Bele and Lokai.
Star Trek: The Original Series aired for three seasons, commencing in September 1966 and ending in June 1969, having presented a number of memorable episodes. One, titled “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” on January 10, 1969, offered some deeply troubling material that resonates nearly 50 years later.
While on a mission, the crew of the USS Enterprise, led by Captain James Kirk, encounters a shuttlecraft reported stolen, piloted by Lokai, a native of the planet Cheron. While under treatment in sick bay for near-suffocation, Lokai’s skin color—half black on the right side and half-white on the left, puzzles Kirk, who innocently says: Explain, Spock. One of a kind? They surmise it is the result of a mutation. Following Federation laws, Kirk advises of his plans to return Lokai to answer charges for the theft of the shuttlecraft.
Subsequently, however, the Enterprise’s sensors reveal the trajectory of an invisible craft on a collision course with the Federation vessel. Mysteriously, the ship disintegrates, but its pilot, Bele, also a native of Cheron, is beamed aboard. He too is half-black and half-white, although in the reverse from the recuperating Lokai.
Bele announces that Lokai led a revolt on Cheron and was to be tried as a traitor. As chief officer of the Commission on Political Traitors, he had pursued the fugitive for 50,000 earth years and demands surrender into his custody to be returned to Cheron. Now Lokai requests asylum, pleading:
I tried to break the chains of a hundred million people. My only crime is that I failed.
Kirk, in the absence of diplomatic relations between Cheron and the Federation, proceeds to Starfleet Command to resolve the conflict. En route, passing Cheron, the crew determines that there is no life left on the planet, all life apparently mutually annihilated in a civil war.
The episode closes with the two foes beamed to their devastated planet to resume their hate-filled, suicidal combat. Reflecting upon this experience, the concluding scene offers compelling relevance:
Sulu: But the cause they fought about no longer exists. Does it matter which one was right?
Spock: All that matters to them is their hate.
Uhura: Do you suppose that’s all they ever had?
Kirk: No, but that’s all they have left.
As parable, the Star Trek episode presents an ever-persistent conflict in the United States. While it is clear that all men are created equal, that equality is neither self-executing nor a universal truth of our secular morality. On June 16, 1858, a Republican-nominated candidate for the U.S. Senate by the name of Abraham Lincoln stated:
A house divided against itself, cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free.
More than a century later, on February 28, 1968, a report of the National Commission on Civil Disorders [a/k/a Kerner Commission], in reviewing causes of the 1967 race riots across the nation, concluded:
Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.
And on August 11–12, 2017, marchers in Charlottesville, sporting KKK garb and Nazi insignias, chanted hate-filled cadences as testimony to their beliefs.
That the Star Trek parable prospects the future is frightening and depressing. Today, the fact of the continued rise in the number of hate groups [www.splcenter.org], currently fueled and weaponized by social media, only demonstrates the tenacity and appeal of such worldviews.
Clearly, Lokai and Bele had the technological capability to leave Cheron and relocate elsewhere in the universe. As the United States advances in population density and progresses to a majority-minority ethnic and racial mix, expected by 2045, how shall that reality be regarded? Ideological hate based upon perceived physical characteristics consumed all life on Cheron. None of its inhabitants were “one of a kind.” Neither were the Charlottesville participants.