While flying through space on the way to help save a planet from disastrous contamination, the Enterprise receives a distress call from an ailing shuttlecraft. Upon rescuing the pilot, he reveals himself as Lokai (above right), from the planet Cheron. Soon afterwards, the crew encounters Commissioner Bele (above left), from Cheron, and that he is there to place Lokai under arrest and escort him home for trial.
At this moment what appears to be characteristic Star Trek makeup becomes much more. While Lokai is black on his left and white on his right, Bele is the opposite, and thus the racial aspect of the story becomes apparent.
It is revealed that Bele’s race enjoy a privileged life on their home planet, at the expense of Lokai’s race, keeping them in slums. When they arrive at Charon, both are transported to the surface. Upon arrival, they see that their planet has been destroyed.
Watching this episode forty years after its original broadcast, this makes for a fantastic story about racism, presented in a way that only science fiction can. Their racism seems ludicrous because of their colour scheme, so why is racism on Earth any less ridiculous? While this can seem to be a cliche story in 2012, in 1969 this was a bold statement on American society.
This is one of the better episodes of Star Trek’s original series. While the effects such as Bele’s invisible (and thus budget friendly) starship reflect the budget cuts, the heartfelt performances by Frank Gorshin (best known as the Riddler opposite Adam West’s Batman) and Lou Antonio as Lokai and Bele carry the show forward.
Overall, this is a great episode.
Chekov: There was persecution on Earth once. I remember reading about it in my history class.
Sulu: Yes, but it happened way back in the twentieth century. There’s no such primitive thinking today.
Lokai: You have read about it in history, I see. How can I make your flesh know how it feels to see all those who are like you, and only because they are like you, despised, slaughtered, and even worse, denied the simplest bit of decency that is a living being’s right? Do you know what it would be like to be dragged out of your hovel into a war on another planet? A battle that will serve your oppressor and bring death to you and your brothers?
Its place in history:
The nineteen sixties were a turbulent time in US history. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Right Act of 1965 meant that African Americans could finally exercise the same rights that their white countrymen had a century earlier. But this episode addresses a far more specific aspect of America’s contemporary interracial dynamic; Vietnam.
America’s conflict in Vietnam was of such a scale that a draft was deemed necessary. While on paper the draft did not discriminate, there were several ways to evade military service, such as enrolment in university, or having personal connections to those in government. This required money or social status, both of which were lacking in America’s black population. This disproportionate burden did not go unnoticed, especially as the black community had no stake in the war. Most famously, Muhammed Ali stated that he had no quarrel with the Viet Cong, as “they never called me nigger.”
This is the key to Battlefield’s biggest point. Lokai’s race had no stake in his planet’s war, just as African Americans had no stake in Vietnam. So how could one justify forcibly sending them to fight and die? This was one of American society’s bigger contradictions; land of the free, but not for all.