Star Trek 1.23: A Taste of Armageddon

A Taste of ArmageddonA Taste of Armageddon” is another memorable episode, for its exploration of the social issues involved in warfare. It begins with the Enterprise approaching a star cluster and bent on establishing diplomatic relations with the inhabitants of the Eminiar system, known to have developed space flight, but not yet ventured outside their own solar system. On board the Enterprise is the officious Ambassador Fox, whose droopy eyes remind me of Droopy the dog.

The Enterprise sends a hailing message to the populated planet of Eminiar VII, which is replied to with a “Code 7-10” signal. This is a Starfleet code signal meaning to stay away and not to approach under any conditions. One wonder why the Eminians are using a standardised Starfleet code signal if they haven’t made contact with the Federation yet. And of course, as with all inviolable orders in the Star Trek universe, the Enterprise immediately ignores it, this time on the orders of Ambassador Fox, who has the authority to overrule Kirk on this mission.

Kirk, Spock, and three redshirts beam down to assess the situation before risking sending Ambassador Fox down. They are met by girl-of-the-week Mea 3 and a group of guards in extremely funky uniforms complete with bizarre hats and hugely flared overall trousers in bold asymmetric colouring. The landing party is treated civilly and introduced to the leader Anan 7 – they like using numbers as parts of names here. Anan 7 explains that the Enterprise is in danger of attack from a civilisation on Vendikar, the third planet in the Eminiar system, with whom Eminiar VII has been at war for over 500 years, and that was why he warned them to stay away. No sooner has he said this than the nearby combat computers register an attack, which destroys part of the city and kills thousands of people.

Only Yeoman Tamura‘s tricorder registers no explosions or radiation or anything else. Spock realises that the war is fought entirely as a computer simulation. Anan 7 confirms this and says that the calculated casualties have 24 hours to report to disintegration chambers for termination (apparently they use Earth time on Eminiar VII). Kirk is horrified. He is even more horrified when Anan 7 informs him that the Enterprise was also “destroyed” in the attack, and his entire crew must now report for disintegration. Kirk refuses, but Anan 7 explains that everyone must comply with the computer simulation, or else Vendikar will consider their treaty broken and may attack with real weapons. Anan 7 explains that this is a much cleaner and neater way to fight a war – it is war without all the expense or the messy destruction of property and culture. To ensure the Enterprise crew comply with their ordered disintegrations, Anan 7 imprisons Kirk and the other landing party members (who were not declared as casualties). Chalk one up for Kirk’s suspicions over an ambassador’s overtures of peace.

All this happens in a heavily front-loaded barrage of exposition within the first 15 minutes. It’s a shocking scenario, yet if you don’t think about it too closely you may find yourself disturbed by the fact that fighting a war this way does sound cleaner and less wasteful. But something is clearly horribly wrong with the entire situation. It requires people to willingly submit themselves to death at any time, with just a day’s notice. When Kirk expresses incredulity to Mea 3, she explains that it’s their duty – if they don’t report for death, then they will bring terrible and terribly real war and destruction down on their entire planet. This is such a horrible thought that everyone goes along with the set-up.

Kirk and co. are placed in a locked room. An interesting decoration in the room is what looks like an inverted Christian cross, made of flowers. I had to look twice, but this is exactly what it looks like. I’d be tempted to say it was symbolic, but I’m not sure what message they could have been going for there. Spock manages to break them out by applying a “Vulcanian” telepathic suggestion through the wall, affecting the guard posted outside. (They still haven’t switched to the demonym “Vulcan”.)

Scotty, on board the Enterprise, enters a log report in which he mentions that “the captain and first officer” are missing on the surface – making no mention whatsoever of the three redshirts with them! Yes, they’re that expendable. In an attempt to make sure everyone on board dies, Eminiar opens fire on the Enterprise, using a “sonic attack”. It must be a particularly advanced sonic attack for the sound waves to travel through the vacuum of space and affect the Enterprise in orbit. The anonymous helmsman extra reports that the attack is an astonishing “decibels measuring 18 to the 12th power” – or about 10 to the 15th power for anyone who prefers working in decimal notation.

Anan 7 uses a voice synthesiser to impersonate Kirk and tell Scotty back on the Enterprise that the natives are friendly and everyone on board should beam down immediately for shore leave. This makes Scotty a bit suspicious, but pleases Ambassador Fox. Fox orders Scotty to lower the screens (again, they haven’t yet switched to “shields”), which he’d raised during the attack (explained away as a misunderstanding by Anan 7 using Kirk’s voice). Scotty sensibly refuses point blank, which angers Fox, who goes to beam down.

Fox and his nameless assistant are captured as soon as they appear and are dragged off to a disintegration booth. Kirk and Spock have captured some Eminian disruptor weapons and rescue the ambassador, destroying a disintegration booth or two along the way. This causes the Eminians to fall behind in their quotas of disintegrations, making Anan 7 worry that Vendikar will really attack. Kirk gets into a fistfight with two Eminian guards… and loses! Now there’s a first. He’s dragged off to the war room. Anan 7 orders him to tell the Enterprise crew to report for disintegration. Instead, Kirk tells Scotty to implement General Order 24, in two hours, which he then explains to Anan 7 is to destroy the entire planet.

Spock and the redshirts arrive and Anan 7 goes mad with worry that the treaty has been broken and now Eminiar and Vendikar will have to fight a real war. Kirk agrees, and destroys the combat computers! He explains that the fear now consuming Anan 7 is the same as the fear that will be occurring on Vendikar – they won’t want to fight a real war any more than Eminiar. The solution, Kirk says, is to contact Vendikar and agree to stop the war. A sensible outcome, with Fox left behind to mediate a peace agreement as the Enterprise leaves orbit.

Despite it’s share of niggles, this is a good, solid episode, with a very thought-provoking premise and a dramatic climax. It’s one of the episodes that really pushes the boundaries of what an alien society can be like in a mostly believable way. The only real problem, if you think about it, is that everyone on Eminiar (and presumably Vendikar) has been so indoctrinated with the concept of their ongoing war that they’re willing to die at a moment’s notice. I don’t think any society could be that well trained. Someone, somewhere, must have formed some sort of resistance movement to try to break out of the system. Yet that idea is dismissed completely. As Anan 7 shows, they can certainly feel fear of destruction, so it’s not like they are immune to caring about themselves. But nevertheless, it’s hard not to get dragged deeply into this episode and come out of it feeling like it was worth watching.

Tropes: Space Clothes, You Are Number Six, Forever War, Dystopian Edict, Gone Horribly Right, Space Is Noisy, Voice Changeling, Cruel To Be Kind, Start X To Stop X
Body count: 2 random Eminians disintegrated in disintegration booth on-screen, 2 Eminian guards shot by disruptors, Ambassador Fox’s assistant shot by disruptor. Unknown numbers of other Eminians disintegrated off-screen during the episode.
(Image © 1966 Paramount Studios, used under Fair Use.)

One Response to “Star Trek 1.23: A Taste of Armageddon”

  1. Damian says:

    It, like a lot of the best SF, is a thought experiment. A “What If?” where the question has real value. Would it be better to have a virtual war than a real one?

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