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Eugenics War Dates

Introduction

The purpose of this article is to consider the evidence for the dates and timings of the Eugenics Wars and how this subject has been handled across the Star Trek franchise. It is my intention to include every piece of evidence from every film or episode that has any bearing on this subject. If I’ve missed any, do feel free to drop me a line and let me know.

Space Seed

An episode of the original Star Trek series which first established the details of the Eugenics Wars and the genetically engineered Superhumans, Space Seed is one of the few episodes which allowed us to positively date the original series on our own calendar.

The Enterprise discovers a spacecraft floating in space, apparently derelict. It is described thus :

Kirk : "There it is. An old Earth vessel, similar to the DY 500 class."
Spock : "Much older - DY 100 class, to be exact. Captain, the last such vessel was built centuries ago, back in the 1990s."

And so we have our first reference, that the DY 100 was a class of spacecraft which was launched from Earth in the 1990s. Shortly afterwards Spock and McCoy date the Eugenics wars to the same period :

Spock : "Records of that period are fragmentary, however. The mid-1990s was the era of your last so-called world war."
McCoy : "The Eugenics Wars."

So now we have a positive dating of the Eugenics War as having happened in the mid 1990s. Note that this is called the last of the World Wars, although Star Trek : First Contact would later establish that "World War III" took place in 2053. One could assume that one or another of the various time travel stories we saw changed the future... but that’s a rather sweeping assumption, as it would mean that at least a large chunk of the original series "never happened" from the point of view of the other Treks, or at least that it happened differently.

Assuming that all of Trek takes place on a single timeline, the only way to reconcile this is to play with terminology, assuming both that historians during the original series didn’t classify the 2053 war as a "World War", and that 24th century historians decided to declassify the Eugenics Wars as a World War and classify the 2053 war as one. It’s all a bit nonsensical, really, but it’s what we are stuck with.

Later on they board the Botany Bay, taking along a historian called McGivers. Scotty describes the ship after arriving :

Scotty : "Definitely Earth-type mechanisms, sir. 20th century vessel, old-type atomic power. Bulky, solid... I think they used to call them transistor units. I'd love to tear this baby apart."
McGivers : "Captain, it's a sleeper ship."
Kirk : "Suspended animation."
McGivers : "Uh-huh. I've seen old photographs of this. Necessary because of the time involved in space travel until about the year 2018. It took years just to travel from one planet to another."

So, we establish that the Botany Bay used nuclear power and transistors. The year 2018 as a turning point in space travel is an interesting one... could this be the original intended date for the creation of warp drive? Perhaps. First Contact would establish that Humans invented warp drive in 2063, but there is always that possibility that TOS is part of an alternate timeline unconnected or tangentially connected to the next generation events. Still, it’s not really necessary to assume that the 2018 advance is warp drive. Trek has shown that impulse drive is capable of achieving significant fractions of light speed in short times, and even this relative crawl would bring the planets within days or even hours reach, which would be a massive advance on a nuclear rocket and would certainly obviate the need for sleeper ships.

So the ship becomes active and wakes Khan up. Kirk then says this to Khan :

Kirk : "How long...have you been sleeping? Two centuries, we estimate."

Lest we treat this as a one-off comment, later on in sickbay Khan wakes fully and speaks to McCoy about it :

Khan : "I remember a voice... Did I hear it say I had been sleeping for two centuries?"
McCoy : "That is correct."

This dates TOS to the mid 2190s. This is at odds with the standard official dating of TOS – the chronology devised by Mike and Denise Okuda takes as one of its starting assumptions that TOS is set exactly 300 years after the initial episodes were broadcast, putting Space Seed in 2267. This is the first and by far the largest inconsistency in the dating of these events, and one which will be repeated in future.

How do we explain this discrepancy? One possibility is that Kirk was simply rounding. However, rounding down from 270 years to 200 seems like a rather odd thing to do. Surely he would have said two hundred and fifty years, or three hundred?

