Star Trek: The Original Series

"A Taste of Armageddon"

3 stars

Air date: 2/23/1967
Teleplay by Robert Hammer and Gene L. Coon
Story by Robert Hammer
Directed by Joseph Pevney

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

The Enterprise investigates a planet in the vicinity of another starship's disappearance, but the crew is warned of danger as they approach the planet. Detecting no actual threat, Kirk and Spock beam down, where they are told that the Enterprise crew has been labeled a casualty of a recent attack—a simulated attack in a simulated war with a neighboring planet. Now Kirk and his crew—like generations of people before in this war—are expected to willingly walk into "disintegration chambers" where their deaths can be tallied.

This episode is a good example of an anti-war message the way only TOS could tell it. It drops the subject under a spotlight of absurdity, and has Kirk take a defiant attitude in an effort to change these people's backward ways. Ultimately, he changes their minds by giving them no choice: Either they give up the simulated war and declare peace, or they fight war with real weapons and real destruction, destroying the society they've tried to preserve. It's strangely amusing how Kirk's bold-and-brash in-your-face attitude can make a story work.

Previous episode: Space Seed
Next episode: This Side of Paradise

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27 comments on this review

Strider
Tue, Jul 24, 2012, 1:52am (UTC -6)
I love that in this episode, Kirk's primary motivation seems to be irritation. He's got this "Oh-no-you-did-not-just-tell-me-to-order-my-crew-into-a-death-chamber" thing going on, and he's going to make those councilmen sorry they ever messed with him. He might have let them alone if they hadn't tried to pull that.

It was freaking awesome.

Also awesome were Scotty flagrantly defying orders, McCoy getting all in Fox's face, and Spock deciding they'd messed around enough and it was time to put an end to the insanity. "I'm going to get the ambassador and the captain." And then ordering the yeoman to knock down and sit on what's-her-head if she had to.

I also liked Spock walking in just after Kirk had turned the tables on a whole room of captors, including armed guards, saying, "I'd assumed you needed help. I see I was in error."

Although I always love Spock, this was Kirk's show. "I didn't start it, councilman, but I'm liable to finish it." SO classic.
NCC-1701-Z
Tue, Jul 24, 2012, 4:03pm (UTC -6)
@Strider: I am in full agreement with you on this episode. Bill Shatner really made this episode awesome with his overacting.

Favorite line: "The best diplomat I know is a fully activated phaser bank!" I love Scotty.
NCC-1701-Z
Tue, Jul 24, 2012, 4:05pm (UTC -6)
Oops...meant to put "scenery-chewing" instead of "overacting".
Paul
Tue, Sep 3, 2013, 11:10am (UTC -6)
The only problem here is that this is such a blatant violation of the Prime Directive. Granted, the aliens here have warp drive. But if Picard couldn't intervene in the middle of a Klingon civil war, what gives him the right here to completely turn a society on its head?

Don't get me wrong: I know this happened a lot in TOS. I just don't like that episodes like this happen while at other times, the Prime Directive is considered so sacred.
Moonie
Wed, Oct 2, 2013, 1:42pm (UTC -6)
I liked this a lot. A simulated computer war - great idea. As so often, the story is just the background setting for the characters to shine - Kirk, Spock and Scotty had a few great moments. I loved seeing Scotty in the spotlight, on the bridge. Fantastic episode.

I haven't watched enough Star Trek yet to be totally clear on whether or not this is a violation of the Prime Directive.
Jack
Wed, Jan 1, 2014, 3:21pm (UTC -6)
Eighteen to the twelfth power doesn't sound like a very useful way to express a big number...
dgalvan
Thu, Mar 20, 2014, 1:24pm (UTC -6)
-This plot concept seemed completely original to me! Surprising, but I'd never seen a sci-fi plot where a war was fought with simulations, and the "casualties" obediently killed themselves, all in an effort to preserve the infrastructure. It was pleasant to find such an original plot in a 50-year old TV episode. But then, I'm now curious why this concept hasn't been re-visitited in any modern sci-fi show I can think of. Am I missing an example?

-Kirk's point at the end when chatting with McCoy and Spock is key: with real weapons, people would still die, but now the ability to make war would eventually be hindered as well.

