Teach Soviet Russia Through Klingon Empire
Allegories are the way to learn Soviet history — Animal Farm, anyone? — in no small part because it creates an relatable framework for a subject that students will find dull despite how interesting it really is. Now that the end of the Cold War is within the scope of the responsible history class, Orwell’s novella has a marvelous counterpoint — Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country.
Bear with me.
Star Trek’s original series was always a thin allegory for the Cold War and American-Soviet relations. The diverse cast of the 1960s exploited fear of the commies by creating a warlike, Soviet-like archenemy in the Klingons while simultaneously catering to the “Let’s be friends” mentality with adding that guy named Chekhov.
I grew up with the even-numbered Star Trek movies by way of library VHS, and my dad’s favorite was the last movie that had the complete Scotty-Spock-Kirk-“Nuclear Wessel” crew. Until I saw it earlier today, I didn’t appreciate how thin a Cold War allegory it really was.
At least three lines in the movie that directly flesh perfectly with some part of Cold War history. Who could forget the complete-with-context old Vulcan proverb: “Only Nixon could go to China“; or “last, best hope for peace”; or “don’t wait for the translation.”
The movie doesn’t just cover Cold War, either — like any cheaply written movie with a dearth of original ideas, it lifts more than a few lines from the Bard. Klingon High Chancellor Gorbachev-wannabe gives the movie its title by making a toast to the undiscovered country: the future. Spock quips:
Hamlet: Act III, Scene i.
Later, Klingon villain Gen. Chang — in the climatic scenes will speak almost entirely in Shakespeare — justifies Klingon expansionism. We need breathing room, Chang says. Kirk quips:
Earth, Hitler: 1938.
Despite those entertaining thematic digressions, in so many ways the last old school Trek movie bookends the close of Soviet history the way Animal Farm bookends the beginning. Because of the way it definitively puts a period at the end of this period, I’d say the last, best Trek movie has more than earned its spot as the last, best day of a world history course.
Best yet, this movie ends with a slow clap. Talk about closure on the last day of class.