Another suggestion is that Kirk was merely being "cautious", giving Khan false information. This really seems pretty weak to me because the lie appears to serve no purpose. How does it disadvantage Khan to think that it is 2196 rather than 2267? How does it upset his plans? It doesn’t. And he is given free access to the ship’s library to study the Enterprise. Surely this information would involve dates for all sorts of events in the past. Are we to believe that Kirk engaged in a quick re-editing of all the information Khan had access to, purely to maintain a pointless deception?

We can argue that the official dating of TOS is wrong and should be disregarded. The trouble with this is, the deed is done. Writers have, broadly, stuck to the official chronology since it was written, and many canonical dates have been spun off it. Just a few examples :


So re-dating TOS at this point would create far more problems than it would solve, and so we are forced to disregard the two century claim for the time between TOS and the Eugenics wars.

When Kirk questions Khan in sickbay he repeats the 1990s dating :

Kirk : "What was the exact date of your lift off? We know it was sometime in the early 1990s."

But Khan refuses to confirm this. He instead asks for some catch up reading, again prompting Kirk to repeat the 200 year timeframe :

Khan : "Captain, I wonder if I could have something to read during my convalescence. I was once an engineer of sorts. I would be most interested in studying the technical manuals on your vessel."
Kirk : "Yes, I understand. You have 200 years of catching up to do."

A later discussion again repeats the timeframe of the Eugenics wars, but in more detail :

Kirk : "Would you estimate him to be a product of selective breeding?"
Spock : "There is that possibility, Captain. His age would be correct. In 1993, a group of these young supermen did seize power simultaneously in over forty nations."
Kirk : "Well, they were hardly supermen. They were aggressive, arrogant. They began to battle among themselves."
Spock : "Because the scientists overlooked one fact - Superior ability breeds superior ambition."

And then later, when they discover who Khan is, Spock gives us more precise dates :

Kirk : "Name : Khan Noonien Singh."
Spock : "From 1992 through 1996, absolute ruler of more than a quarter of your world, from Asia through the Middle East."
McCoy : "The last of the tyrants to be overthrown."

This establishes that Khan was one of the first of the supermen to rise to power, since he was ruling a quarter of the globe by 1992, whilst the previous quote shows that others seized power in forty nations in 1993. This is in line with the dialogue which indicates that Khan was one of the "nicer" of the genetic supermen who didn’t engage in any wars until he was attacked himself. He apparently took over peacefully, then, or at least via one or more fairly bloodless coups, and got away with it for a year or so. When others emulated him in a bunch of other countries, that’s when the wars begain.

He was also the last to lose power, in 1996, and would have departed in the Botany Bay at some point over the next year or so.

The 1990s is rather an odd choice for the Eugenics wars, even in the context of the original series. If we presume that Khan and his followers were in their 30s when they gained power (Ricardo Montalban was 47 when he made Space Seed, though he could pass for considerably younger) then they would have been born around 1962... meaning that the episode was predicting that somewhere in the world these genetic supermen had already been created and were five years old! Even pushing their age lower does little to help – we’d have to assume Khan was in his early 20s or even late teens just to put his birth a handful of years after the episode aired.

We could make the assumption that Khan and the genetic supermen had some sort of super fast growth engineered into them. Such things are a pretty common staple of science fiction, although they are highly implausible from a biological point of view. (But then transporters are highly implausible from a physics point of view and it doesn’t bother anybody.) So perhaps Khan was born in the 80s and matured in just a handful of years. Hell, maybe they grew him in a tank in a couple of days. More on this later.

Of course, at the time Star Trek was being made the 1990s themselves were a far off future in which it was assumed we’d all eat pills for food and wear silver clothing as we drove our atomic powered flying cars around. It was probably seen as a safe place to put such wars. Nobody could have foreseen that the show – or at least its spinoffs – would still be in production well into the next century. So how has the show handled the fact that we live in a post Eugenics wars time now?


Star Trek II

Made in 1982, a mere ten years before Khan was to rise to power, Star Trek II opens with the caption "In the 23rd Century". This places the movie between 2201 and 2300. Since this film takes place some time after Space Seed, obviously  the 23rd century caption remains valid whether Space Seed itself were dated to 2196 or 2267.

When Chekov and Terrell beam down to Ceti Alpha V (hilariously, they actually beam down to the wrong planet by mistake), they meet Khan and his surviving followers. Chekov introduces them thus :

Terrell : "Chekov who is this man?"
Chekov : "A criminal, Captain. A product of late 20th century genetic engineering."