-Shatner gets lampooned a lot, but watching most of these TOS episodes for the first time, I gotta say: He is REALLY good!

You can call it overacting, but most of the time I don't think it's not really overdone. And it is entertaining in the way it is supposed to be: presenting the idea that Kirk is indeed a maverick. It's not subtle, but not everything has to be subtle to be good.

-This is yet another episode where the "aliens" look exactly like humans. Logistically understandable given the special effects / makeup limitations of the time. But still, a tad annoying.
Corey
Sat, Mar 22, 2014, 8:18pm (UTC -6)
Overacting? Shatner's not even acting. The guy perpetually radiates pure awesome.

As for this episode: personally, I think it's a classic, and represents the best of Original Trek. I love how the abstract tone of Original Trek lends itself well to episodes set on alien planets. DS9, TNG and Voyager struggled to create "realistic" alien cultures, whilst Original Trek simply goes for abstract, metaphor and surrealism.
Brandon
Wed, Jun 18, 2014, 6:19pm (UTC -6)
Did anyone notice that this is one of the few episodes where the red shirts actually survived?
John TY
Fri, Aug 22, 2014, 12:16pm (UTC -6)
Enjoyable - Kirk as quasi-villain is always fun to watch.

And some nice insight on the way casualties of war can become numbers and thereby facilitate the indifference of the general public. Topical stuff given the Vietnam War, and obviously still relevant today.

But in order to achieve a dramatic conclusion the show falls into a few TOS clich├ęs. Most annoying is Kirk and co deciding they're going to dictate what's best for these people even though they've only just met them and know close to nothing about their war. Whether it technically breaks the prime directive or not, this kind of message is simplistic at best; encouraging very black and white thinking. It brings to mind many people's attitudes to ongoing (yet distant) conflicts around the world today - Israel/Palestine for example.

Anyway yes, at least no red shirts died in the filming of this episode.
John TY
Fri, Aug 22, 2014, 12:58pm (UTC -6)
Actually I recall that Robert S McNamara made the comment that the US administrations he served had a very misguided/limited view of the nature and causes of the conflict in Vietnam. And we all know how that turned out.
Beth
Thu, Dec 4, 2014, 2:22am (UTC -6)
I love this episode - had never seen it before now. Kirk is awesome, Scotty is awesome, Spock is awesome, even the Yeoman and the other redshirts have a useful role to play in this episode instead of getting killed off, and I loved that Ambassador Roger Idiot McStupid Fox (what is it with Ambassadors and Commodores being such assholes??) finally learned his error and his lesson and got a chance to do his job for real, instead of being disintegrated.

Although, what happened to the Ambassador's attache? He seems to just die while propped up on his legs. WTF?

As for this whole thing being a violation of the Prime Directive... come on, pretty much every TOS episode was in violation of the Prime Directive somehow. Kirk was a man of decisiveness and bold action, and was not one to ponder about the long-term consequences of those actions. Also, I think the people of Eminiar VII lost their right to non-interference under the Prime Directive when they claimed the Enterprise as a "casualty of war". Like someone above said, Kirk might have let them be with their computerized war, but there's NO WAY he's going to let anyone destroy his ship or disintegrate his crew!

And I agree that Shatner as Kirk is excellent, especially in episodes like these. He doesn't need to be subtle and act with grace - his emotive and brash demeanour IS what Kirk is like; it embodies the passionate boldness and sometimes stern coldness of his character.

Shatner CAN act just fine, when properly directed. His Kirk in "The Motion Picture" was a flat rehashing of '60s Kirk, with no innovations in character. That Kirk was also far too cold and petty in that film, the way he subterfuged Decker's command out of transparent jealousy and a craving for control. But Shatner's Kirk in "The Wrath of Khan" became a bit more subtle and depressed, reflecting an aging Kirk who hates getting old and hates that he's a shipless Admiral, and really hates that there isn't a damn thing he can do about it. And don't tell me that Shatner's acting didn't elicit any tears or any pathos at all when, while stifling tears, he described Spock as "the most...human" person he'd ever known. Even his defeated and deflated, "No..." when Spock dies feels jarring, as the shock of losing someone you love naturally would feel. [A far cry from the pointless "death scene" for Kirk, and hilariously inserted "KHAAAN!" line by Spock, in ST: ID]. I think Nicholas Meyer and Harve Bennett deserve some credit for getting Shatner to hit the notes just right. Anyway... enough TWOK luuurve.

