Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Castiglione Discusses Star Trek: A Taste of Armageddon

The unknown US army officer who reportedly said of the bombing and shelling of Ben Tre that “we had to destroy the village in order to save it” must have been a fan of A Taste of Armageddon. Because that is precisely what Kirk and Spock do during the course of the episode. They run around killing people to prevent them from killing each other (or more accurately, killing themselves). Even Robert Fox, the rather arrogant Federation ambassador who is sent to Eminiar VII to open up diplomatic channels, picks up a disruptor and participates in the bloodletting, pausing to remark: “I've never been a soldier...but I learn very quickly.”

Despite the amount of disruptor fire exchanged in this episode, I don't think any redshirts died. However, judging from the crazy disguises they had to wear, I have a feeling that some of them were wishing for death.

A Taste of Armageddon is a twist on what would become a common theme in Star Trek: The Original Series which is what can go wrong when you let computers run society. In this case, it's what can go wrong when you let computers run your wars, or more specifically, what can go wrong when you literally fight your wars using computers, or computer simulations.

The background of A Taste of Armageddon goes like this: Eminiar VII and Vendikar have been at war for almost 500 years. In order to spare their civilizations from disintegrating in the face of so many centuries of warfare, the two planets have agreed to wage their wars using computer simulations in which citizens who have been declared casualties must report to disintegration stations within twenty-four hours. The result is supposedly war without all the nasty byproducts of war such as disease and the gradual breakdown of the infrastructure necessary for society to run smoothly.

You might ask why the people of Eminiar VII and Vendikar, if they are so horrified by what war has to offer, don't just come to the bargaining table and work out some sort of truce. Well, apparently, they've cynically accepted the fact that they are, to quote:

“A killer first, a builder second. A hunter, a warrior. And let's be honest, a murderer.”

Frankly, this episode raises a lot of questions, the foremost being, if a civilization were to cynically accept that their heritage is that of a predator, why wage war in a way that denies an outlet for those very predatory instincts which serve as a justification to continue waging war? You'd think that instead of waging an antiseptic war via computer simulation, they'd choose to go at it with rocks and sticks.

And the whole premise of waging a war using computers to preserve one's civilization doesn't make sense, either. Wouldn't the constant erosion of the population, not to mention living with the specter of certain death, result in a civilization with a rather large proportion of its population suffering from PTSD? And even if waging war by computer simulation spared the infrastructure from physical damage, wouldn't the deaths of scientists and engineers eventually take its toll on this infrastructure? Wouldn't the deaths of intellectuals, philosophers and artists result in a gradual decline of the warring cultures?

However, the question foremost on my mind is not among those mentioned above but relates to General Order 24, the order to destroy all life on a planet, that Kirk gives to Scotty while being held hostage on Eminiar VII.

Ummm...just why would an organization like Starfleet whose primary responsibility in the original series seems to have been the peaceful search for new life and new civilizations have such a wacky, genocidal standing order?

Perhaps it's best not to dwell too deeply on this question. Heaven knows that other, less potentially disturbing questions, abound in this episode. Questions such as, just how has Starfleet and the Federation avoided a diplomatic incident when their point of first contact with new civilizations, Kirk, has a habit of gazing upon any woman he sees with the sort of barely disguised smoldering animal lust that would make a porn starlet blush. And the fact that Kirk seems to take the revelation of Eminiar VII and Vendikar waging war by computer in stride until he learns that the hottie-of-the-week, Mea 3, has been declared a casualty (and is thus obliged to report for voluntary disintegration) leaves one wondering just where his priorities lie.

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