I asked my children this question,"Given a choice of friend among a Klingon, Ferengi, Vulcan, Romulan and Human, who would you choose?" All of them chose Klingon. Reasons were Klingons are honourable and loyal. It was logical to choose them as friends. Even if humans did not want to choose them as friends, it would be absolutely illogical and dumb to choose them as enemies. The last thing you want is for your enemies to be warriors. Therefore, why were humans and Klingons enemies in TOS?

My knowledge of Star Trek is limited to TNG and DS9. I did not watch TOS.

  • 32
    Because it's perfectly possibly to be honourable but not like someone. That being said, you may wish to note that while the Klingons as a people supposedly value honour above all else, the personal morality of the Klingons we see is often violently at odds with their stated intentions
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 12:38
  • 25
    Klingon honor is not the same as Terran honor.
    – miltonaut
    Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 13:49
  • 35
    Because TOS came at the height of the Cold War, and TNG came in the era of glasnost
    – Spencer
    Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 14:31
  • 13
    Even as a child I would have chosen Vulcans. Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 17:37
  • 38
    Why were Japan and the US enemies in WWII, given the cultural significance of the honorable and just warrior in Japanese tradition? Ideals for individual behavior and polices of the nation-state aren't always the same.
    – rickster
    Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 23:11

9 Answers 9


The reason Humans (technically the whole United Federation of Planets) and Klingons were at odds in the TOS era is not fully explained. According to Memory Alpha, the issues between the two stemmed from a "disasterous First Contact," however, the exact details of what happened are not made clear. There are a few points where the different Trek series are apparently contradictory (or, at least, it requires some fan hypothesizing to make everything gel.) The bottom line, though, is that when Humans and Klingons first encountered one another, the result was a tense relationship that led to a "cold war" style era of hostility and skirmishing which lasted for about a century (depending on where you choose to draw the line in their timeline of events.)

According to the site, it looks like peace between the Federation and the Empire was ultimately and finally achieved by a breakdown in Klingon-Romulan relations, which led to the Klingons finally agreeing to join forces with the Federation against a "common enemy." This was after years of negotiations where the Klingons stubbornly refused to agree to any terms set forth by the Federation. So, it seems like the Klingons are really mostly interested in having someone to fight with, as long as they can be reasonably certain they'll win in the end.

Even if humans did not want to choose them as friends, it would be absolutely illogical and dumb to choose them as enemies.

Maybe the Federation weren't the ones who made that choice. It certainly seems like the Federation made several attempts to befriend the Klingons and atone for whatever happened during their First Contact, but the Klingons just weren't interested in making nice.

The last you want your enemies to be are warriors.

Certainly true, however, if the Federation simply capitulated to any overtly hostile regime they encountered (such as the Klingon Empire) in order to avoid making enemies out of them, then the Federation wouldn't last very long as a sovereign power in its own right. Sometimes you have to take a stand in your own interests, even if it means making enemies out of someone you'd rather not be enemies with.

Finally, to address the question of choosing to be friends with a Klingon "because they're honourable and loyal," it really does bear repeating what Miltonaut said in the comments to the question: Klingon honour and Human honour are two very different things.

I can't find the exact quote right now, but in the latest "New Trek" movie, there's a line about how Klingons would ambush a civilian convoy, slaughter everyone and then be lauded as "honourable warriors" upon their return, simply because they won. Granted this was spoken by a Federation crewman during the time when Federation-Klingon relations were at the height of their hostility, so there was probably some exaggeration there. However, there are also plenty of other examples throughout the various TV series where Klingons are shown taking a more violent path than is necessary to achieve their goals.

Their version of "honour" and "glory" are very different than ours. Even asking them to stand down for your sake could easily lead to them declaring you "dishonourable" - at which point their "loyalty" will shift away from you. So, "which one to be friends with" is not really as clear-cut a decision as it may seem. Worf was something of an outlier in this regard, having been raised among humans. He still adhered to the idea of honour and loyalty, but those definitions were strongly influenced by human culture.

(Personally, I think I'd choose Vulcan. Even choosing a Ferengi wouldn't be so bad, as long as you're careful about any monetary transactions you agree to.)