So yep, a solid 3/4 episode. Classic stuff.
Nick Hughes
Thu, Jan 15, 2015, 4:13pm (UTC -6)
Kirk does not violate the Prime Directive in this story. There. I've said it.

As the Enterprise enters the system, it's told by Eminiar VII to go away because it's dangerous to go there. Kirk initially wants to comply and leave. Ambassador Fox orders him, very firmly, to proceed to the planet. So the responsibility of what happens next is firmly on Fox, not Kirk.

Next, Kirk is informed that the Enterprise has been declared a casualty and that the crew has to beam down to get disintegrated. That's an act of war. Eminiar VII and Vendikar aren't societies ignorant of space faring races, they are aware of The Federation and have previously destroyed other Federation vessels. Kirk acts to defend himself and his crew, from the threat of an aggressor. The Prime Directive is for the protection of cultures but not those who choose to attack the Federation. However he, like any competent commander, isn't using the weapons and tactics that his opponents want him to. He takes the initiative and protects his crew; his first duty.

Let's not make Kirk the Prime Directive violating maverick villain of the piece here: Anan VII shows himself to be quite devious, manipulative and insensitive to the anguish of others. It's only when he feels his life is threatened that he starts to lose his self control.
Shannon
Sat, Mar 28, 2015, 1:09pm (UTC -6)
More so than any other TOS episode, this is the one were Kirk has been accused by many fans of flagrantly breaking the Prime Directive. I have to disagree with that. The Prime Directive is NOT an absolute, despite what Worf said once in Pen Pals. Kirk was forced into this situation by an ambitious ambassador looking to put another feather in his cap, so I don't think the Prime Directive would require him to allow his crew to be killed. As for the Eminians, they are a warp-capable species, along with the Vendicans, that have been killing each other for centuries. Kirk didn't really "interfere" with their culture, he gave them back what war really is, which forced their leaders into considering peace. Is it a "gray area" of the Prime Directive, definitely, but a one-off case that resulted in something good... Liked this episode a lot, would give it 3.5 stars.
Vance
Sun, Jan 10, 2016, 12:09pm (UTC -6)
Thinking about today in relation to this 1967 episode, I take away a slightly different lesson from "A Taste of Armageddon."

When this episode was produced, the Vietnam War was indeed a topic of great debate. Significantly, the universal U.S. military draft was still years away. (The draft ended in 1973.) Also, MAD (mutual assured distruction) was cited as a chief reason for the nuclear arms race during the Cold War with the Soviet Union. . . If both sides have the power to kill the other completely, then neither side will risk direct military confrontations that could lead to a full-scale war.

In this current era of a seemingly never-ending war in Iraq and Afghanistan and with ISIL and al-Qaeda, we've created our own version of the Vendicar/Eminiar societies. There's no more draft now and no real debate among politicians about war policy. When was the last time you heard ANY political candidate speak with urgency about our wars? When was the last time you heard a continuous, thoughtful no-soundbite debate in Congress? If there is any, it gets the briefest media attention.

Less than one percent of the American people now serve in the military. During the Vietnam conflict, nearly ten percent of that generation served in the U.S. military. Greater than twelve percent of the entire population served during World War II. But today, when most of us are completely removed from the realities of war, our culture continues its way of life, seemingly unaffected by the longest wars in American history. American life and our individual lives continue as if there has been no war in the 21st century-- or even worse, as if our wars have no real cost or consequences. For many of us, that's close to true, I think.

At least the inhabitants of Eminiar & Vendicar took war seriously enough that they were willing to disrupt lives and die as the result of a conflict that was mostly removed from their everyday lives. Then again, I wonder: how many people had to be forced into those extermination chambers? How much public unrest or debate was there? Or was it all just fine for each citizen, so long as HIS or HER life was likely not to be inconvenienced?

