Captain's Blog pt. 67: A Taste of Armageddon

"Star Trek works best when it tackles an issue of conscience over the parameters of plot." - Walter Koenig, Warped Factors.

I agree with his overall point, but my favorite Treks are the ones that combine both in a compelling way. Add in some good character dynamics, and this brings us tidily to today's installment:

Title: (2)
This article was recently brought to my attention. This jumped out at me:

"After Trek was on the air, the producers used the network's concerns about sexuality to their advantage — they would deliberately put sexy stuff into episodes for the network to freak out about, so the censors wouldn't notice other things. For example, in the episode "A Private Little War" * the producers deliberately put in a scene of Kirk having an open-mouth kiss with a half-naked woman, so the network could throw a fit about that — and not notice the blatant Vietnam allegory."

If this is true, I can only imagine what depravity was taken out of "Armageddon," because what made it to TV screens on February 23, 1967 is basically a molotov cocktail through the window of your local draft registration center.

It's difficult to conceive of a time when it was a bridge too far to show an interracial kiss, but an episode that blatantly states that the moral, logical imperative is to resist the draft by any means necessary - up to and including violently overturning an entire way of life - was okay. Reminds me of something from Jerry Rubin's acid-drenched 60s memoir Do It! During one anti-war march, he wore a t-shirt with the North Vietnamese flag on it. He was marching with Abbie Hoffman, who wore a t-shirt with the American flag on it. Hoffman was arrested; Rubin was not.

* Speaking of "A Private Little War," it's hard to square the sentiments expressed in that episode with the perspective on display here. But as that one is still to come down the pike, I'll cover it when we get there.

Script and Story: (8.5 / 9) 

"I didn't start it, Councilman. But I'm liable to finish it. "
- Kirk's answer to Billy Joel

Some variation of "Old men send young men to fight their wars" has likely been invoked since the first group of hairless apes started stockpiling rocks to hurl at their neighbors. One interesting aspect of "Armageddon" is how it neutralizes this sentiment somewhat.

The old men might still be in charge,
but no one is marching off to war on Eminiar 7 or Vendikar. They're marching into disintegration chambers, sure, but the leaders share the risk equally with the led. When Vendikar's computers launch an attack on Eminiar 7's computers, the names of the Division of Control and the names of their loved ones stand just as much chance of being on the roll call of the damned. 

If war is inevitable, as is said several times in this episode, then this is certainly a superior model to the 20th century's. Which makes Kirk's dismantling of it so interesting. It's easy to understand where he's coming from. Given the principles the Federation stands for and the culture which has reared him, he can present the choice of Peace or Destruction to Anan 7 with a more or less straight face.

But to audiences of the 60s Kirk's insurrection must have been an interesting abstraction. Of course, as with "Archons," "The Apple" or any Nice culture... I'll smash it! episode his motivation is clear: save his ship. Who can fault him for that? Everything else (i.e. the I'm a barbarian stuff, we're killers but we don't have to kill... to-day! etc.) is of secondary concern, more for the viewer's consideration. (Ditto for the aforementioned other episodes.)

Where I'm going with this is that contrary to many of the Captain's statements, the episode is less an indictment of war itself but of the brainwashing and cultural mythmaking necessary to maintain a self-defeating war mindset over many generations.

"My people have a high sense of duty."

It's unclear whether Anan 7 alone has the gift of mimicry or if that's a characteristic of the whole race. (Eminiarians? I don't think they ever refer to themselves in the plural in the script.) Nevertheless, the point is (hopefully) clear: deliberate deception is necessary for the Division of Control. (Especially timely, this week in 2013.)

Visual Design: (2) Memorable costumes. Not the best set of the series, but I love the huge computers with the Missile Command-esque graphics.


According to David Gerrold, the computer tally of war dead was a visual nod to the Vietnam War deaths that began to be registered on nightly newscasts in 1967.

If I owned an office building, this would be the mural in the lobby.

