“A Taste of Armageddon”
Written by Robert Hammer and Gene L. Coon
Directed by Joseph Pevney
Season 1, Episode 23
Production episode 6149-23
Original air date: February 23, 1967
Captain’s log. The Enterprise has been hailing the people of the Eminiar star system. Ambassador Robert Fox is on board, as the Federation is hoping to open up diplomatic relations, but there’s been no response.
Uhura finally gets an answer: a code 710, which is a message that there is conflict and to stay away or risk being damaged. Fox orders Kirk to disobey the 710 despite the very real risk to the Enterprise, so Kirk sighs and orders yellow alert and goes in. Fox’s orders are to open diplomatic relations with these planets so the Federation can establish a needed port there.
They orbit Eminiar VII, which according to Spock is a spacefaring world that was last known to be at war with their nearest neighbor, Vendikar. Last contact was with the U.S.S. Valiant fifty years ago—the ship never returned from Eminiar.
Kirk, Spock, and a security detail consisting of Galloway, Tamura, and Osborne transport to the surface to scout the planet before allowing Fox to beam down. They are greeted by Mea 3, who brings them to Anan 7 and the rest of the high council. Anan says that opening diplomatic relations is impossible because of the war. This rather surprises Spock, given that his scans showed a well-off peaceful planet with absolutely no signs of warfare. Yet Anan insists that casualties number in the millions per year.
An alarm goes off, indicating an attack by Vendikar with fusion bombs on Eminiar VII. The computer Anan is using shows a hit on the city, yet Kirk hears nothing and Tamura detects nothing with her tricorder.
Spock finally figures it out: the war is being fought by computer. Attacks are simulated by a sophisticated program, and casualties designated. Those people whom the computer indicates are casualties are ordered to report to disintegration chambers. It allows their civilizations to continue while the war goes on—it’s been fought for five centuries now, which would be impossible to maintain with more conventional tactics.
Unfortunately, the Enterprise was deemed a viable target by the computer, and a Vendikar attack “destroyed” it. Anan must ask that all those on board report to disintegration chambers on the surface—and until they do, the landing party will be held hostage.
Mea explains to Kirk that she’s been declared a casualty. She will report to a disintegrator by noon tomorrow. If she refuses, Vendikar will be forced to use real weapons, and then the damage will be far worse.
Anan calls the Enterprise, faking Kirk’s voice, saying that they’ve agreed to relations, and that all personnel should beam down for shore leave—they’ll send Eminians up to staff the stations. Scotty, not being a moron, thinks this is suspicious and analyzes the voice of Kirk, which the computer declares to be fake.
Spock tries to mind-meld with the guard through the wall and succeeds in getting him to open the door long enough for the party to kayo him. They get to observe the disintegrator, a rather ordinary, bloodless process for killing people. Kirk takes Mea hostage before she can report to die, and Spock then takes the guard operating the disintegrator out with a nerve pinch, taking his weapon. He and Kirk destroy the disintegrator, to Mea’s horror. Anan sends security after them, and also sets the long-disused planetary disruptors on the Enterprise.
DePaul picks up the disruptors, but Scotty had shields up. Scotty contemplates ways to fire back, but Fox is firmly against that and orders Scotty to take no offensive measures and tells Uhura to keep a channel open to Eminiar for him.
Spock, Galloway, and Osborne manage to get two security outfits, two more weapons, and an Eminian communicator. They, along with Mea, go back to their cell—the last place they’ll look—to plan a strategy.
Anan is concerned at their falling behind on casualty quotas and their inability to destroy the Enterprise. They respond to Fox’s hail, providing him with a rectal infusion of smoke, saying the attack was a mistake and the landing party is totally safe! Really! They invite Fox down, with the notion that they’ll attack as soon as they lower the shields to beam him down. However, Scotty refuses to lower the shields, as he doesn’t trust the Eminians as far as he can throw them. Violating Fox’s orders is a criminal offense, but Scotty doesn’t care, he’s not risking the ship.
Kirk approaches Anan at gunpoint. Anan is unintimidated, as he’s fighting for his planet. So Kirk reminds Anan that the Enterprise can respond with real weapons. Anan tries to trick Kirk into an ambush, but Kirk doesn’t fall for it—however, he does wind up being subdued by the two guards and taken prisoner.
