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Star Trek

On captaincy

This is the story of how the young James Kirk assumed the captaincy of the USS Enterprise. Before we can recount the particular facts & choices which might help us make sense of this ascent, we must note a strange fact. The story involves time travel & two different histories, so we are at a difficulty. Ought we to see what these stories about captain Kirk have in common? Or the differences between the older & newer?

Or ought we to think that captain Kirk would end up a captain in any world in which he lives? Not to overstate the case, but the captain may be a kind of man, & Kirk may be the exemplar of that kind. Still, some differences bear mentioning: In this story, the boy is orphaned – he grows up knowing he was born on the ship his father sacrificed his life to save.

But the young Kirk does not know he is destined to be a captain, or even a soldier. One night, in a bar, he tries to pick up a girl, her mates in the Fleet annoy him, he provokes them, a fight ensues, fights with abandon, but eventually loses. He is not killed, because some officer intervenes – this man knew Kirk’s father & wants the boy to outdo the man, & thus make something of himself.

Now compare that to the Kobayashi Maru, where Kirk is supposed to fight superior numbers of enemies in the rescue of a disabled ship. Everyone takes the test, because the Fleet rulers perversely desire to depress their officers. A degree of fatalism is required for a fleet to work; people who enthusiastically chase the good might be more dangerous than scared men who obey orders & enact them.

What if you cannot comprise the good in orders? What if there are no procedures for survival? Kirk keeps failing the test & eventually cheats his way to victory. What’s the point of fighting if you’re going to lose? The fleet is reluctant to give him a ship, given his disregard for the laws. but the laws are an indifferent substitute for life. By some conceit that mutilates his body – temporarily, apparently – he manages to get aboard the Enterprise.

The fight between Kirk & Spock in the court of martial law over the Kobayashi Maru test is interrupted by war. Kirk wins – the facts of life being conservative, war comes & so must the men. Kirk is not a martial artist like Spock, but proves more cunning. If you do not like to cause people to suffer, war is not for you. You have to love the fight. So Kirk says he does not believe in no-win situations.

Captain Kirk, newly young & beautiful, making the Enterprise attractive for a new generation