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A clever sf concept on how a different society may wage their wars:
totally by computers. In their supposed enlightened method, the
buildings and their culture continue - the populace obediently reports
to disintegration chambers to fulfill an agreement with the enemy
planet after each computerized attack. It all sounds very clinical,
very clean, if not a bit on the 'patriotism gone mad' spectrum - but
it's probably the clinical aspect which outrages Kirk the most; that
and the fact that his beloved starship is declared a target almost
immediately. I don't think he even remembers, at this point, that
another Federation ship was lost 50 years earlier in this manner - it's
his ship what counts. To be fair to this society on Eminiar, they did
warn the Enterprise to stay away from their system; but the problem
here again is an annoying Federation bureaucrat, ambassador Fox (see
also the previous "The Galileo 7" for another such representative). Fox
places more value on a successful diplomatic mission than on the lives
of all the crew and the ship. This does not endear him to Kirk, Scotty,
or the audience, for that matter.
Speaking of Scotty, he had some of his best scenes of the first season here. Placed in command of the Enterprise for most of the episode, he gets to shine in his confrontations with Fox and the 'mealy-mouthed' Anan-7 down on the planet. My favorite scene is when he informs Anan-7 that the Enterprise will destroy the surface of the planet in less than two hours. It sounds horrible when described this way, but it's almost a validation of a starship's power and, by extension, Starfleet, and actor Doohan learned by this point how to infuse as much melodramatic impact on such pronouncements as possible. We secretly thrill to this opportunity Scotty has in throwing his starship's weight around - following Kirk's orders, of course. For Kirk, it's his chance to play God once more (see the previous "Return of the Archons"), literally transforming an entire culture overnight - not in theory, but in practice! To be fair to the captain, one can argue his hand was forced after his ship was targeted but...I, for one, get the sense he's really enjoying himself - give him any excuse; he'll change the way a planet does things soon enough, maybe even as retribution for daring to threaten his ship.
Still, the society of Eminiar poses many questions and problems, despite the outward appearance of prosperity and technological comfort (another nice matte painting here, though not as successful as previous ones for Starbase 11 in "The Menagerie" and "Court Martial"). Anan-7 (Opatoshu in a nicely-layered performance) himself inadvertently suggests where the priorities of this so-called culture lie when he tells Kirk that he'll try to spare his starship but the human beings inside it are definitely goners. Things - material things - definitely take precedence over humanity here. There's something inherently repulsive about living thinking beings marching into oblivion at the 'suggestion' of computer results - another aspect making this similar to "Return of the Archons" - like so much programmed ants. I could understand Kirk's disgust and I noticed Spock was on his side all the way without even a word of debate about something called The Prime Directive.
The few reviews of this episode have given it a dismissive treatment,
and for some very superficial reasons.
Consider; the "aliens" are ostensibly Anglo North Americans who speak perfect North American English, the computers are from the age of vacuum tubes, there's little in the way of cultural adornment, and the production values, even for a classic Trek episode, seem to be a little on the low side.
But, if one merely looks at it for its gloss, then the viewer is missing the larger theme of this very profound episode (as many classic Trek episodes tend to be).
In years past when two factions contended over resources, they fought man to man. There was a sense of personal jeopardy when engaging in combat. There was a stake involved on all levels; national, communal, and personal.
In "A Taste of Armageddon", we're shown the pitfalls of automating international conflict; i.e. warfare. Or, in this case, interplanetary warfare. We're shown a society that's become heartless by trying to preserve it's social life at all costs. And this is where the episode should hit the most astute of viewers.
Today, in the United States, we live in a push button society. At the click of a mouse we can call up any fantasy we want via the computer. In the real world this kind of mechanical symbiosis is taken to the next level by calling up death with the click of a mouse by a seaman in a submarine or a remote control pilot firing a hellfire missile from a predator drone. We now pick and choose our targets, almost seemingly on a whim.
The idea is to minimize death and destruction. A kind of jujitsu approach to warfare via defanging the opposition. Anon 7 states the reasons for this approach to warfare, but Kirk reminds of what it is he and the rest of his people are afraid of.
The speech delivered at the end by Captain James T. Kirk is typical Shatner-esquire drama. The words he delivers should strike home for anyone who's ever thought of organized warfare on any level. This is the heart of the story. This is the message, and a warning for future generations.
The Enterprise is seeking information on the disappearance of the USS
Valiant near a planet with advanced technology but little outside
contact. The planet has been at war for several centuries and an
ambassador from the federation has been charged with establishing
diplomatic ties. As it turns out, the war is simulated on computers and
casualties are put to death without damaging property by either side
once the computer simulation has run.