  • 3
    Yes, honor codes are different, and are only part of it. See also their values and the way Klingons behave in TOS episodes and films. They go around picking fights, scheming, killing, trying to conquer and claim everything, and they even turn on each other.
    – Dronz
    Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 17:45
  • 5
    +1 for your last sentence. I recall that, while DS9 was on the air, I had a conversation with a friend who referred to Ferengi as back-stabbers.  I replied that a Ferengi would never attack a potential customer without a very good reason. (What they’d do to a competitor is another matter...) Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 18:49
  • 1
    Having watched TNG recently, the cessation of hostilities between the Federation and the Klingon empire stemmed a great deal from the Khitomer accords. Specifically because the USS Intrepid was first to respond on to the distress call. Additionally, the Enterprise C was lost defending a Klingon outpost on Neandra (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yesterday%27s_Enterprise) an action that demonstrably contributed to the end of the war, based on the alternate timeline. Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 9:15
  • 4
    The honour difference is important. It's also worth noting that the Honour culture among Klingons is (or has become) corrupt - it's more important to appear to have honour than actually behave honourably.
    – DavidS
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 11:45
  • 2
    "Disastrous first contact" is a pretty good summation of the relevant Enterprise episodes... Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 13:19

According to Memory Alpha,

The Federation-Klingon War of 2267 was a brief conflict fought between the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire in 2267.  It was the result of years of tense build-up in a cold war situation, but was ultimately inconclusive because the fighting was abruptly ended by the Organians. (TOS: “Errand of Mercy”)

Shortly before stardate 3198.4, ongoing negotiations between the two sides were in danger of breaking down, and open warfare was becoming an unwelcome likelihood.  Starfleet Command expected that the Klingons would launch a surprise attack after they issued an ultimatum demanding that the Federation withdraw from all disputed regions along their mutual border, including Donatu V, Sherman’s Planet, Organia, the Archanis sector, and other territories.  When the Federation refused the demands, the Klingons launched an immediate attack – even before an official declaration of war was issued. (TOS: “The Trouble with Tribbles”)

So maybe the honor of Klingons was added or increased in later episodes/series.

  • Yes I'm pretty sure they weren't meant to be seen as honorable in TOS. That stuff came with Ronald D Moore. Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 17:41
  • 4
    The quote makes little sense - as I understand it, in real life an "ultimatum" is a [conditional] declaration of war.
    – Random832
    Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 18:15
  • @Random832 ultimatum does have a threat but not necessary a threat of war (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultimatum). For example from Hague Convention "giving reasons, or an ultimatum with a conditional declaration of war". I can imagine other possible threats (vetos, embargos, break of diplomatic relationship...) Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 23:09

The subject was discussed between Ezri Dax and Worf in at least one episode of DS9, and was touched on in earlier episodes of that series and TNG when Klingons (aside from Worf) played a significant role. Aside from potentially having different views of what is "honorable", it was explicitly pointed out that Klingons frequently paid lip service to the idea while engaging in behavior that even in their own terms was dishonorable, as long as they could get away with it, and the more important you were in society, the more likely you could get away with it.

Several episodes had Klingons pulling off or attempting various underhanded tactics and corruption that other Klingons had no problem with as long as it didn't become public. So as long as everyone pretended everyone else was acting honorable, the Klingons could go around proclaiming they were holier-than-thou about the honor thing while steadfastly ignoring that large parts of their society weren't.

Since Worf was raised outside the Empire by humans he had an outsider's view of Klingon culture, as Ezri noted, and so become the honorable warrior many Klingons said they were, but wasn't exposed to how their society actually worked. K'Ehleyr and B'Elanna Torres, who both had a Klingon parent growing up and thus would have had a closer insight into how Klingons actually behaved, had very cynical views about Klingons in general and not much in the way of romantic notions about their culture, unlike Worf.

  • 1
    So…a lot like humans, then? ;)
    – Adamant
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 6:31
  • 1
    Exactly like humans. Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 7:14
  • Except with facial prosthesis. Just like every other "alien" in that universe. Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 16:29
  • 1
    One recurring theme of the show (and of real-life history) is that people who want power never really do care about honor, only shows of honor.
    – EvilSnack
    Commented Oct 10, 2021 at 22:02

The Klingons in TOS were not honorable people.

From The Making of Star Trek by Stephen E. Whitfield and Gene Roddenberry, September 1968:

The number one adversary of the Federation is the Klingon Empire. More powerful than the Romulans, the Klingons are less admirable characters. Their only rule of life is that rules are made to be broken by shrewdness, deceit or power. Cruelty is something admirable; Honor is a despicable trait.


Rule is by absolute dictatorship, and assassination is common. Their society is totally devoted to personal gain by the cleverest, strongest, or most treacherous. As a result, their vessels often operate much like "privateers," and warlike acts are a way of life. Life on all levels is completely supervised, and extensive use is made of "snooping devices" (again, on all levels) to help maintain total control.

