In World War II, Japanese cargo ships were all named with "Maru" as the last word. Here's a sample from The USS Bowfin (SS-287) credited kills. Copied and pasted from wikipedia
- The passenger-cargo ship Kirishima Maru on 25 September 1943
- The tanker Ogurasan Maru and cargo ship Tainan Maru on 26 November 1943
- The Vichy France cargo ship Van Vollenhoven on 26 November or 27 November 1943
- The passenger-cargo ship Sydney Maru and the 9,866-ton tanker Tonan Maru on 28 November 1943
- A pair of schooners she destroyed with her four-inch gun on 30 November (1943)
- The cargo ship Shoyu Maru on 17 January 1944
- The cargo ship Tsukikawa Maru on 10 March 1944
- The cargo ships Shinkyo Maru and Bengal Maru on 24 March 1944
- The passenger-cargo ship Tsushima Maru on 22 August 1944
- Assisted Aspro (SS-309) in the sinking of the 4,500-ton cargo ship Bisan Maru on 14 May 1944
- The frigate Coastal Defense Vessel No. 56 on 17 February 1945
- The passenger-cargo ship Chowa Maru on 1 May 1945
- The cargo ship Daito Maru No. 3 on 8 May 1945
- The passenger-cargo ship Shinyo Maru No. 3 on 7 September 1944
- The cargo ship Akiura Maru on 13 June 1945
You get the idea.
So when Screenwriter Jack B. Sowards named the iconic ship in Wrath of Khan after a friend Jim Kobayashi, he must probably have known its connection to World War II shipping.- and the fact that Maru indicated it was not a warship.
What do we know of the Kobayashi Maru test from the movie? It is an un-winnable scenario. It has entered our lexicon as synonymous with a no-win situation.
My brief research into Mr. Sowards turned up absolutely no supporting evidence, but when has that ever stopped someone with internet access, soft tacos, and caffeine?
I believe the Kobayashi Maru scenario from Wrath of Khan was more that just a lesson about life's tough choices for the audience and the characters, but also a subtle anti-nuclear war/weapons metaphor.
The true no-win scenario is nuclear war. Sowards, aged 16 when the bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, preventing the Soviet invasion of Manchuria in August 1945 from spreading to conquest of the home islands, might have been greatly influenced by those events and at that age, at that dramatic time in our Nation's history. He was in his 30s during the Cuban missile crisis, a father with children. About to turn 60, he penned The Wrath of Khan.
Watching it now, it suddenly became clear that it was a warning about nuclear war, a subtle protest wrapped up in one of the most famous scenes of all time. A helpless civilian cargo ship, named in line with WW2 Japanese merchant shipping, is trapped between two powerful forces in an untenable situation. The scenario always ends in death - it is simply a matter of making decisions to limit them.
Reading the fiction surrounding the Kobayashi Maru when other officers took it, I am even more convinced it is a metaphor for nuclear war.
Sulu, of Japanese ancestry himself, realizes it is a trap, and does not enter the Neutral Zone - the Maru is destroyed but his crew is saved, by restraint from participation.
Chekov, Russian, tries the most military and sacrificial approach, and destroys both his ship and the three Klingon D7 cruisers - but his efforts are for nothing, as in horror he realizes the catastrophic explosion he gave his crew's lives to create is too large, and claims the lives of all of the Maru crew as well. His aggressive, honorable, military sacrifice ends up killing absolutely everyone involved, Starfleet, Klingon, and Maru.
I wish i could ask these questions to Mr Soward, but he has passed.
Of particular interest, I would like to know if he knew why we dropped the Atomic weapons when he penned it. Fairly recent scholarship and declassification have shown us that the Japanese were asking to discuss surrender after the massive Soviet invasion just a few weeks earlier, but the weapons were dropped anyways to end the war in dramatic fashion as the Soviets prepared to make massive land-grabs in Asia, having moved their armies from Germany to Kamchatka ( how awesome is it when you get to use a Risk country in a real-world project??).
The weapons were dropped on a savaged civilian population purely because the strategic focus of both the US and USSR had already shifted their foci to post-War consolidation and conquest of resources.
I believe the iconic movie scene was written partially as a tribute to the civilian victims of Atomic weaponry - women and children, between Starfleet and Klingons - i mean, US and the USSR - caught in a "Kobayashi Maru" as their deaths were required to prevent the Soviet conquests in Asia.
(Not a lot of Americans know that the Russians had invaded Manchuria and even announced intentions to permanently occupy Japanese home islands before the Atomic weapons had been dropped, because that would imply we didn't win the war single-handedly, and even worse, that the nuking of civilians wasn't actually necessary to avoid American casualties. "We had to" fades away.)
Anyways, I choose to view it this way.