It is fair to say that some of Kirk's command decisions flew in the face of the prime directive; some were nothing sort of criminal. Others were ill considered, based on personal prejudice fueled by the intolerant Dr McCoy and his arrogant 'It doesn't work for me, so let's change it...' attitude.
And this was invariably the reaction to what was an entire established 'way of life'. Just the sort of thing the Prime Directive was introduced to prevent.
Kirk lacks the maturity and objective judgement to handle the difficult situations he finds thrust upon him. His decisions are impulsive and lack the structure of a long term plan. His heart is in the moment and rarely thinks beyond it. He claims to be impartial and free of prejudice and yet in case after case these decisions are clearly based on the aforementioned factors.
Aided and abetted as he was by a man whose very sanity could well at times be called to question. A man who would argue a problem from one aspect only to change horses mid stream should someone with pointed ears agree with him… the inestimable Dr ‘Bones’ McCoy.
And yet Starfleet must have been compliant in Kirk’s cavalier attitude towards the prime directive. He sent them reports, unless of course these reports were composed in such a way to hide the true nature of his actions. Leading to the inevitable conclusion that the senior staff were also prepared to mislead in order to protect their Captain.
The Apple is a perfect case study. It may not be the ideal situation but the prime directive would insist that the Enterprise in this scenario was expendable. Kirk’s not having that, no, in his eyes, encouraged by McCoy; it is Vaal who must go at the cost of an established way of life.
So what separates Kirk from Tracey?
Fortune it seems. Bend the rules and succeed and you are a hero, bend them and fail.
Well, we’ve all seen where that goes.
I’m not sure the Starfleet of NG would have condoned that view.
We've seen the prime directive change over time, the episode where Spock said that Starfleet personnel would die to prevent violating the PD was six months after The Apple. A mere half dozen episodes prior
(A Private Little War) this interpretation apparently didn't exist yet. In a episode five months after
Bread And Circuses the "die before breaking the prime directive
" aspect was again absent.
One point of view would be the prime directive is subject to constant change.
But you might be correct with one point, Starfleet being complicit in Kirk's "violations." In Court Martial, Kirk testimony included: "... the steps I took in the order I took them were absolutely necessary if I were to save my ship. And nothing is more important than my ship
This last could reflect a different directive, one straight from Starfleet command. A Starship represents a considerable asset, one that had to be preserved.
Kirk lacks the maturity and objective judgement to ...
Please don't confuse Shatner's Kirk, with Pine's Kirk. Kirk is (fairly) consistently shown to be a wise and considered commander, he is also a compassionate man. These are the factors that guide his decisions and actions.