Somehow, Fox and his aide beam down despite Scotty’s efforts (not clear as to how), and are immediately taken prisoner by Anan as casualties. Fox is, to say the least, gobsmacked.
Spock manages to jimmy the Eminian communicator to talk to Scotty. Once the engineer reports, Spock, Galloway, and Osborne (the latter two disguised as Eminians) go to a disintegration chamber just in time to rescue Fox and his aide and destroy the chamber.
Kirk has been brought to the council chambers where Anan begs him to have his crew report for disintegration, otherwise it will bring a true war to Eminiar and Vendikar, one that will destroy their civilizations. To Anan, that’s worth the lives of 400 people. (He actually says 500, but whatever.) Anan calls the Enterprise, but Kirk manages to give Scotty General Order 24 before Anan can speak. Anan then informs Scotty that the landing party will be killed in half an hour if they don’t report to the surface for disintegration.
General Order 24 is to destroy an entire planet. And to add insult to injury, Scotty has—on Spock’s earlier order—moved the ship out of range of the planetary disruptors. Vendikar also is unhappy that Eminiar isn’t meeting their quota, which is a violation of the treaty.
Anan starts beating his chest over the awfulness of the situation, and Kirk takes advantage of the distraction to subdue the guards and grab a disruptor. Spock then enters with Galloway, Osborne, and Fox (Fox’s aide was killed in a crossfire).
Kirk points out to Anan that they have made war so neat and painless that there is no reason to actually stop it. It’s the horror of war that makes it a thing to be avoided, and they’ve eliminated that, so the war has gone on and on and on for 500 years.
Spock dopes out how it works, including the fact that the computers are linked with their Vendikan counterparts. Once that link is broken, it will abrogate the treaty.
So Kirk blows it up. He’s given them back the horrors of war, and maybe now that they have reason to stop it. Yes, they’re killers by instinct, but what makes them human is that they can say, “I won’t kill today.” Kirk also believes that the Vendikans will be just as appalled as Anan is. Fox offers his services as a mediator, and Anan goes to activate the direct link to the Vendikan high council that hasn’t been used in ages.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Scotty claims that they can’t fire phasers with full screens up, a limitation that only exists in this episode.
Fascinating. Spock can influence someone telepathically without physical contact, a possibility that only exists in this episode.
I’m a doctor not an escalator. McCoy is hugely unhelpful, as he bitches to Scotty that he should do something, and when Scotty asks for suggestions, McCoy says he’s not a command officer, that’s Scotty‘s job. He’s so helpful!
Ahead warp one, aye. No Sulu in this one, with DePaul having moved over from navigation to helm.
I cannot change the laws of physics! Scotty is put in charge and comports himself well, not falling for Anan’s impersonation of Kirk, and standing up to Fox.
Hailing frequencies open. Not much for Uhura to do, though it’s all important, from the code 710 to putting Anan and Fox in touch.
Go put on a red shirt. In Tamura we seem to have our first (only?) female member of security—Kirk says he’s beaming down with a security team, and she certainly acts like she’s part of security (though the miniskirt is far from practical…), including guarding Mea. And all three of them do quite well, including Galloway and Osborne pretending to be leading Spock to the disintegration chamber.
Oh, and Fox’s aide, who is never named nor gets dialogue, is killed by Eminians. Fox takes about half a second to look slightly put out that he’s dead and then promptly forgets all about him.
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Holy crap, that outfit Barbara Babcock is wearing is hot…
Channel open. “I had assumed you needed help. I see I’m in error.”
Spock bursting into council chambers to rescue Kirk only to find him having rescued himself all by his lonesome.
Welcome aboard. David Opatoshu plays Anan, Robert Sampson plays Sar, Gene Lyons plays Fox, and the great Barbara Babcock plays Mea (Babcock previously did the voice of Trelane’s Mom in “The Squire of Gothos“).
The Enterprise crew we see includes the second of two appearances by Sean Kenney as DePaul (after “Arena“), the latest iteration of David L. Ross (actually referred to as Galloway for the first time in this episode), Miko Mayama as Tamura, and the usual suspects in DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, and Nichelle Nichols.
Trivial matters: The term “Federation” was first used in “Arena“—this is the first time the nation’s full name of “the United Federation of Planets” is used.