Khan then fills him in :

Khan : "What you see is all that remains of the ship's company and the crew of the Botany Bay, marooned here fifteen years ago by Captain James T. Kirk."

This dates Star Trek II to fifteen years after Space Seed, which places it in 2282.

A moment later, Terrell objects to the situation and Khan replies with :

Khan : "Save your strength, Captain, these people have sworn to live and die at my command two hundred years before you were born. Do you mean he never told you the tale? To amuse you, Captain? Never told you how the Enterprise picked up the Botany Bay, lost in space from the year 1996, myself and the ship's company in cryogenic freeze?"

Note that this finally gives us a precise date for the Botany Bay’s departure from Earth, which happened in 1996. And it repeats the 200 year timeframe yet again. Assuming Terrell was 40 in Star Trek II, he would have been born in 2242. That would mean Khan’s followers swore loyalty in 2042, which is obviously out by several decades. In fact for Khan to be correct here, Terrell would need to be about 90 years old! We really have to disregard this as a separate event since we can't date it precsiely - most likely it refers to the time Khan rose to a position of power in 1992.

Interestingly, if we actually did continue with the idea that Space Seed was dated to 2196 then Star Trek II would then date to 2211, and so Terrell’s birth date would be about 2171, and thus Khan’s followers would have sworn loyalty in 1971 - over twenty years before the Eugenics wars. This may represent the date at which Khan became the leader of his particular faction of the supermen, which is an interesting datapoint in itself - except that we can only date it as that if we went with the altered timeframe for the original series, which is something we really can't do.

When Chekov tells Khan there had been a chance for him on Ceti Alpha V, Khan retorts :

Khan : "This is Ceti Alpha V! Ceti Alpha VI exploded six months after we were left here. The shock shifted the orbit of this planet and everything was laid waste. Admiral Kirk never bothered to check on our progress. It was only the fact of my genetically engineered intellect that enabled us to survive! On earth, two hundred years ago, I was a prince, with power over millions."

This puts the Ceti Alpha VI explosion shortly after Space Seed, in 2267 / 2268. In fact, if we go with the idea that TOS takes place exactly 300 years after the episodes aired then Space Seed took place in mid February 2267 and Ceti Alpha VI exploded in the following August.

Note also that Khan repeats the idea that this is 200 years after the Eugenics wars. At this point there’s really not a lot of point in harping on about this any more, except to note in passing that this is referenced again and again throughout both Space Seed and Star Trek II.

In one of the extra scenes added for the special edition of Star Trek 2, there is a scene in sickbay in which Scotty asks why they were attacked. Kirk responds with :

Kirk : "He wants to kill me for passing sentence on him fifteen years ago. And he doesn’t care who stands between him and his vengeance."

Thus repeating the fact that Star Trek II takes place fifteen years after Space Seed. This is again repeated later when Kirk talks to Carol Marcus :

Kirk : "There's a man out there I haven't seen in fifteen years who’s trying to killed me. You show me a son who'd be happy to help him."

Clearly, then, Star Trek II kept to the line that the rise of the genetic supermen and the Eugenics wars were imminent in the last decade of the 20th century, and also repeatedly sticks to the idea that Space Seed took place 200 years later.

Deep Space Nine

In the episode "Dr Bashir, I Presume?" we discover that Julian Bashir is a genetically enhanced human. This, it turns out, is illegal within the Federation. His father eventually agrees to take a two year prison sentence for his actions in producing such an offspring, and in discussion with Admiral Bennett the following is said :

Bashir : "Two years? Isn't that a bit harsh?"
Bennett : "I don't think so. Two hundred years ago we tried to improve the species through DNA resequencing, and what did we get for our trouble? The Eugenics Wars. For every Julian Bashir that can be created, there's a Khan Singh waiting in the wings. A superhuman whose ambition and thirst for power have been enhanced along with his intellect. The law against genetic engineering provides a firewall against such men and it's my job to keep that firewall intact. I've made my offer. Do you accept?"