Kirk and the Gang: (28)
The young lady back and to the right of Kirk is Yeoman Tamura, played by Miko Mayama. More on her in "Guest."
As a lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Artillery, James Doohan was threatened with court martial for real for saying "No sir, I will not," to a visiting colonel when he realized a training exercise order would entail blowing the heads off some of his own men. - Memory-Alpha.
"The haggis is in the fire for sure." - Montgomery Scott
Guest: (3.75)
STAR TREK CONFESSIONS: I spent a significant portion of my childhood thinking this guy (David Opatoshu) was a young Gene Hackman.
Barbara Babcock's (Mea 3; incidentally, I love that everyone on Eminiar 7 has numerical designations) first on-screen appearance in TOS.
Yeoman Tamura doesn't get a whole lot to do except stand around, but she gets a significant amount of screen-time throughout.
She briefly dated Burt Reynolds. (Shown here in Impasse.)
And starred in The Hawaiians, which is the better of the two adaptations (and annoyingly difficult to find) of James Michener's Hawaii.
Gene Lyons plays that popinjay Fox, and very well. I like that he gets a moment of redemption and a story arc that extends beyond the end of the episode.
Interior Logistics: (2.25) Spock's through-the-wall mind-meld was a fair enough evolution of the concept, if a bit convenient.

Memorability: (3.75)

Total Points Awarded: 59.25


  1. The whole social-consciousness aspect of the original series sometimes seems a little over-hyped to me, which is less a function of the series itself than of the relentless self-congratulation of its fans. Yes, yes; it was A Big Deal for there to be a black person on the bridge crew. WE GET IT.

    But at times, the reputation was very well deserved, and I think this episode is one of those times. It reminded people not that war is ugly and brutal and horrific, but that people should be ANGRY about war being ugly and brutal and horrific. As long as the anger remains, there's a chance of war being avoided. Let that slip, and what have you got? War without end.

    I'd probably rank this close to the top of my own list of favorite Trek episodes.

    1. I've never understood that self-congratulation element. But it's a superficial read, I think, on anyone's part who indulges in it, and superficial reads always yield imprecise analysis.

      Well-put re: anger/ war without end. This makes for a good back-to-back with "Day of the Dove" for that reason. (Although the latter comes off as a bit clumsy compared to this one, which is pretty airtight.)

      TRIVIAL PERSONAL DETAIL ALERT: but the episode I always pair it with in my head is "This Side of Paradise," since that one was right after this one on my parents' old VHS tape that I watched several hundred times between 83 and 92 or thereabouts.

    2. p.s. Just to err on the side of caution and clarity: meaning, I agree with your read on the self-congratulation side of the fan-base, such as it is, not that I disagree with your assessment.

    3. No worries; that's how I read it.

      I don't think the self-congratulation on the part of the fans is unwarranted, necessarily; I just think that a lot of the people who have co-opted it to display as a patch on their personal flags are kind of one-note and uninteresting on the subject. For example, I never hear anyone talk about how the philosophies are inconsistent and contradictory, which surely has to be taken into account. And in both the bad way (e.g., this stuff is not NEARLY as meaningful as people want to pretend) AND the good way (e.g., the series was elastic enough to do "A Taste of Armageddon" on one hand and "The Way to Eden" on the other).

      There's nothing about this sort of self-congratulatory thing that is unique to Trek fans, though. Ever listen to a room full of "Firefly" fans try to convince each other that their farts all smell like vanilla? Or, even worse, a room full of "Stargate" fans? It's a side-effect of fandom, I guess.

      And I've done it, too, so lest I sound TOO hypocritical, let me just end this rant now.

  2. This is another of those episodes I did not enjoy so much as a child, but appreciated later when I got the subtext.

    I don't know about self-congratulations, but certainly Star Trek and the Twilight Zone deserve a great deal of credit for tackling social issues that other shows simply would not touch. Yes, it was easier to camoflage that commentary within sci-fi. But this was an era before All In the Family. All In the Family completely changed the rules for television and is -- I think -- the most important show in television history.

    But to make anti-war statements in popular television was definitely going out on a limb in 1967. With an episode in the can that contained this story arc, Roddenberry and Desilu executives risked having an entire episode nixed which would have devastated a budget conscious show like Star Trek.

    It was brave deed to make this episode.