Not Just any Proxy War on a Tropical Planet

Fiction has always been potent at revealing truths about reality that may otherwise have remained hidden. Often, it is able to do this by suspending audiences’ preconceived notions on the fiction’s subject; after all, only a representation of the subject is given. The fictionalization allows the creator to add their own perspectives on the subject discussed.

As illustrated by Nicholas Evan Sarantakes in his article “Cold War Pop Culture and the Image of US Foreign Policy: The Perspective of the Original Star Trek Series”, this is exactly what occurs in the Stark Trek episode “A Private Little War”. From its jungle setting to the role of proxy powers, this episode’s battle between the Klingon-backed Appellas to the federation-backed Tyrees, this episode echoes what actually occurred in the Vietnam War. In it, the protagonists of Star Trek visit a planet and discover that a native group on the island, the Appellas, has had a very recent and sudden advancement in their weapon technology (going from learning to forge iron to having flintlock guns), realize that this is due to intervention by the Klingons, the series’ primary antagonists, and thus in turn offer reluctant support to the other group on the planet, the Tyrees. In case it was not explicit enough that the federation protagonists represented the US, that the Klingons symbolized the USSR, that the Appellas denoted North Vietnam, and that the Tyrees exemplified South Vietnam, a conversation between two of the show’s protagonists, Captain Kirk and Spock, directly compared this fictional event to the Vietnam War, which is said to have happened in the futuristic, science-fiction universe in which Star Trek occurs. Ultimately, as Sarantakes explains, this dialogue and the episode were “designed to illustrate the morally ambiguous position of the United States in Vietnam”.

As Sarantakes assesses, “the only reason Star Trek could deal with the war was the program’s futuristic setting”. This is particularly important because the episode aired at the height of the Vietnam War itself; if it had dealt with the exact conflict outright, it would have been considered as political commentary, which may have severely hurt its reception. However, as fiction, the episode is still able to comment on the morality of American intervention in the war while escaping this scrutiny. After all, questioning the war’s morality is to question the government. Additionally, discussing the war through science fiction also increases the audience’s ability to internalize this message, as they are entering the discussion of the fictionalized conflict without their biases on its real-life inspiration.

This ability to introduce a perspective judgment-free is why so many creators return to allegory. Personally, my first encounters with allegory came mostly from the Harry Potter series. Of the numerous allegories present throughout the seven novels, the most obvious is the comparison of the antagonistic Death Eater Army to the Nazis, as well as their persecution of “muggle-borns” parallels the World War II persecution of Jews (and most other cases of mass persecution, in some form or other). By associating these acts with the fictional embodiment of evil, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling denounces their actions as well as the actions of their real-life counterparts. Although this allegory is historical, it still presents commentary on similar present and future acts. I know that I, for example, would not be the person I am today without having read Harry Potter at such a young age. After all, the lessons learned in fiction very seldom remain in these imaginary worlds.

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4 thoughts on “Not Just any Proxy War on a Tropical Planet”

  1. I love your comment on Harry Potter, and I totally agree! I also grew up reading and watching Harry Potter. I agree that it offers a social commentary by comparing Death Eaters to Nazis and, in general, the movie condones any form of mass persecution. I think this also relates to our class’ study of “us vs. them” and “other vs. same” because the movie demonstrates one case in which othering, of “muggle-borns,” takes place in order to protect people from the minority, and, in their eyes, the “inferior” population. In addition, I think the dementors in Harry Potter also provide a social commentary. In one of the books, dementors are used to protect Hogwarts, but they end up doing it in a overly intense way, revealing the harmful effects of intense policing.

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  2. I enjoyed your connection of Harry Potter to the Nazi regime and the things it represents. I’ve been an avid fan of the series for as long as I can remember, and I never gave much thought to any historical or political significance hidden in the stories. The point about muggle borns being scrutinized and how it is similar to how Nazis looked at other races is interesting, and makes me think about how I should read Harry Potter if I ever were to again. The general promotion of evil among Voldemort and his army along with the fear and admiration his followers show towards him is extremely reminiscent of Hitler and his Nazi regime. Nice work!

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  3. I think the inclusion of “Harry Potter” makes the argument that allegory allows for artists to express their individual opinions is critical. I think that allegory is a method that creators have used for centuries to criticize their surrounds and the current state of beings because of its effectiveness and general acceptance of by the public. Because a creator is not overtly stating their personal opinion, but rather allowing the viewer or reader to form their own based in the evidence given to them in the material (referencing the ambiguity of “A Private Little War”) the public is more willing to accept that perspective into their own lives rather than discount it at face value. Looking at the influence that “Start Trek” has had in the development of the science fiction genre and political commentary that it has put into the minds of the public, I think that it clearly demonstrates the power of media to inform the public of any and all perspectives.

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  4. You make an excellent point about the significance of fiction when forming opinions as a child! Harry Potter is definitely an important example, as it reached such a large audience when it was released and is still very popular. J.K. Rowling’s inclusion of allegories in her works certainly provides a depth to her work that adds to an otherwise entertaining series.

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