Gorn in the USA

There’s an episode of Star Trek’s first-season entitled “Arena.” It is a wonderful example of the morality plays the classic series was famous for.

The episode opens with the Enterprise entering orbit of an Earth colony. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and a group of officers beam to the planet’s surface, where they find the colony obliterated. Almost immediately, they come under attack from Gorn soldiers. After repulsing the attack, and returning to the Enterprise, Kirk is determined to catch the Gorn ship and destroy it – sending a warning to that species that the Federation would not tolerate attacks on its citizens.

Long story short – highly advanced aliens sieze both Kirk and the Gorn commander and place the two on a barren asteroid to fight to the death. The winner will be returned to his ship, free to go. The loser’s ship will be destroyed. In the ensuing scenes, Kirk and the Gorn captain talk with each other as they try to construct primative weapons from the asteroid’s mineral offerings. Kirk bests the Gorn captain with a homemade cannon, but chooses to exercise mercy, recognizing that the colony may have been in the Gorn’s territory, changing his perception of the attack from one of aggression, to one of defense.

In the space of an hour, the audience shifts from viewing the Gorn as a ruthless enemy who have butchered helpless men, women and children, to viewing them as a species who viewed the colony as an illegal encroachment into their territory.

There are quite a few episodes like this – the enemy turns out not to be an actual enemy, merely someone placed in a situation (usually through misunderstanding and lack of communication) where the use of violence was avoidable (“The Devil in the Dark” episode was a great example of this).

I think there’s a parallel between these episodes and the situation in Iraq, along the lines of “misunderstanding”, and “thinking you know what you’re doing when clearly you don’t”, but I don’t wish to be blunt.