This episode explores an interesting premise and a nicely thought-out cultural background, however, Kirk's persuasive sermon concerning the reason why the war has gone on for several hundred years (his belief that the participants have sterilized war and made it less fearful), really does not bear close scrutiny. Thousands are still dying - regardless of whether buildings are destroyed or not. And would two cultures conditioned to war for over five hundred years really be so concerned with how rationally and politely they made their war - or would they be utterly merciless, vicious and cold? Nevertheless, the story is good, well directed and nicely written. Stand-out performances by James Doohan and guest stars David Opatoshu and Gene Lyons.
Ambassador Fox wins my award for the stupidest, most belligerent
Federation representative ever to come aboard the Enterprise. This guy
is so full of himself, he's willing to ignore Code 710 and risk the
Enterprise (and perhaps interstellar war) simply because he's convinced
his diplomatic capabilities can overcome any obstacles. Despite the
high probability that Kirk and the landing party have been taken
hostage, and despite an obvious attack against the Enterprise from
Eminiar VII, Fox ignores the sound advice of Scotty and the rest of the
bridge crew and storms ahead with his ill-fated attempt at negotiating
a treaty to secure a spaceport.
All in all, I find this episode very entertaining. Anan 7 seems pretty ruthless, Ambassador Fox has you throwing tomatoes at the screen whenever he's visible, and I always like it when Kirk and company are stealthily sneaking around blasting everything in sight. And the idea of a war fought totally by computers gets you thinking. We're really not that far away from that type of reality, where the ease of waging war makes it easy to forget the horrors behind it. I'm giving "A Taste of Armageddon" a B+ grade and setting up my own disintegration machine to help motivate my kids to get their homework done.
Okay, almost the entire show takes place in a sterile-looking compound, so this is guaranteed to be a rather bland-looking episode. But, despite this and the lack of a lot of action in the show, it stands out as one of the best episodes because it is so well-written and has an intriguing message. It seems that the Enterprise visits a new planet while they are being attacked by their enemies on a nearby planet. However, despite the landing party hearing the warnings, the see, hear and feel no evidence of attack. It turns out that the attack is a computer simulation and the ship (but not the landing party) are determined by the computer to be casualties in this bizarre game. However, despite not being real, this really is no game. You see, the two planets completely hate each other and would have completely annihilated each other with their high-tech weapons countless decades before had both sides not agreed to stop fighting a conventional war and begin fighting a computerized one. The logic was that BOTH societies could be preserved and the "victims" could be humanely euthanized to make the war more tolerable!!! This sick arrangement seems natural to the planet's inhabitants and they cannot understand why the crew of the ship refuse to report to the disintegration chambers in order to preserve the precarious balance and avoid a real all-out war!!!! The episode is exciting, thought-provoking and features an excellent performance by guest-star David Opatoshu--an exceptional character actor who was a frequent guest on TV (such as his great role in one of the hour-long TWILIGHT ZONE episodes).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Way to go Scotty! Left in charge of the Enterprise while Kirk and Spock
are detained on Eminiar VII, the chief engineer engages and wins in a
battle of wills with a witless Federation Ambassador Fox (Gene Lyons).
Most definitely Scotty's finest hour so far in the first season.
What's intriguing to me about this episode is it's resemblance to a Twilight Zone episode that aired only four years earlier called 'Valley of the Shadow'. In that story, a traveler wanders into a peaceful, idyllic town, where there is no crime, violence, greed or illness. He's held there against his will when he discovers the technological secrets that create this utopia. The dilemma posed for the viewer is whether all this serenity is worth trading for one's personal freedom.
Taking a slightly different tack, 'A Taste of Armageddon' offers a clinical approach to conducting wars in the future, whereby a computer 'game' analyzes opponents' strategies and weapons, and engineers an outcome that the enemies must adhere to, or face the prospect of total annihilation. It's a different spin on still another earlier ST episode, 'Arena', one in which warring parties put up their own champion to represent their side.
What it boils down to is Roddenberry presenting a chilling commentary on what's at stake when people and nations surrender their identity to an ephemeral 'greater good'. With mathematically launched attacks and carefully calculated casualties, the 'elitist' class gets to preside over the little people who have to take the hit for the benefit of their superiors. The references are subtle, but creator Roddenberry takes a big swing at the agenda of all statists, that is, to keep the masses afraid, and under their thumb.