That's where it seems we are today: war is fine, so long as it doesn't disrupt you in any ways significant or tiny.

(PS-- I'm not advocating for anything here, and I don't have answers. I'm just thinking aloud and wondering if others have made similar connections and come to similar or different conclusions. I appreciate this forum and hope that I have offended no one. Thank you.)
grumpy_otter
Mon, Apr 25, 2016, 3:04pm (UTC -6)
Vance, if I could attach a video clip, it would be of me giving a standing ovation to your comment. Indeed, we are so removed from war that we might as well be like the idiots presented in this episode. It is a shameful aspect of our culture that these "removed wars" have become commonplace to us. I teach history, and find my college-age students so oblivious to our wars, and so accepting of them, that I sometimes want to slap them.

Additionally, in relation to the episode, my mother always taught me that I must "respect others' beliefs." I accepted it as a child, but around about age 16 I turned to her and responded, "Not if they're stupid." And that's how I feel about this episode and the prime directive. If a culture embraces stupid beliefs, then I will NOT respect nor cooperate with those beliefs,

As to who is the arbiter of whether or not a beliefs is stupid--there are certain standards of behavior that harm no one. If your beliefs violate that, then they are stupid. At the moment, I am speaking specifically of idiots who cannot comprehend the reality of transgender individuals, and think transgender women only do it to "get at" young girls in the restroom. Those are stupid and ignorant beliefs and I will not respect them. And I will fight them as I am able.

Robert
Mon, Apr 25, 2016, 3:27pm (UTC -6)
@grumpy_otter - I thought the argument was that if we allow trans women into the girls bathroom then other people with a penis with follow suit. I didn't think we were actually afraid of the trans people, but I'm not sure. As though the only thing stopping them from entering the bathroom to do God knows what to (for some reason) unsupervised little girls is that other penis possessing people aren't supposed to go in there. But if we facilitate the allowance of this by not passing new laws... God knows what will happen. At least this is what I think Ted Cruz was saying. My day is always confusing when I wake up and find Donald Trump making sense.
Ivanov
Mon, Jun 13, 2016, 10:02pm (UTC -6)
This might just be my favorite episode of the original series I liked the idea of a civilization that decided to wage war virtually just to spare both planets infrastructure.

I do wonder though what happened to the lost federation ship? they made it clear that the crew was captured and vaporized but they don't say what they did with the ship afterwords.
Polly
Mon, Oct 10, 2016, 3:07am (UTC -6)
The presence of the yeoman who appeared to be of Japanese descent during the discussion of the 'messiness' of war being ultimately a deterrent suggested to me that the writers were thinking more of Hiroshima than Vietnam. There was also much discussion through the 1960s of the neutron bomb, which among other 'advantages' was going to be able to kill large numbers of people while doing relatively small damage to buildings and infrastructure.
Skeptical
Sat, Oct 15, 2016, 1:33pm (UTC -6)
This was a fun one. Some random comments:

- Star Trek is at its best when it can weave good sci fi elements into a strong story. This is one example of that. Computer simulations were definitely a "futuristic" scenario at that time, and the idea that one could simulate war on a computer works out as an interesting concept to explore. That these people could have developed this artificial war works, to put it simply. And watching Kirk and Spock try to figure out a way to solve this problem, both of protecting the Enterprise and saving WhatsHerName (the immediate problem) and breaking this culture out of its routine (long term problem), was a joy. The obstinate ambassador who learned his mistake and Scotty's resoluteness in the face of legal trouble completed the fun. It's a strong story, what is there to complain about?

- As part of the high concept, exploring what a culture must be like in order to accept this simulated war is vitally necessary. And the episode does that, particularly by focusing on WhatsHerName (yeah, sorry, don't feel like looking it up). You see the blankness in their faces when Kirk and company resist the disintegration chamber; she simply can't understand why someone wouldn't willingly commit suicide just because a computer tells them to. She has completely accepted this way of life. The thought of saving her life frightened her! In contrast, the leadership seems to understand that others would see this approach as insane, thus resorting to trickery to try to kill the Enterprise crew. Given that, perhaps they see the approach as immoral, but still demand it as being better than the alternative. For the most part, these people are completely subservient to the state. And yet, there's inklings that the state isn't subservient to their ideal. So how hard was it to convert the people to this idea? How bad was the previous war that this was seen as a better alternative? How controlling of information is the government that the new generations (the people who did not grow up with the previous war) did not see a negative side of this approach?

