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ADMIRAL CARTWRIGHT: If we dismantle the fleet, we'd be defenseless before an aggressive species [...] The opportunity here is to bring them to their knees.
Admiral Cartwright has a militaristic mindset: he sees the Klingons' unfolding disaster as an opportunity to gain the upper hand. Who needs compassion when you have big guns? Of course, our understanding of this exchange is complicated greatly by the later revelation about Cartwright's true allegiances.
KIRK: We volunteered?
SPOCK: There's an old Vulcan proverb: "Only Nixon could go to China."
This is a reference to President Richard Nixon's 1972 trip to the People's Republic of China—a first for an American president. Spock is comparing Kirk to Nixon because both are seen as "tough" against the group they're negotiating with, which gives them greater credibility and leverage.
CHANG: I have so wanted to meet you, Captain.
KIRK: I'm not sure how to take that.
KERLA: Sincere admiration, Kirk.
CHANG: From one warrior to another.
We have a hard time telling whether Chang wants to kick Kirk or kiss him—there's a weird love-hate thing going on. On the one hand, Chang must surely hate Kirk, because dude has killed beaucoup Klingons. On the other, he respects Kirk as a kindred spirit—a fellow warrior. It's complicated.
CHANG: Tell me, Captain Kirk, would you be willing to give up Starfleet?
SPOCK: I believe the Captain feels that Starfleet's mission has always been one of peace.
Kirk, as it turns out, disagrees with Spock's assessment of their mission. To be fair, however, he's not exactly an unbiased party: Kirk has spent his entire adult life fighting Klingons—and losing loved ones to them—so is it really fair to expect him to turn on a dime and accept peace?
KIRK: Far be it for me to dispute my first officer, but Starfleet has always been—
CHANG: Captain, there's no need to mince words. In space, all warriors are cold warriors.
They just had to drop a direct shout-out to the Cold War in case the metaphor wasn't obvious, right? Basically, the peace process depicted in the film mirrors the one between the U.S. and Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War. Nifty, huh? In addition, however, this exchange reaffirms the strange bond between Kirk and Chang.
KIRK: We'll not be the instigators of a full-scale war on the eve of universal peace.
Despite his hesitations, Kirk reveals his true colors once the dilithium hits the fan. That's the difference between Kirk and Chang: Chang fights against peace because he loves war, while Kirk only does so because he fears change.
AZETBUR: War is obsolete, General. As we are in danger of becoming.
Azetbur doesn't see the value of war. Good for her. Like her father, her main concern is establishing a safe future for her people, even if that future is vastly different from the reality they currently know.
KIRK: Who is "us?"
VALERIS: Everyone who stands to lose from peace.
Sadly, there are plenty of people who profit from war—even (especially?) here in the real world. It's just that there are fewer laser beams here on Earth, which is one plus. Besides that, however, the rule holds true.
KIRK: Peace is worth a few personal risks.
That's a far cry from describing Klingons as untrustworthy animals, huh? Through the example of Gorkon, Kirk has learned that the prejudices inspired by war aren't actually based on reality. To cling to such outdated mindsets is to make peace impossible.
CHANG: Be honest, Captain. Warrior to warrior. You do prefer it this way, don't you? As it was meant to be. No peace in our time. "Once more unto the breach, dear friends."
Do you folks have time for one more Shakespeare quote? Of course you do. Once again, Chang argues that he and Kirk are more similar than they are different—both of their lives have been defined by conflict. While Chang has fallen in love with this way of life, however, Kirk clearly wants something more.
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