Getting back to that Twilight Zone episode, guess who's the leader of the town fathers who preside over Peaceful Valley. It's none other than David Opatoshu! He brings the same sense of austere and clinical discipline to his role as Anan 7 here, as he did to the character of Dorn in the TZ story. But wait, there's more! There's a little girl in that story that inadvertently reveals the town's technology to the unwitting traveler who's detained. The father of the girl was Scotty! - James Doohan in a strangely prophetic first meeting on Earth with Opatoshu, before coming together in outer space.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I've never heard anyone else make the connection, but the plot for this episode may have been "borrowed" from a novelette called "The Lomokome Papers" by Herman Wouk, the author of such best-sellers as "The Caine Mutiny" and "The Winds of War." Very obscure, it was only published first in Collier's magazine in the 1950s and the only book publication was a paperback original in the 1960s (available for a couple of bucks on abebooks if anyone is interested). Wouk's book is the journal of the first man to visit the moon where he discovers that two human-like civilizations live underground there and have been at perpetual war for thousands of years. However, long ago, it was decided that while war is a normal human activity, it was foolish to let it wreck your civilizations, so wars are now fought in the abstract by having each side demonstrate their potential to defeat the other and then having a neutral panel of judges decide the victor and then assess the amount of property and lives each side must voluntarily sacrifice to reflect the outcome. Sound familiar?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I love this episode because it features both Kirk and Scotty at their
You see the sheer contempt on the part of Kirk for a race of people who would rather prolong a "war" that has taken out millions in "casualties" (names run up on a computer after they're "attacked" by their enemy planet's computer) a year for 500 years, by marching their citizens to death chambers, which they dutifully walk into to be disintegrated, rather than see their precious buildings get damaged and their societal order be upset. The look of disgust and incredulity on Kirk's face is priceless when he asks head of the planet's high council, Anon 7, "You mean to tell me..that your people..just..walk..into a disintegration machine when they're told to?" And of course, later on he gets Anon to practically pee his pants when he tells him, "You heard me give General Order 24, that means that in two hours, the Enterprise will destroy Eminiar 7."
Then we have Scotty, who has to deal with the arrogant and clueless Federation Ambassador Fox, who is bound and determined to open diplomatic relations with this planet in spite of a) first receiving a message saying under no circumstances are they to approach the planet b) receiving a fake message from Anon 7 (talking through a voice duplicator to sound like Kirk) to lure the ship's personnel ashore (the ship has been declared a "war casualty" in this computer war), and c) getting fired upon. The last part is particularly exasperating for Scotty, as the ambassador won't let him return fire, to which Scotty snorts, "Diplomats. The best diplomat I know is a fully activated phaser bank!"
Here we have yet another example of people acting like robots; obeying orders sent down by their government even when it means marching to their death, like the Jews in Nazi Germany, so many of whom dutifully marched into concentration camps (OK, to be fair, that happened mainly before the "final solution" mass murders, but nonetheless). It's also an interesting take on how an alien society avoids some of the nasty aspects of war to maintain their "civilization," such as it is. As Kirk correctly pointed out, "Death, destruction, disease, horror..that's what war is all about, Anon. It's what makes it a thing to be avoided. But you've made it neat and painless. So neat and painless that you've found no reason to stop it. And you've had it for 500 years. Since it seems to be the only way that I can save my crew, and my ship, I'm going to end it for you, one way or the other." And that he does. Alas, he doesn't implement General Order 24.
This has always been a favorite of mine. I think its because the arrogant get their comeuppance. It involves a diplomatic mission to quite an advanced planet, Eminiar, rich in technology. The Enterprise has been warned away, but Kirk feels he needs to check things out. What he finds is civilization that has been at war with another planet for centuries. However, they fight their war with computers. Buildings and material objects are spared, but the people voluntarily allow themselves to be disintegrated in death chambers. Enter Fox, an insufferable negotiator who thinks that he can talk his way through the barriers put up by Anan 7, the leader of the planet. Because Kirk and Spock are stuck on the planet, Scotty takes the helm. The problem is that the computer has informed Anan 7 that the entire crew of the Enterprise has been designated as war casualties, and he has told Kirk to get his crew to the surface and have them report to the death chambers. Despite the Prime Directive, Kirk isn't going to have any of this. He finds Anan 7's reasoning disgusting. War is supposed to be a dirty thing, meant to be avoided, not some sterile thing. Of course, Kirk also hooks up with Anan's daughter who is beautiful and also listed as a casualty. The sparks fly for a while and I find the conclusion really quite satisfying.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Kirk and company are trapped on a strange planet where war is waged
"theoretically" with computers and people willingly walk into death
chambers in order to avoid serious environmental damage.
This episode had a clever enough premise: wage 'theoretical' war to save physical structures and avoid even more catastrophic loss of life. But the alternative-- simple peace-- is really pretty obvious. I give the episode some credit for starting with a moderately interesting idea, but the solution is so obvious that the episode can hardly be considered to be a great one.
Indeed, another simple alternative would have been precisely what the USA and the USSR had for many years: mutually assured destruction (MAD), thereby preventing either side from ever initiating an attack. Even if negotiations were impracticable, MAD would surely be preferable to ongoing death.
Scotty got a chance to shine here, refusing to back down against the dim-witted ambassador and preserving the safety of the ship.
Where was Sulu? Yeoman Tamura seemed to be his 'sub' for the episode.
This episode featured the usual silly fight scenes with Kirk, which appeared to be thrown in purely for spectacle; they have unintended comedic camp value.
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