- Meanwhile, even though Trek is famous for message shows, it's a bit odd that this seems to endorse the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction. By threatening complete annihilation, and by bringing back the old fashioned sort of war, the episode seems to endorse the idea that violence, or at least the threat of violence, can solve problems. By threatening the destruction of the entire planet, Kirk saved himself and the Enterprise crew. And by destroying the computer, he potentially created true peace on the planet. That doesn't sound like the so-called "enlightened" pacifist approach that this series seems to take. However, since this approach didn't require shoe-horning in some stupid god-like being into the story, I don't really mind. Kirk was faced with a messy situation, and had to come up with a messy result.

- Speaking of which, I'm glad they left the ending a bit vague. We don't know if these people, or their enemy for that matter, will be willing to try for peace, or would instead go back to an actual war (although, if everything is simulated, wouldn't that mean they have no weapons at this point?). We don't even know if there still are legitimate grievances among the two people. But the inertia of the simulated war was broken, so everything is up in the air. There's a feeling of trepidation in the air as the Enterprise leaves, but also a feeling of hope. Likewise, I'm glad they showed the ambassador willing to stay behind and help broker a peace treaty. He was definitely portrayed negatively throughout the episode, so showing him a bit more well-rounded in the end was for the best. This isn't just a minor deal; there is a very real chance that he will end up trapped on a war-torn planet and die a gruesome death. Yet he accepts that risk to try to help. It shows that he isn't entirely the caricature that he seemed to be in the beginning, emphasizing the first three letters in his title and showing his astounding naivety. But he really is bound to his duty, and honorable in his own way even if he was also stupid...
zzybaloobah
Tue, Nov 29, 2016, 1:12am (UTC -6)
Yep, love the episode.

Kirk: "I didn't start this war, but I'm liable to finish it."

And no, he didn't violate the Prime Directive - for all the reasons elaborated on above. I also find it amusing that TNG is accepted as *the* canon for all things Trek -- as in "Picard said this, Kirk must be wrong." Maybe Picard got it wrong? Or maybe things just changed in the "generation" between TOS and TNG.

Great satire on making war too sterile and antiseptic -- probably more timely today than it was then.

Finally, something I like to point out (usually commenting on a DS9 episode) is General Order 24: "Blow up the whole planet." That's some *serious* badassery.
Rahul
Thu, Feb 9, 2017, 3:34pm (UTC -6)
This is an excellent episode - great idea, acting, and I can't think of any overtly stupid actions. Spock has some great lines and the deviousness of Anan7 to achieve his objectives made it very interesting.
As for a moral or lesson from the episode - I think it's simply pointing out that war is bad and making it sterile only serves to keep it going. With real war, both parties should eventually try to find peace as the devastation is too great. Kirk sets this up in his own way -- he has been threatened / the ship has been threatened and he has little choice.
I guess the cliche (albeit small) is Ambassador Fox at the start - do all these high-ranking officers always have to feel the need to enforce their authority? In any case, Scotty was terrific in defying him.
No guilt in giving this episode 4/4 stars - one of the best of all TOS episodes.
IAC.
Sun, Feb 19, 2017, 8:14pm (UTC -6)
One of the reasons I love this episode, is that subordinate crewmen/actors are given dialogue, etc.
Such as when Spock leaves the female yeoman with a weapon ( a 1st ? ) and instructs her to kick the other girl,s ass if need be !
IAC.
Sun, Feb 19, 2017, 8:14pm (UTC -6)
One of the reasons I love this episode, is that subordinate crewmen/actors are given dialogue, etc.
Such as when Spock leaves the female yeoman with a weapon ( a 1st ? ) and instructs her to kick the other girl,s ass if need be !
Richard
Thu, May 25, 2017, 10:59pm (UTC -6)
An enjoyable episode, but one aspect strikes me as implausible.

