own only slightly.

    In the WWII analogy, it's two very distinct ones: electric motors for diving, diesels (or sometimes even steam turbines) for surface running. The "signatures" (noise profiles) of the two dissimilar power systems would be easily distinguishable.

    With diesels shut down and with the sub submerged, it would be very difficult for a novice to deduce the existence of the diesels. Scotty may have made the same mistake, "aided" by the ship being at least partially cloaked - and perhaps also by the diesel-analogous power system being particularly alien and difficult to identify (Romulans use those artificial quantum singularities, remember?).

    Very true, and an old chestnut. STL ships should be no threat to Earth, even with FTL weapons, but this isn't direct proof of FTL ships (carriers, alternate propulsion systems for the ships seen) existing.

    This is highly debatable, as hundreds of pages in dozens of threads stand proof. Never do we get travel time and distance information combined, and the one map we see is ambiguous in scale.

    How could we tell?

    It certainly is in later occurrences of cloaking!

    Then again, I have always had qualms about Spock's insistence that the cloak consumed power. More probably, the plasma mortar did - it's with the use of that device that the ship has to abandon cloaking and present evidence of impulse-only power to Scotty.

    [/quote]Sure, it's a possibility, but then Scotty was completely wrong is telling Kirk the Romulans were incapable of more than simple impulse. And unlike a sub that has to hide to survive, the Romulans could have quickly gone into the neutral zone to safety since they saw the humans would not enter, so they had the means to save themselves besides hiding.[/quote]

    But we don't know the definition of "quickly". Perhaps the Romulans were as fast as Kirk, but both would have taken hours to reach the Zone?

    That's the Star Trek vs. Star Trek the Original Series thing: "we now know" that Romulans decidedly had warp in the 2150s already. Which is why IMHO the "diesels vs. electrics" interpretation is preferable to the "no diesels yet" / "primitive diesels only" one.

    The Borg are vampires. It's popular to show vampires and humans coexisting, as long as the former have some sort of a weakness that keeps their overall superiority at bay. And like vampires, the Borg are old and long-lived and fundamentally unlikely to ever change - and if they stop being vampires/Borg, they die, but if they don't, people die.

    A society accommodating both forms of existence would be intriguing indeed. The Romulan society is a bit easier to fathom, I guess - and perhaps more likely to change with times and internal and external pressures, just like ancient Rome. Perhaps what we see of the Romulans in ENT should not apply to TOS, and TOS should not hold true for TNG?

    Timo Saloniemi
     
  19. BillJ

    BillJ Fleet Admiral Admiral

    Pretty sure Enterprise disagree with you.
     
  20. Timo

    Timo Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    The other option is that Vulcan went interstellar long before the time of Surak. Spock refers to the savage period of colonization on Vulcan in "Balance of Terror". Even though he likens it to the pre-starflight colonization period on Earth, perhaps he's in fact obliquely saying that the Romulans are a Vulcan interstellar colony that didn't so much move away from Vulcan but cut ties with Vulcan after the Surakian nastiness?

    ENT "Andorian Incident" gives us a Vulcan monastery far away from the Vulcan system a thousand years before Surak and the supposed sundering of the Romulans. Taking superstition to the stars could be right down the alley of the pre-enlightened Vulcans...

    It's also possible that all the Vulcanoid technology evolved thanks to the bellicose desires of the species, and that Vulcan stagnated not because of the atomic war but because it gave up war.

    Pitting just Surakist and Romulans against each other seems unsatisfactory in any case, as the Vulcans ought to have been far more factionated than that. We can postulate all sorts of twists and turns in the ancient fates of the species, plenty enough to account for all the diversity and contradictions. And we can reinterpret Surak at will, seeing how the Vulcans themselves did so as per ENT. Perhaps the old clown wanted the ridgeheads off his planet for racist reasons, and triumphed because his special mental skill of remaining calm thwarted the psi-weapons of the opponents and allowed him to slaughter or subjugate them all?

    That Vulcans would believe in pacifism or peace of any sort other than that achieved through superior firepower is somewhat conjectural, too. Spock advocated war, Sarek believed in efficient homicide, and the image of Surak only said Kirk should pick his battles. We certainly don't need to "calm down" the Vulcanoids to let them go interstellar - we have plenty of proof that rabid dogs like Klingons (or humans) can conquer space, too.

    Timo Saloniemi
     
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