Saturday, May 23, 2009

Star Trek--"A Taste of Armageddon"

What is the value of a “clean war” in which losses are incurred by the government, but society as a whole remains relatively untouched/ it might sound like an appealing concept. The characters in the novel All Quiet on the Western Front sardonically joke theircountryies respective leaders ought to meet on the battlefield individually to fight out their disputes with out regular soldiers. But the removal of the human element of war can make battle too easy a solution for disputes, as ’A Taste of Armageddon” demonstrates.

The two planets Eminiar VII and Vendikar have been at war with one another for five hundred years. The waris fought entirely with computers. Thecomputers calculate the amount of losses in each simulated attack. The casualties willingly march into incineration chambers as part of their civic duty. The Enterprise is considered destroyed while in orbit of Eminiar VII. Real conflict ensues when Kirk refuses to allow his crew to be incinerated.

I am certain the theme of this episode resonated more when it originally aired during the height of the Cold War. You can see very clearly the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) which was a serious topic at the time. MAD was a nuclear war deterrant strategy which said any nuclear aggressor would be totally annihilated in response to any attack. What does not measure up is how MAD in the real world was out of the citizenry’s hands. If nuclear weapons starting flying, civilization ceased to happen. The citizens of Eminiar VII, however, went willing to their fate when they could have made a Logan’s Run escape, whether hopeless or not.

Their self-sacrificing is hard to comprehend. But that is the point. Becoming desensitized to war is a horrible thing. there is no way thewar would have lasted five hundred years if people actually had to run off, fight, and die in it. By removing the human face of war, it becomes no different than diplomacy in cost. Indeed, the two planets decided why bother with diplomacy at all when fighting isso easy?

There is a cautionary message their applicable even now that dirty bombs carried by a terrorist into a crowded area is a bigger concern than Russia orChina firing its arsenal in our direction. I am no peacenik. There are principles worth fighting for. Only the dead have seen the end of war. But the clical aspect of modernized war where someone can sit at acomputer and rain down death upon an enemy thousands of milesawaywithout ever looking him in the eye ought to give everyone pause. When it is that easy to remain distant from the horror of war, the criteria for what war is necessary to fight may become dangerously lenient.

In further historical context, “A Taste of Armageddon” had Vietnam War overtones. The annoucement of the numbers of projected dead was a statement on the body count totals read on the nightly news of the time. Robert Fox, the federation ambassador who defies the order to stay away from Eminiar VII because he wants a Federation port there, is probably a warped representation of the antiwar activist’s view of the pro-Vietnam War politicians. Fox’s incompetence embroiled the Enterprise in a war it should not have been in. It is only when he is captured and his death in a disentegration both is imminent that he understands the nature of the conflict. That Kirk is able to end a five hundred year old war and force the two sides into negotiation by destroying the means of fighting sounds like the “give peace a chance" mantra of the antiwar movement.

As far as canon sources are concerned, it worked. Eminair Vii is mentioned once in DS9 as a vacation spot and the transport ship ferrying the the TNG crew away from the crashed Enterprise in Star Trek: Generations is the SS Robert Fox. Several comic books and novels tell a different story. In “The Trial of Captain Kirk’ for DC Comics, peace talks broke down. A nuclearwarerupted instead which turned both planets into irradiated wastelands. Kirk’s responsibility for the war was in question. Subsequent novels in the Shatnerverse series of trek novels have also continued the idea a nuclear war devastated the planets. You should draw your own conclusions o which was the best ending depending on your own cynicism.

This is one of the better episodes of the season because it is thougt provoking. It was probably bad to air two episodes in a row in which a computer controls a society, but I think the idea was done with more intelligence here. At the very least, Kirk did not talk this computer to death with that extraordinary skill of his.

Rating: *** *(out of 5)

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