A Taste Of Armageddon is a very strange episode: it’s based on a funny basic idea, it carries a beautiful pacifist message, it’s beautifully realized, but it left me with some doubts. The Enterprise is headed to the planet Eminiar in the NGC321 star system for a diplomatic mission: it must establish relations with the indigenous population. Fifty years before, the USS Valiant had also tried, reported of a war in progress, and then mysteriously disappeared. Once Kirk and the rest of the crew arrive at destination, they’re ordered to leave the planet, but Ambassador Fox (Gene Lyons) categorically refuses and forces Kirk to teleport down and have a first contact with the local government.
A blonde (as usual) woman, Mea 3 (Barbara Babcock, who surprisingly won’t get any kiss from the captain), brings Kirk, Spock, Yeoman Tamura (Miko Mayama) and today’s red shirts Galloway and Osborne (played by David L. Ross and an unknown actor, who surprisingly won’t die: it’s certainly a surprising episode!) to the council ruling the planet led by Anan 7 (David Opatoshu). And here we understand little by little what the situation is: there’s a 500 years old war against Vendikar, a nearby planet. In order to avoid completely destroying each other, the attacks between the two planets are simulated on a computer and the theoretical victims present themselves voluntarily to disintegration stations to commit suicide and become real victims of the war. This is a way to let civilization go on, as there is no material damage, and the war can go on forever in a… civilized way. Things get complicated when the Scotty-led Enterprise enters the list of war victims!
When Kirk finds out how the war works he finds it unacceptable. In spite of the First Directive, he begins to do everything in his power to change things, including using the force himself and threatening the destruction of the planet using the offensive potential of his ship! And in the end his stubbornness prevails over the will of the natives: Kirk and Spock destroy the computer that simulates the attacks, thus forcing the Eminians and the Vendikans either to start a war and annihilate each other, or to sit at a table and start with the peace negotiations. With Fox’s help, they choose the latter option.
The idea of making the war truly threatening by making it real and thus forcing the two sides to end it is certainly smart. But what I found a little disturbing is the very clear violation of the First Directive and this imposition of the Federation’s will on the inhabitants of Eminiar and Vendikar. Are they living in an absurd way? Yes, they are. Do they have the right to do so? Yes, they do!!! Why do Kirk, Fox and and the rest presume that they can tell these people that their behavior is wrong and force them to change it? Why is Federation’s morality superior to that of these people?
When centuries-old wars were featured in The Next Generation, the intervention of Picard was always justified by the fact that the peoples at war themselves had asked for the intervention of the Federation (see for example the notable Loud As A Whisper, second season). Here, however, Kirk arrives uninvited, uses violence to impose his solution, and leaves. And what if the two peoples decided to really annihilate themselves with real weapons? Our captain would be responsible for the end of two civilizations!
It’s clear that the message is antimilitarist and that the attitude of Kirk and Spock is along the lines of: “You are a mass of idiots, let us solve the mess you have been in for 500 years. War is dumb.” There are good intentions behind this, of course, with the noble intention of ending a war with millions of victims each year. But the implicit recognition of the moral superiority of the Federation has left me a certain bitterness in my mouth, I must admit. Ciao!
PS: it’s worth noting the immense Montgomery Scott (backed by Dr. McCoy) standing his ground with the ambassador and thus avoiding the destruction of the Enterprise at the hands of the by the warmongers of Eminiar!
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