  • 2
    I think it's safe to point out that this was a Cold War-era caricature of the Soviet Union.
    – Spencer
    Commented May 7, 2021 at 21:24

"Honor" is about a kind of feudal fealty much more than it is any kind of working moral or ethical system.

John Wilkes Booth, in fleeing after he had assassinated Lincoln, relied on notions of "honor" among those with whom he hid; that was about loyalty to Booth's cause and, in several cases, was explicitly meant to override any sense of conscience or ethics on the part of his hosts. (For example, he was miffed at a doctor he stayed with because the guy didn't feed him at the table, even though doing so would have endangered the doctor's family. Booth expected "honorable" conduct, and was upset to be, in his view of the world, slighted. He was a Big Man, and they owed him dinner in style. So he thought.)

Today we see "honor killings," for another disgusting and deeply immoral example. Again, honor overrides conscience.

The supposed Klingon system of values was ridiculous on the show -- they were little more than hirsute black hats on TOS, and even TNG's more enlightened 1990s sensibility made them look incapable of reaching space -- but even past that, I would suggest that "honor" is a relic of a failed previous system of ethics.


Despite the number of answers this question has gathered so far, I would like to provide an additional answer because I consider it important to question the premise of the question:

You state that Klingons are honourable.

Therefore, why were humans and Klingons enemies in TOS?

One big issue with this assumption is partly an out-of-universe reason: In TOS, Klingons were not honourable.

In the days of TOS, Klingons were designed as scheming, violent oppressors.

Back then, Romulans had the role of honourable warriors.1

These "roles" got switched as late as in Star Trek III, which was originally supposed to feature Romulans, and a stolen Romulan vessel. The idea of honourable warriors was somehow transferred to Klingons (as was the ship type designation "Bird of Prey"). (cf. Memory Alpha)

1: Of course, this somewhat shifts the questions towards asking why the UFP is at war with Romulans. However, note that, while being honourable (and even without looking at the fact, as correctly described by other answers, that being honourable does not necessarily mean likeable or ethical by human standards), Romulans were also quite "nationalist", with little desire to cooperate.


Disregarding other fine answers, I believe your question is moot because:

1. The Klingons are not exceptionally honorable or loyal

Klingon culture does idealize these two traits, and everyone is supposed to keep up the appearance of honor and loyalty; but as we've seen on many occasions (e.g. the histories of the houses of Mogh and Duras) - reality is far from ideal. Cowardice, treachery, opportunism, lies, obfuscation, turning a blind eye to inconvenient facts etc. - are all prevalent in Klingon society and Klingon politics in particular.

2. Klingon culture has many elements which (idealized Star Trek era) humans would find objectionable

Klingon culture:

  • Is feudal: Your social status, wealth, prospects in life are determined to a great extent by your heritage.
  • glorifies war and casts much of everyday life as war or battle (among Klingons and with non-Klingons).
  • Is generally oppressive of women (although I suppose this could be debated)

3. The Federation would not base its politics on such criteria

While the script-writers (and perhaps Rodenberry himself) kind of insinuate that the Federation is 'Good'(/Just/Honorable) and so naturally allies with other 'Good'-race-civilizations (which are those civlizations whose dominant races' individuals are 'Good'/Just/Honorable) - I really don't think this is borne out by the record.

  • My impression is that Klingons are typically loyal to their house/family. Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 14:00
  • @CodesInChaos: When it involves significant personal sacrifice and ostracism by other powerful houses? Examples please. Or rather, examples of such behavior which is also honorable.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 22:17

Klingons may be honorable but they are a warrior people. To get a Klingon to respect you, you will have to beat him in a fight and show that you are worth respecting.

In effect, war, and victory over the Klingon Empire is about the only way that Federation can come to terms.


Your kids wanted to be friends with Klingons, but did someone asked Klingons if they want to be friends with your kids?

Klingons didn't considered humans as particularly honourable or worthy allies. It was explained in TNG's "Yesterday's Enterprise" that only the sacrifice of Enterprise-C in hopeless defense of a Klingon colony against Romulans that changed Klingon attitude towards Federation. Without that sacrifice, two factions continued war even with Romulan threat, as shown by numerous entries to the military log of battleship Enterprise-D.

So it appears to be almost solely Klingon decision to fight the Federation in TOS and then stop fighting it in TNG.

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