The episode takes place in 2373, so two centuries prior to this would put Khan and the Eugenics wars in 2173. That’s a hell of an error – a whopping 179 years off the 1996 date we’ve seen confirmed previously. When this episode aired Trek fandom lit up with speculation that this line marked an official retcon of the Eugenics wars to put them well into the future again.

However, in an online chat writer Ronald D. Moore said that the line was a mistake :

Moore : "This is my personal screw-up. When I was writing that speech, I was thinking about Khan and somehow his dialog from 'Wrath' started floating through my brain: On Earth... 200 years ago... I was a Prince... The number 200 just stuck in my head and I put it in the script without making the necessary adjustment for the fact that Wrath took place almost a hundred years prior to Dr. Bashir. I wrote it, I get the blame."

Of course one can simply assume that Admiral Bennet misspoke and nobody was willing to correct him, what with him being an Admiral and all.

So with the only date given for the Eugenics wars an error, Deep Space 9 really has little to contribute to the dating of these events. Though we can say that Ron Moore certainly seems to imply that he would have stuck to the 1990s dating if he hadn’t slipped up.

Interestingly, though, there was apparently at least some speculation that a genuine retcon of the Eugenics wars was being considered. As Joe Menosky said :

Menosky : "I heard they were going to point blank, have a statement that said the Eugenics Wars occurred in the 21st century. That was the rumour that was floating through the building. I think that people would have hit the roof if they would have done that, so maybe they just decided to leave it up in nebulous hyperspace. The point is, if they would have gone that route, then you would have had to come up with some theory about how history got screwed up. The records got destroyed, or something messed up the original dates."

Interestingly, the idea here seems to be not so much to simply create a new dating and go with it but to also try and come up with some justification for the earlier erroneous dates, rather than pretending that they were never said. Messed up records really wouldn’t be a good way to do this, given that Khan himself referred to the original date more than once. We might assume that future historians messed up their dating of the war – Spock did describe records of the period of "fragmentary" after all. But Khan was there, personally. Surely he knew what year it was!

Either way, in the event Deep Space Nine didn’t really confirm or change the original dating.

Enterprise

Season 4 of Enterprise included a three episode mini-arc about the legacy of the Eugenics wars, and the genetic supermen, now called "Augments". Various little tit-bits crop up throughout the episodes.

Take this, from Borderland :

Archer : "Genetic engineering has caused a lot of suffering."
Soong : "So did splitting the atom, yet the first ships to colonise the solar system were nuclear-powered."

Whilst it’s not dated, this is obviously a reference to ships like the nuclear powered DY-100 sleeper ship Botany Bay, seen in Space Seed.

Archer goes on to describe DNA evidence from a recent attack on the Klingons by some humans :

Archer : "They were Augments. Their genetically-enhanced DNA matched embryos stolen from a medical facility over twenty years ago. Stolen by you."

Since the episode is set in 2154, this confirms that genetically engineered embryos were in storage as late as 2133, 21 years prior. As Archer later explains it to his crew :

Archer : "Soong used to work at Cold Station 12, a top secret medical research station."
Reed : "Isn't that where Starfleet keeps a stockpile of infectious diseases"
Archer : "Along with genetically-engineered embryos left over from the Eugenics Wars. It's been kept from the public for obvious reasons."
Mayweather : "I remember Soong's trial. He wouldn't say what he did with the embryos he stole."
Archer : "Now he now claims that he took them to a planet in the Trialus System and raised them. They were around ten years old when he was captured, a decade ago."
Tucker : "So there could be a bunch of Augments from the Eugenics Wars running around loose."

So some embryos survived the Eugenics wars... and were kept in cold storage for the next 137 years. This always seemed to me like a rather odd thing for Earth to do, but one can imagine that the embryos were in a sort of legal limbo. There is, after all, hardly a consensus on Earth today about the legality, or at least the desirability, of destroying embryos. Archer notes that it was "too controversial" to destroy them. With birthing a genetically engineered person being impolitic and possibly illegal, and destroying an embryo likewise unacceptable, Earth would have little choice but to preserve them indefinitely.

