Flashback | Recap | Star Trek: The Original Series S1E23: “A Taste of Armageddon”
Season 1 – A Taste of Armageddon
|Show||Star Trek: The Original Series|
|Air Date||February 23, 1967|
|Written By||Robert Hamner and Gene L. ****|
While traveling on a diplomatic mission to Eminiar VII, Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and the Enterprise are warned away from the planet due to a very real danger. However, there’s a Federation official aboard, which means that the Enterprise will be ordered to ignore all good sense and go toward the planet!
Upon arrival, they are informed that the Enterprise has been attacked and is considered a casualty of war, and all its crewmembers must beam down to the planet and willingly walk into disintegration chambers. However, this attack is only simulated – run by computers on both Eminiar VII and its neighbor Vendikar – and the Enterprise has been caught in the crossfire. When an attack comes, the computer tells everyone who has died, and those who have been killed must enter a disintegration chamber to die. The Eminians assert that this cold, calculating (literally) way of waging war is better for all concerned. There’s no terror, no rubble, no screaming or dying. Only dignified, computed death.
Kirk, of course, will have none of it and decides to ignore the Prime Directive and give the Eminians a real war – “a taste of armageddon,” if you will.
Let’s Dig Deeper
In light of technological and drone warfare these days, “A Taste of Armageddon” seems nicely applicable. We can make war as seemingly emotionless and bloodless as we want, yet in the end, it leads to death and destruction one way or the other. Eventually, one side breaks. Eventually, the numbers and commands sent by computer turn into economic distress or disruption of infrastructure or even actual casualties. It’s too easy to turn off the human cost of a war, to forget that real people are affected by the decisions of the people at the top. That’s why this is a solid episode: we’re reminded of the true harm of warfare in the information age.
Eminiar VII boasts a highly developed civilization, despite their five hundred years of war. They’re technologically advanced enough to be able to detect the exact spot to which Kirk and his company were about to transport, and have deep moral beliefs. Anon 7 (David Opatoshu) even muses: “What is the great immorality, open honesty or a deception which may save our lives?” They refer multiple times to morality and its central place in Eminian lives. And yet they’ve been ruthlessly waging war for years. It’s been a centuries’ long game of battleship, essentially.
We have another shining example of an awful Federation official in Ambassador Robert Fox (Gene Lyons). He’s a naively dangerous tool, ordering Kirk to disregard a warning beacon, which may lead to the ship’s destruction.
KIRK: Code seven-ten means under no circumstances are we to approach that planet. No circumstances whatsoever.
FOX: You will disregard that signal, Captain.
KIRK: Mister Fox, it is their planet.
FOX: Captain, in the past twenty years, thousands of lives have been lost in this quadrant. Lives that could have been saved if the Federation had a treaty port here. We mean to have that port and I’m here to get it.
KIRK: By disregarding code seven-ten, you might well involve us in an interplanetary war.
FOX: I’m quite prepared to take that risk.
KIRK: You are. I’m thinking about this ship, my crew.
FOX: I have my orders, Captain, and now you have yours. You will proceed on course. Achieve orbit status and just leave the rest to me. You’re well aware that my mission gives me the power of command. I now exercise it. You will proceed on course. That’s a direct order.
One of the only redeeming parts of his character – as opposed to “Galileo Seven’s” Commissioner Ferris – is that in the end, he takes the responsibility upon himself to mediate relations between Eminiar and Vendikar. Even though Kirk blatantly disregarded the Prime Directive, he wouldn’t have needed to if Fox hadn’t ordered him to approach the planet in direct violation of the planet’s wishes to be left alone.
Random Thoughts from A Taste of Armageddon
I may have a deep crush on Barbara Babcock. She’s does a great job as Mea 3, showing that desperate human side who has resigned herself to do her duty in the midst of a terrible way of life, even to advocate for it: “Don’t you see? If I refuse to report, and others refuse, then Vendikar would have no choice but to launch real weapons. We would have to do the same to defend ourselves. More than people would die then. A whole civilization would be destroyed. Surely you can see that ours is a better way?… it’s been that way for almost five hundred years.” She turns in a strong, melancholic performance, speaking to the duty she must perform.
Babcock previously voiced Trelane’s mother in “The Squire of Gothos,” and she’ll lend her voice to others throughout the series. Unfortunately, the next time we see her on screen it’ll be in the nearly unwatchable “Plato’s Stepchildren.”
Scotty is in rare Scottish form in this episode, saying: “The haggis is in the fire for sure…” He also wishes Kirk a “bonny” trip, and rails against “Diplomats! The best diplomat I know is a fully activated phaser bank!”
KIRK: I’ve given you back the horrors of war. The Vendikans now assume that you’ve broken your agreement and that you’re preparing to wage real war with real weapons. They’ll want to do the same. Only the next attack they launch will do a lot more than count up numbers in a computer. They’ll destroy cities, devastate your planet. You, of course, will want to retaliate. If I were you, I’d start making bombs. Yes, Councilman, you have a real war on your hands. You can either wage it with real weapons, or you might consider an alternative. Put an end to it. Make peace.
ANAN: There can be no peace. Don’t you see? We’ve admitted it to ourselves. We’re a killer species. It’s instinctive. It’s the same with you. Your General Order Twenty Four.
KIRK: All right. It’s instinctive. But the instinct can be fought. We’re human beings with the blood of a million savage years on our hands, but we can stop it. We can admit that we’re killers, but we’re not going to kill today. That’s all it takes. Knowing that we won’t kill today. Contact Vendikar. I think you’ll find that they’re just as terrified, appalled, horrified as you are, that they’ll do anything to avoid the alternative I’ve given you. Peace or utter destruction. It’s up to you.
–Kirk makes a lot of speeches, but this is one I really enjoy. It’s intense and really speaks about the horrors of war and of human nature.
“Sir, there’s a multilegged creature crawling on your shoulder.”
–Spock distracts a guard before administering the Vulcan nerve pinch.
Coming up next…
As I mentioned at the close of “The Return of the Archons,” we’d soon get another episode about euphoric hippies (and it won’t be our last!). “This Side of Paradise” gives us just that, and Spock climbing trees.
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