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A Taste of Armageddon

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at October 28, 2005 - 9:05 PM GMT

See Also: 'A Taste of Armageddon' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: The Enterprise is ferrying Ambassador Fox to the planet Eminiar VII to open diplomatic relations when the ship receives a warning not to approach the planet. Fox demands that Kirk disregard the signal, but Kirk refuses to allow the ambassador to beam down until he has made certain it is safe, and finds himself in the midst of a society waging a 500-year-old war with neighboring planet Vendikar entirely by computer. The landing party witnesses a "battle" on monitors and are told that all crewmembers aboard Enterprise have been declared casualties in an attack that has also devastated the main city, causing thousands of people to be sent to disintegration chambers where they willingly give up their lives. In this way the cities and civilizations on Eminiar and Vendikar continue orderly, peaceful daily life. But Scotty will not lower the shields to beam down the Enterprise crew, and Kirk and Spock escape custody to destroy first disintegration chambers, then the main war computers. When Kirk tells the High Council of the Eminian Union that their only remaining options are to make bombs or make peace, they opt for the latter, and Fox agrees to negotiate an end to centuries of hostilities.

Analysis: "A Taste of Armageddon" is one of the more stylish episodes of the original series, an anti-war tale wrapped up in an extremely entertaining package which allows Kirk to do things that only Kirk could get away with. For the second time in three weeks, he destroys the computer around which an entire alien society is centered and insists that his values are better than theirs, without consulting with Starfleet, the Federation or even his own crew! I don't think anyone can blame him for trying to get his ship out of that situation, but in the end, he's done that - he has his communicators and weapons, he could disable the beams that were firing at the Enterprise, beam up and go to a starbase for a consultation. But when has Kirk ever done that? He makes one of his trademark speeches, blasts the war machines and waves a cheery farewell to a planet whose entire civilization has just been turned upside down by him!

And yet it is terribly difficult to resent Kirk for this outrageous act of cultural imperialism, with his charming smile and his cheerful agreement that he is a barbarian. Perhaps it's partly because nothing on Eminiar feels quite real, with its pretty women with elaborate hairdos lining up calmly to walk into disintegration chambers; though the Eminians keep bragging about how their society flourishes despite the war, it feels nearly as dead as the one from "Return of the Archons" where there was actual mind-control involved instead of simple totalitarianism. Even the matte painting that introduces the planet is very cold and rigid-looking, the corridors (probably modified Enterprise corridors) featureless, and we never see any examples of the art, music, etc. that the Eminians have presumably preserved from their war.

Plus we have Fox, one of the classic idiotic bureaucrats with whom Kirk is frequently saddled to show how out of touch the deskbound admirals and ambassadors are. It's a little strange that the Federation sent an ambassador to a planet where a starship previously disappeared rather than an investigation as they've done in the past, but Fox doesn't even know about that and is quite confident that he can walk in and establish diplomatic relations despite being told to go away. The scene in which Scotty stands up to him is one of the engineer's finest - Kirk has left him in charge and he is not going to let anything happen to the Enterprise, not even if Fox attempts to get him demoted, which McCoy seems to believe could happen (not to him, however, since he's a doctor, not an officer of the line). It's difficult to believe that Fox has any skill at all as a negotiator particularly for a planet coming off a war, considering that he is contemptuous of the military chain of command and tells Kirk he doesn't know anything about being a soldier. His presence provides some amusing moments but doesn't make the Federation look terribly well-run. Scotty's line about how the best diplomat he knows is a fully charged phaser bank hardly represents the sort of optimistic future for which Star Trek is known, but it is hilarious in context.

"A Taste of Armageddon" was made long before the era of pervasive computer games, yet it has interesting new meanings now in a world where Armageddon-type games are pervasive. My sons, who had never seen the episode before, kept up a running commentary about how Anan 7 hated Kirk because Anan 7 had almost gotten to the ultimate level in his computer game before Kirk started blowing up disintegration chambers, which is really not a terrible analogy. Kirk calls the attack a game, and though Anan insists that it is not so, it plays out very much like a video game on giant monitors. Kirk continues to treat things as a game even after he is taken prisoner, telling Mea to tell Anan that he will have more casualties than he knows what to do with if he doesn't talk to the Enterprise hostages, joking with Spock about the trouncing of a guard in the pursuit of weapons. (Spock also has a classic hilarious moment - "Sir, there is a multi-legged creature crawling on your shoulder" - just before destroying a disintegration chamber where they have just watched people die.) .

Then there is the barbarian discussion, when Kirk breaks into Anan 7's quarters and debates the question of whether they are killers or builders. Kirk announces that he can destroy their planet with one disruptor, is surprised that Anan thinks he is joking and teasingly insists that the leader become the hostage now. Even once the tables have been turned and Kirk is once again a prisoner, he seems calm, almost amused by Anan's rantings about the horrors of war; "I'm a barbarian, you said so yourself," he announces proudly when he reiterates that he will never surrender his ship or crew. Which brings up the question of General Order 24: does Starfleet really have a command for "destroy every living thing on the planet on the word of the captain"? Or is this a code Kirk and his crew have agreed to, a bluff, in case of a hostage situation like this? Scotty clearly knows what he is supposed to say, but it's extremely unclear how a ship that can't ward off the planet's sonic attack (sonic! in space!) could cause so much damage to the surface. I find it hard to believe any Vulcan would find a real General Order 24 logical or acceptable.

But this is all just the setup to let Kirk make his big speech: "Death, destruction, disease, horror...that's what war is all about, Anan, that's what makes it a thing to be avoided. You've made it so neat and painless you've had no reason to stop it...we can admit we're barbarians but we're not going to kill today." He tells Spock later that he counted on the Eminians' rigidly ordered society wishing to avoid the mess of war (and took a big risk with Vendikar, considering that no one had spoken to or so much as seen anyone from the planet). I'm not sure how well the anti-war story translates into allegory for the 1960s - neutron bombs and gas chambers leave actual bodies - but it makes for a highly entertaining tale about the technology of warfare, eerily predicting a future of smart bombs and guided missiles, and warning about how easy it becomes to take an implacable enemy for granted by citizens and leaders alike rather than to pick up the direct line and end a war.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.

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