In "The Apple", Kirk threatens to "fire" Scotty. Does that mean that within the early days of Starfleet that being 'court-martialled' was only a term for being brought before the "big boss" or Human Resources.

Can Starfleet officers and crewmen simply be dismissed?

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    Welcome! I don't understand your question - the title is clear but I don't get the rest eg what does it have to do with Starfleet being a nickname or not? Jun 26, 2015 at 10:37
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    I don not understand the question either except for the title, but at least Spock has turned himself in to be court court-martialed in "The Menagerie", so, yes for the title. You want to know if Starfleet is a military organization, is that the question ? Jun 26, 2015 at 10:40
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    Are you sure Kirk wasn't just trying to explain things to Capt. Christopher in terms he could understand, or just trying to cloud things over so Christopher wouldn't have all of future information? It's been a while since I've seen this episode. Jun 26, 2015 at 10:44
  • The question is simple, it's starfleet a military like organization, or a corporate organization. Nasa is a corporate like organization for example
    – user16696
    Jun 26, 2015 at 13:48
  • Edited to make the question less dupey and focus on your main point
    – Valorum
    Jun 26, 2015 at 16:09

4 Answers 4


In "The Apple" Kirk is clearly making a joke. If Scotty doesn't get the engines going he'll be dead in a few hours. Being fired is the least of his troubles!

As has been pointed out before, although Starfleet isn't a military organisation per se, they do have many of the same trappings including a robust court martial system so his being 'fired' (in the sense of summarily dismissing him) doesn't appear to be a real option available to Kirk.

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    @gaius - It's perfect possible to have the "trappings" (e.g customs and procedures) of a military organisation (including referring to your internal discipline procedure as a court martial) without actually being a military force q.v - The Salvation Army.
    – Valorum
    Jun 26, 2015 at 12:45
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    Court Martial == "Military Court". Despite on-screen dialog to the contrary, Starfleet is best describe as military even though their primary function is not warfare. It has ranks, chain of command, court martial, etc. AND in a pinch they serve as military to fight wars too. In every regard other than how they define themselves they ARE military. Also consider that even current era militarys are not exclusively for war fighting.
    – Jim2B
    Jun 26, 2015 at 14:33
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    @jimb - As has been pointed out (exhaustively) on the linked question above, Starfleet is not a military organisation. Picard said so, Roddenberry said so. What more do you need?
    – Valorum
    Jun 26, 2015 at 14:56
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    @Richard: Sorry, I tend to agree Jim2B. Starfleet is a military organization even if it says it isn't. The power of defining canon doesn't allow the redefinition of plain English words out of universe. Jun 26, 2015 at 15:01
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    If it quacks like a duck... a rose by any other name...
    – user16696
    Jun 26, 2015 at 16:58

Star Trek has shown a progression of Star Fleet through the series. Enterprise shows a very Nasa like component, While TOS is slightly more formal navy, and TNG era is strictly military format, even if they won't say it straight out. They have enlisted personal and commissioned officers. And they have their entire disciplinary process modeled after military tradition.

This includes marks on service records, demotions in rank, court martials, and finally discharges.

An example of a court martial is scene in the TNG episode Drum head, the meaning of which is a field court martial. And in one of the TOS movies, where Admiral Kirk is being court marshalled for his actions, and punished with a demotion to captain. An example of dishonorable discharge is seen in Voyager with Tom Paris.

Obviously Kirk meant fired in dark humor, making light of a dangerous situation as he always does (not mockingly or sarcastic, just a light hearted half joke).

  • And then in DS9, they are actually fighting a war for a significant portion of the series. This is particularly obvious in "The Siege of AR-558," but runs throughout the later seasons in bits and pieces.
    – Kevin
    Jun 26, 2015 at 15:25
  • Drumhead never showed an actual court-martial. It was an investigative committee that had the power to lay down a court-martial as punishment. The actual court-martial would take place elsewhere off-screen at a later time.
    – Omegacron
    Oct 28, 2015 at 18:10

Aside from the fact that the phrase was clearly used in a joking way (what court would convict someone for not being able to break a ship out out of a tractor beam?), a court-martial isn't necessary to remove someone from their position.

Under Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, a superior is allowed to demote those under hir command or suspend them from duty entirely as well as dole out other extrajudicial punishments for minor offenses. As Starfleet is organizationally modeled partly after the U.S. Navy, it makes sense that Kirk would also have similar authority to discipline his crew and demote personnel without a court-martial.

Likewise, a summary court-martial for minor offenses can also be conducted by any officer with immediate jurisdiction over the person being tried. So Kirk could perform a summary court-martial by himself without involving anyone else.

  • Article 15 is as you said basically for minor offenses with single rank demotions and punishments of less than 30 days. Ops asking about firing/discharges which wouldn't be under article 15
    – user16696
    Jun 26, 2015 at 22:31
  • @cde: I took the phrase as meaning "You're fired as Chief Engineer," which a demotion would essentially be, rather than kicking him out of Starfleet. Alternatively, he could have him "fired" from the Enterprise itself by kicking him off the crew altogether. Jun 27, 2015 at 6:02

Given the number of times we saw someone do something that waranted incarceration or firing, but the person wasn't, I'm going to say no. The following people did things that should have resulted in them being fired, but weren't.

I've skipped the Voyager ones, because firing someone just wasn't practical there.

  • The Ben Sisko one is debatable, even within the episode. The poison would only make the planet uninhabitable to humans, and the only humans there had no claim to the planet.
    – Omegacron
    Oct 28, 2015 at 18:06
  • None of those people were tried for their actions, and court-martials do definitely happen in Starfleet. So you're just demonstrating Starfleet's low professional standards or cronyism.
    – einpoklum
    May 10, 2020 at 18:23

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