With great power comes great…capacity to make things worse. Starfleet wields amazing strength due to its superior weaponry and the governing capability of a united political force. With so much influence, it is not surprising that many powerful organizations find themselves in dilemmas when weaker states look to them for help. Is it immoral to turn away when one has the ability to give aid? Is it just as bad to tip the balance in favor of one party over the other? This episode tried to portray an allegory for the Vietnam War. Like America’s involvement in Vietnam, the Enterprise faces a similar choice to help an underpowered ally or remain neutral.
In a plot reminiscent of many Star Trek stories, the naïve citizens of a primitive world abandon their innocence once contaminated by an outside power. Whether it is accidental cultural contamination or forced liberation, Starfleet does not have a great track record of keeping its code of non-interference. This time, the external cultural contamination forces Kirk and McCoy to make a difficult choice regarding the society’s liberation. Kirk and Spock visit the primitive planet Neural and find that the Klingons have supplied weapons to one of the native tribes. Kirk had been on the planet before and knew some of the members from the opposite tribe. Advanced weapons in the hands of his friend’s enemy compels Kirk to restore balance to the planet. However, McCoy opposes the idea, as Starfleet has a moral obligation not to dispense deadly arms to an undeveloped civilization. Free flowing weapons would inevitably lead to war, but not giving the disadvantaged tribe their own weapons would result in slaughter.
There is no simple solution for the conflict on Neural, or the Vietnam War for that matter. One could argue it is inevitable that any intelligent society would discover increasingly lethal weapons. There are even theories proposing that a civilization will always destroy itself once it reaches a certain level of advancement. If this is true, Kirk and crew merely accelerated the process. Perhaps they were not morally obligated to do this. Entire generations could have lived their lives in peace if these catastrophic wars had been farther in the future. Nevertheless, Kirk made his choice in the moment, to bring serpents to the Garden of Eden, and ensured years of deadly struggle to prevent one all-encompassing slaughter.