In Cold Station 12 we learn that the augments are born from artificial wombs. We also see a younger Soong teaching the augment children, proving that they are not born from these wombs fully grown and indicating that their growth took at least months, likely years. Though it’s still quite possible that they could have grown up much more rapidly than a normal person.

Later, examining the DNA of the Augments, Phlox comments to Soong :

Phlox : "This is extremely sophisticated work for twentieth century Earth."

Although Soong confesses that he made a few improvements of his own, the quote does indicate that Enterprise is sticking with the official dating of the augments being created in the 20th century.

In the third episode of the arc, Soong makes this comment :

Soong : "You did the right thing. If he deploys that weapon, he'll be confirming everything they've said about Augments for the last hundred and fifty years."

This quote indicates that people have been bad-mouthing Augments since at least 2004; with a little rounding then, it again supports the 1990s date for the Eugenics wars.

Into Darkness

Set during 2259, Into Darkness takes place in an alternate timeline. However, since the divergence between the new Trek universe and the old one begins with the arrival of the Narada in the previous film in 2233, anything predating that should be the same in both universes. Thus the dating of the Eugenics war should be able to rely on information from Into Darkness.

When discussing the frozen augments they have found hidden in the advanced torpedoes, the following is said :

Marcus : "It’s not advanced. That cryotube is ancient."
McCoy : "We haven’t needed to freeze anyone since we developed warp capability. Which explains the most interesting thing about our friend here. He’s three hundred years old."

This is an interesting one because it’s the first time anybody in the original series timeframe uses three hundred years as the timeframe for Khan’s origin, rather than the two hundred year frame given so frequently in both Space Seed and Star Trek 2.

Three hundred years ago would have put the origin of the augments in 1959... well before the original series of Trek was being made back in the 1960s!

Bear in mind that McCoy doesn’t say this is when the man was frozen, but rather how old he is. So he’s not dating the Eugenics wars or the departure of the Botany Bay here, but rather the origin of the augments themselves. We’ve already seen that the existing data indicates that the augmented humans are born as infants and spend at least some time growing up as children, rather than emerging from the artificial wombs as full adults. So an origin date of 1959 would mean that the frozen man in Into Darkness was 33 when Khan rose to power in 1992, which is actually just about right.

It’s rather mind-boggling to think that a superhuman person could have been created through generic engineering only six years after the structure of DNA itself was cracked in 1953. Indeed we couldn’t do such a thing today, even, and we know far more about DNA now than we ever did then. Really one would have to presume some dark X-Files style conspiracy in which scientists had discovered the genetic code much earlier, or learned about it far more quickly and thoroughly than we have, but kept this knowledge hidden from the public.

Also of great interest here is McCoy's assertion that we haven't frozen people since the creation of warp drive. This would appear to confirm that the "unspecified" technological advance which Space Seed said came in 2018 was indeed the creation of warp drive! But since that's pretty definitively established to have happened in 2063, then this too goes by the wayside.

Conclusion

What then are we to make of the Eugenics wars? I don’t know about you but I was around in the 1990s and I don’t remember seeing those on CNN!

There are two approaches, really, that we could take. One is to assume that Star Trek takes place in an alternate universe. There’s plenty that could be taken to support this idea – in our universe the use of orbital nuclear devices launched by Saturn V rockets was never a thing, as it was in the TOS episode Assignment : Earth. Nor is the solar system in the process of being colonised by nuclear powered sleeper ships at the moment. Sleeper ships that have artificial gravity at that! And there is no impending unspecified technological advance that will render those ships obsolete in 2018.

One might assume, then, that in the Trek universe the space race of the 1960s was somewhat more militarised than in our universe. And the big cutbacks in space exploration that followed the Apollo program never happened. Rather, space exploration and development continued to be a priority for the next few decades. I’d imagine that the 1990s of the Trek universe would be rather like the movie "2001 : A Space Odyssey", with travel into orbit being pretty routine and at least one or more large manned space stations there alone with countless satellites. Colonisation of the moon underway, and manned missions to the outer planets starting to be made. This would be the background against which the Eugenics wars would have been fought.

