In 1982, the movie “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” hit theaters and sparked new life into its ailing franchise. The 1960s television series was a moderate success, but excitement about Captain Kirk and his crew on the big screen waned a bit following the drawn-out existentialism of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.”
In many ways, today’s “Star Trek” fans have the unusually busty Khan and his pursuit of a planet-killing weapon to thank for establishing much of the tone and direction that would define the entertainment brand both in the theaters and for its return to television. But for those of us who grew up watching “Star Trek” before going on to serve in the military, “Wrath of Khan” brought us something else of great importance: the Kobayashi Maru test.
The basic premise behind the test is simple. Starfleet officers are placed in command of a simulator and presented with a difficult decision: to rescue a civilian freighter called the Kobayashi Maru trapped in a “gravitic mine” along the border of the Klingon Neutral Zone. In modern military terms, that would be akin to South Korean troops at the height of North Korean tensions spotting a civilian vehicle stuck on a mine in the demilitarized zone dividing the two nations.
The right thing to do is to help those innocent people, but the simulation is designed to ensure that making the right call invariably leads to the destruction of the Federation ship and the deaths of all crew members on board.