One of the ships the Enterprise-B rescues from the ribbon in Star Trek Generations is called the S.S. Robert Fox.
Fox will go on to make many appearances in the tie-in fiction, among them the Starfleet Corps of Engineers eBook Where Time Stands Still by Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore, the FASA role-playing game module Denial of Destiny, Diane Duane’s “Rihannsu” novels, the novel The Rift by Peter David, and the sixth issue of DC’s first Star Trek monthly comic by Mike W. Barr, Tom Sutton, & Ricardo Villagran. In addition, descendants of his appear in the 24th-century novels Vulcan’s Soul: Exodus by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz and David’s Before Dishonor.
Several works of tie-in fiction have indicated that the peace Kirk forced on the planets did not last, including Dwellers in the Crucible by Margaret Wander Bonanno and the “Trial of James T. Kirk” storyline in DC’s second Star Trek monthly comic by David, James Fry, Gordon Purcell, & Arne Starr.
General Order 24 will be referenced again in “Whom Gods Destroy.”
In your humble rewatcher’s novel A Time for War, a Time for Peace, Scotty discusses the events of this episode with La Forge when the latter is considering Riker’s offer to be his first officer on Titan. Scotty considers it one of the most terrifying experiences of his career.
To boldly go. “The best diplomat I know is a fully charged phaser bank.” On the one hand, I love this episode for the nifty science fictional conceit it uses as its base, and the really important lesson behind it. Anan and Mea’s defense of the clean, bloodless method of pursuing warfare seems very reasonable on the face of it, but Kirk is also absolutely right in that it eliminates the reasons for suing for peace.
The Prime Directive, which was mentioned in passing in “The Return of the Archons,” isn’t even given a token mention here, but the point at issue here is that Kirk is defending his ship and crew. His crew has been targeted for murder, and he’s duty bound to stop it. (Of course, he’s also duty bound to avoid a planet with a code 710, but he’s ordered by Fox to go in anyhow. Yup, that’s right, “maverick” Jim Kirk who goes his own way and breaks all the rules to suit his needs kowtows immediately to Fox’s greater authority because, as I’ve said before, the notion that he’s a rule-breaking maverick is a myth created by the movies and doesn’t actually apply to the Jim Kirk of the TV series even a little bit. Scotty’s the one who disobeys orders here.)
On the other hand, this episode makes me crazy, because the script is a mess. Fox and Scotty get into a huge argument over whether or not the latter will lower shields so the former can beam down, with Scotty standing his ground—which is a good thing, because Anan has ordered one of his people to fire on the Enterprise as soon as they lower shields to beam Fox down.
And then a couple of scenes later, Fox and his aide beam down. Buh? He didn’t do it in secret, because Scotty reports to Spock that Fox beamed down. But how did he do that if Scotty didn’t lower the shields? And if Scotty did lower the shields—or if Fox intimidated some junior engineer to lower the shields for him—why didn’t the Eminians then fire on the Enterprise when they had their metaphorical pants down? Also, how did Spock make his telepathy work through the wall, and why didn’t he ever do that again? And why do the Eminians use the same code numbering as the Federation?
This is a good message episode, with a good science fictional concept, and some heavy philosophical stuff. It would’ve been better if bits of the script held together better, and also if Fox was less of a monotone asshat. Unlike Ferris in “The Galileo Seven,” Fox is completely unlikable and is a little too hidebound and snotty. Ferris, at least, had the strength of his convictions, and was also crawling up Kirk’s ass because he was in charge of medicine for sick people which he (rightly) thought was more important than poking around quasars. But Fox is just a tool, and was unfortunately the template for this most unimaginative of Trek clichés, the hidebound bureaucrat.
But with all that—I love the episode’s message. Of all the Kirk Grand Speeches, the one he gives Anan is one of his best, partly because it’s not as histrionic as some of his other, more parodied speeches are, and partly because it’s quite brilliant. “I won’t kill today” is pretty much what separates intelligent life from animal life, and it’s nicely used here.
Warp factor rating: 6
Next week: “Space Seed”
Keith R.A. DeCandido‘s latest work is the short story “Back in El Paso My Life Will be Worthless” in The X-Files: Trust No One, a new anthology of stories based on the hit TV show of the 1990s edited by Jonathan Maberry. The book is available in stores, as well as online from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.