I find it hard to believe that people would voluntary walk into a disintegration chamber. Granted, we are dealing with an alien race (even though they look just like Earthlings), and we don't know the psychology of this race. However, I would imagine that self-preservation is a pretty strong instinct throughout the galaxy.
JJ not Abrams 8-)
Sat, Sep 2, 2017, 2:35am (UTC -6)
Re comments of zzybaloobah ... completely agreed on prime directive and TOS vs TNG... as Captain Janeway explained in Voyager, "they were a little quicker to fire phasers ..."

General order 24 is definitely bad ass -- btw does anyone know what general orders 1 - 23 are ?
Trek fan
Wed, Oct 4, 2017, 9:31pm (UTC -6)
This Vietnam-era Star Trek episode is a riveting outcry of the human spirit against all attempts to make war "clean" and "clinical" and "safe," especially relevant today in our age of smart bombs and drones which massacre people without troubling us to see and feel the bloody results of our politics (the one incentive to stop killing) up front. One may also recall efforts to make capital punishment and euthanasia "humane" by removing the pain. Anyway, I give this one 3 1/2 or 4 stars because it's so uncompromisingly brilliant in its observation that making war easier only perpetuates rather than ends it. The computer-run war here is a nifty concept and the voluntary immolations are not impossible to imagine as an eventual possible development of "clean warfare" in our own times.

Kirk does not violate the Prime Directive in this episode. As clarified on TNG, the Prime Directive applies to pre-warp civilizations which are not ready for first contact. At the start of "A Taste of Armageddon," the Federation ambassador is coming to establish diplomatic relations and negotiate the entry of the planet into the Federation, implying first contact has already been made by the earlier ship (Anan 7 makes a "just as it happened before" reference to the earlier starship crew being executed as a "war casualty," so the Federation's tech is not foreign to them) or is now being made. So the Prime Directive simply does not apply here: The Federation is clearly looking to dialogue with this slightly less advanced warp-capable people and become active in their affairs, just as Picard's crew gets involved in myriad interplanetary disputes of non-Federation peoples in TNG.

Furthermore, the Aminians in "A Taste of Armageddon" wage war on the Enterprise, declaring its crew a casualty and trying to lure them down to the planet for disintegration without their informed consent. When a bully attacks you and threatens to keep attacking you even after you defend yourself successfully, even fooling you into thinking he is peaceful until he can hit you in the face again, you are past the point of reasoning with him and of hoping you can leave his arm unbroken. There is no room for moral neutrality in the face of an unjust aggressor: The Allies not only had to fight back against the German occupiers and drive them out of France in WWII, but invade Germany and destroy the entire German war machine to keep it from continuing to murder people.

Indeed, Anan 7 and his cronies are clearly interfering with the Enterprise and attempting to impose their culture on the Federation imperialistically rather than vice versa. Since they "started this war"/attacked first, Kirk has no problem fighting back ("I'm liable to finish it!") and removing instrumentation that will continue to kill unwitting outsiders if left intact. Yes, that means forcing the Aminians to confront the ugly consequences of having made war "safe and legal" to the point that people blandly immolate themselves because a computer tells them to do so. But the Aminians have left Kirk no other choice.

There's also just a lot of fun energy in this episode: Kirk, Spock (love it when he does the neck pinch and "practices diplomacy" on a booth), Scotty (who has some great lines here), the yeoman, and even Fox are sharply drawn in their efforts to understand and finally fight back against the people who want them to voluntarily walk into a disintegration chamber because a computer said they got hit in a cosmic game of "Battleship." I would just add that Fox has good cause to change his mind as Anan's cronies are shoving him into a disintegration booth while he protests his diplomatic status after beaming down with an assurance of safe conduct -- the kind of crazy stuff Hitler pulled by making false treaties in order to break them later. Once we've lost the ability to recognize something as crazy, we're in a lot of trouble as a society, and it's not "black-and-white" to say that what Hitler did or what the Aminians are doing in this episode is just flat-out wrong. Even in Star Trek there is such a thing as universal rights, including the right of people not to be disintegrated against their will.

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