Are bad relations between the Federation and Klingons a string of cultural misunderstandings?

I’m going to take into evidence all canon shows and movies, if you want to argue an alternate take going off of only TOS or whatever cool I’m just stating my sources.

The pilot of Enterprise shows us the first contact between proto-Federation(mostly Earth humans) and the Klingon empire.

A badly injured Klingon who came to earth by chance while fighting another alien is nursed back to health and returned to the Klingon homeworld, against the advice of the Vulcans. The facial expressions of the Klingon mucketymucks says it all, the humans have just made a gigantic cultural faux pas and don’t even realize it. They have done something really shocking and disgusting by cheating him out of his honorable death, and nursing him back to health only to then dump him in front of his leaders, and they weren’t even the species the Klingons were fighting just clueless bystanders basically. The humans think they scored brownie points by this too!

Even to Kirk’s time the Fed just doesn’t seem to be able to grok the Klingon mindset, they just don’t! Even to the fifth TOS film we have a member of the Klingon delegation saying that saying all aliens have human rights is preposterous.

Is that the cause of the whole Fed/Klingon conflict? The humans flat refusal to believe an alien species has very different cultural ideas?

Based purely on TOS, the problems go deeper than just cultural misunderstandings. There are several TOS episodes where the Federation and Klingons are competing for influence over a planet in a strategic location. The Klingons want to conquer the planet and subject the inhabitants to harsh rule. Whereas the Federation offers trade relations and to share technology. Better cultural understanding would not have resolved these conflicts.

Even if true, how are the Klingons any less guilty of this?

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen that movie, but my hazy recollection is that I had a different interpretation of that scene. I thought that the Klingons weren’t saying that sentient beings shouldn’t have rights, but just that they were pointing out the unintentional hilarity of the Federation using the term “human rights” to refer to them. The use of “human” rights when talking about many alien races and not just humans betrays the Federation’s unconscious human-centric bias even when they are claiming to equally support all sentient races.

In that scene in the movie, the humans were sitting there basically sanctimoniously lecturing the Klingons about how they should be more concerned about “human rights”, and they’re not even self-aware enough to realize how their choice of terminology undermines their own message.

Well in defense of the Klingons if the first Federation members I met came as across righteous as the characters in the original series, and as unbearably smug as the characters in the new generation it’d put a wrinkle in my turtle brow.

Of course it is all a cultural misunderstanding. Federation/ Earth culture could not accept that the destiny of the Empire is to annex all habitable worlds in the Galaxy. Myopic lower species.

Having the Klingons’ one-note-species schtick be a mad obsession with “honor” was a TNG-age development, their original singlemindedness was for power. Also there are mentions in various versions of how the Klingon homeworld(s) are resource-poor and thus expansion and conquest have always been a primary motivation.

Right. If only those myopic Klingons could understand that it’s the Federation’s destiny to annex, I mean, bring into the Federation as a valued member, all the habitable worlds in the Galaxy, then relations between Klingons and humans, oh I mean the Federation, would be much smoother.

Yes. Let’s face it, it was a thinly-veiled Cold War allegory, with the Federation as the U.S. and its NATO allies, and the Klingons as a Soviet/Chinese evil empire. Although individual Klingons could be OK, there was no question that the Federation stood for friendship, democracy and freedom, while the Klingons were nasty, dictatorial and oppressive. (Obviously history was not quite so neat). Fortunately, Roddenberry thought no one - and no species - was unredeemable, so the Federation and the Klingons are somewhat-wary allies by the time of ST:TNG. And Amb. Spock is still working on the Romulans…