Thursday, June 18, 2009

Star Trek-"A Private Little War"

After a brief turn as generic bad guys in “The Trouble with Tribbles,” the Klingons return to their natural role as stand ins for the Soviet Union in answer to the federation’s United States. “A Private Little War” is obviously meant to be an allegory for the Vietnam War. In that regard, it does a much better job than the upcoming and truly awful “The Omega Glory.” not only is this episode the superior Vietnam War allegory, but it serves as the best Klingon episode of TOS.

The Enterprise is conducting scientific research on Neural, a Stone age level planet protected by the Prime Directive. Or at least protected in theory. As has happened many times in the series, the idea that any contact at all affects the development of a primitive society is completely overlooked until TNG. The inherent hypocrisy has been evident in past episodes, but it is more prominent here since it is about the only time kirk actually hesitates before changing the status quo. If the ethical issues of destroying a society is going to be explored, it ought to be explored in its entirety. Regardless, kirk has had previous contact with the people of Neural. On this second visit, he discovers the klingons have been giving far advanced weaponry to one side of a conflict.

Kirk opts to make contact with his old friend Tyree against orders to engage the inhabitants even though, like I wrote above, contact was already made thirteen years prior. Tyree is a pacifist who believes his enemies will eventually revert back to peace. His wife, Nora, is a realist who wants kirk to arm her people so they can defeat their enemies. For the first time, kirk is reluctant to introduce such a big change, but he eventually acquiesces.

In a unique twist, it is McCoy rather than spock who argues against supplying the weapons. Usually, it is the ‘inferior” alien daring to question the human logic of Kirk with the humanist argument always coming out on top, silly logical alien. McCoy compares what kirk is doing to the British bush wars of the early 20th century. (Everyone is a history expert in Trek.) it should not surprise you that Kirk’s argument that the balance of power must be maintained wins out. So Kirk can out argue computers, aliens, and other humans. He has won the Triple Crown!

Nora is killed in a subsequent firefight. The grieving Tyree, angry over his wife’s death, no longer cares about peace and requests Kirk supply him with more weapons. Kirk does, though for once, he bitterly acknowledges he is not necessarily changing things for the better. It is a cynical, but refreshing end considering all other times Lirk has destroyed a society, the implication was it was better off for him having done so.

In between these goings on, there is a side story placing several crew members in danger. Spock is severely wounded by a flintlock, Kirk is bitten by a Mugato, and McCoy gets nicked in the firefight that kills Nora. This was part of Gene Roddenberry’s edict that main characters always had to be in some sort of danger. In this case, the situations were more of a distraction than usual. Thestory would have been better served if it had dealt solely with the moral implications of arming the people of Neural. Regardless, “A Private Little War” is still a top notch episode. It is befuddling how kirk got away with his actions, however.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

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