The second possibility is that the Eugenics wars took place, but that they were essentially covert wars. In this scenario the augments are rather like the Illuminati – not an overt military force conquering, but rather taking over countries by manipulating and subverting them. The wars may have been like intelligence wars for the most part, secret agents assassinating one another and such. This doesn’t jibe with Spock’s descriptions of tens of millions of deaths and populations being bombed out of existence, though. But we could accommodate that by presuming that the augments are behind those wars that have been fought. Perhaps the Eugenics wars did happen... but they are known to us by names like the Gulf War, the Rwandan genocide, etc. It’s kind of preposterous, but no more than many conspiracy theories that are around today.

Either way, the dating of the Eugenics wars is about as solid as can be, with multiple sources putting them firmly in the 1990s, many of those references coming from the people who were there.

There are also multiple references to TOS taking place 200 years afterwards, but like it or not these have since been overruled. So we are left with this as the official timeline of events :

1959 The augments are born.
1992 Khan begins to rule over approximately one quarter of the world.
1993 A group of Eugenics supermen seize power in over 40 nations, prompting the Eugenics wars.
1996 Khan loses power, the last of the genetic tyrants to be overthrown. In the aftermath some 1,800 augmented embryos are kept in cold storage, and will eventually be moved to the deep space facility known as Cold Station 12.

The Botany Bay departs with Khan and 72 of his followers.

2018 Sleeper ships are rendered obsolete by unspecified technical advancements.
2133 Arik Soong escapes Cold Station 12 with 19 genetically engineered foetuses. He births them from artificial wombs and sets about raising them as his children.
2144 Soong is captured and imprisoned on Earth.
2154 A group of Augments attack and capture a Klingon warship. Subsequently 18 of the 19 augmented humans created by Soong are killed.
2267 February : The Botany Bay is discovered drifting in space By the USS Enterprise. Khan and 72 of his followers are stranded on Ceti Alpha V.
August : Ceti Alpha VI explodes, shifting the orbit of Ceti Alpha V and laying waste to the surface. Many of Khan’s followers are killed, including 20 lost to Ceti Eel parasites.
2282 Khan captures the USS Reliant and escapes Ceti Alpha V. He and the remainder of his followers are subsequently killed in battle with the USS Enterprise and the creation of the Genesis Planet.

It may be interesting to see how this would have played out if we did indeed accept the 200 year timeframe for TOS.

1959 The augments are born.
1971 Khan's followers swear their loyalty to him, pledging to "live and die" at his command.
1992 Khan begins to rule over approximately one quarter of the world.
1993 A group of Eugenics supermen seize power in over 40 nations, prompting the Eugenics wars.
1996 Khan loses power, the last of the genetic tyrants to be overthrown. In the aftermath some 1,800 augmented embryos are kept in cold storage, and will eventually be moved to the deep space facility known as Cold Station 12.

The Botany Bay departs with Khan and 72 of his followers.

2018 Sleeper ships are rendered obsolete by the invention of warp drive.
2053 Arik Soong escapes Cold Station 12 with 19 genetically engineered foetuses. He births them from artificial wombs and sets about raising them as his children.
2054 Soong is captured and imprisoned on Earth.
2064 A group of Augments attack and capture a Klingon warship. Subsequently 18 of the 19 augmented humans created by Soong are killed.
2066 The Earth-Romulan wars are fought.
2196 February : The Botany Bay is discovered drifting in space By the USS Enterprise. Khan and 72 of his followers are stranded on Ceti Alpha V.
August : Ceti Alpha VI explodes, shifting the orbit of Ceti Alpha V and laying waste to the surface. Many of Khan’s followers are killed, including 20 lost to Ceti Eel parasites.
2211 Khan captures the USS Reliant and escapes Ceti Alpha V. He and the remainder of his followers are subsequently killed in battle with the USS Enterprise and the creation of the Genesis Planet.
2294 The USS Enterprise-D is launched.

I've chosen to move the Enterprise Augments arc back here to a point 2 years before the Romulan war, which is the same gap as there is on the standard timeline. As you can see it holds together reasonably well... it's just that you'd have to rewrite a large chunk of canon to accomodate it.


Yellow text = Canon source Green text = Backstage source Cyan text = Novel White text = DITL speculation


Copyright Graham Kennedy Page views : 4,084 Last updated : 1 Jan 1970