The following is the fifth installment of nine selected informative, thoughtful, and well-written essays regarding science, science fiction, technology, and literature from Science Fiction Studies .
Star Trek emerged from a specific cultural matrix: one of the most profound crises in the history of the United States. At the center of this maelstrom was the Vietnam War, which was radically reshaping the American consciousness during the months when the series was first broadcast between 1966 and 1969. In some senses the war was the subtext for the entire series, with the universe of the aptly-named starship U.S.S. Enterprise serving as both happy sequel and alternative to the actual world of viewers in the America of the 1960s. In Star Trek, the prewar faith in a triumphant future for 1950s American values is displaced from an historical Earth to the enclosed world of the Enterprise and an imagined space. Star Trek was also one of the first dramatic series to confront the Vietnam War explicitly. Four episodes in particular express a swiftly changing vision of the war, part of the metamorphosis of American society as it faced defeat in Vietnam and disintegration at home.
"Star Trek in the Vietnam Era"1
H. Bruce Franklin
Science Fiction Studies
H. Bruce Franklin
Science Fiction Studies
The original Star Trek series was conceived, produced, and broadcast during one of the most profound crises in the history of the United States, a crisis from which we have by no means recovered. Those thirty-three months when the series was first broadcast—between September 1966 and June 1969— were in fact one of the most excruciating periods in American history. In the midst of a disastrous war, virtual warfare in the nation’s own cities, ever-increasing crime, inflation and debt, campus rebellions, and profound challenges to hallowed cultural values and gender roles, Star Trek assumed a future when Earth has become an infinitely prosperous, harmonious world without war and social conflict, a future in which the aptly-named starship U.S.S. Enterprise itself embodied an ordered, self-contained society capable of making traditional American values and images triumphant in the farthest reaches of the universe.
Looming over the mind of every thinking American, the Vietnam War threatened to tear the nation asunder. Indeed, even today the very mention of Vietnam raises the emotional temperature and brings out deep divisions in American society. As a matrix for Star Trek, the war lurked in the background of the serial. The utopian 23rd-century future assumed in Star Trek—never envisioned—is presented as a sequel to the Vietnam epoch, just as the universe of the starship Enterprise is presented as an alternative to the actual world of viewers in the America of the 1960s.
Star Trek was one of the first dramatic series to confront the Vietnam War. Fearful of losing viewers or advertisers, television networks were reluctant to allow disturbing or controversial issues into shows designed for entertainment. So following its usual gambit for dealing with contemporary issues, Star Trek parabolically displaced the Vietnam War in time and space.
The serial was conceived just as the war was becoming an openly American affair. To begin to understand Star Trek in the Vietnam era, highlight and juxtapose a few dates. In early November of 1963, Ngo Dinh Diem, who had been installed by the United States in 1954 as the puppet dictator of South Vietnam, was overthrown and assassinated by a cabal of his generals, whose efforts were coordinated by U.S. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge. Although President John F. Kennedy had authorized the coup, he was shocked by the assassination of Diem, for Kennedy’s own family had been instrumental in selecting Diem to serve as the U.S. proxy. At this time there were between 16,000 and 21,000 U.S. troops in Vietnam, officially designated as "advisers." Deprived of a figurehead like Diem, the United States now had two possible courses of action: withdrawal or a full-scale U.S. war. There is no evidence that Kennedy was considering the latter course. But three weeks later, President Kennedy himself was assassinated. Within four days of his inauguration, President Lyndon Baines Johnson issued National Security Action Memorandum 273, an ambitious plan for covertly attacking North Vietnam in order to provoke retaliation and thus legitimize an overt U.S. war, all to be cloaked under what he referred to as "plausibility of denial."
Four months later, in March of 1964, Gene Roddenberry submitted the first printed outline for Star Trek, an "action-adventure science fiction" designed "to keep even the most imaginative stories within the general audience’s frame of reference."2 In August, the Johnson Administration, pretending that U.S. ships had been attacked by North Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin, ordered "retaliatory" bombing of North Vietnam and received from Congress the "Gulf of Tonkin Resolution," a blank check authorization for full-scale U.S. war in Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, Johnson was in the process of winning a landslide victory over Barry Goldwater on the basis of his promise, made over and over again, that "I shall never send American boys to Asia to do the job that Asian boys should do." In February 1965 Roddenberry delivered the intended pilot episode for Star Trek, "The Cage," which was rejected. The same month, Lyndon Johnson, a few weeks after being inaugurated as the elected President, began full-scale bombing of North Vietnam, followed swiftly by dispatch of the first openly acknowledged U.S. combat divisions to Vietnam.
By the time the first Star Trek episode was broadcast in September 1966, the United States was fully engaged in a war that was devastating Indochina and beginning to tear America apart. By the time the final Star Trek episode was aired in June 1969, the war seemed endless, hopeless, and catastrophic. Four episodes that were broadcast between the spring of 1967 and January 1969, the most crucial period in the war and for America, relate directly to the war. Taken as a sequence, these four episodes dramatize a startling and painful transformation in the war’s impact on both the series and the nation.
The first of the four was "The City on the Edge of Forever," which aired on April 6, 1967, one week before the end of Star Trek’s first season. Prior to this date, the most astonishing domestic manifestation of the war was the spectacular growth of the anti-war movement, whose size and fervor were without precedent in the history of America’s wars. In April 1965, just a few weeks after the first overt dispatch of U.S. combat troops to Vietnam, the first large anti-war demonstration took place in Washington. In the same period, an intense campaign began to educate the American people about the history of the war, a campaign featuring the teach-in movement on college campuses and the publication of an avalanche of historical books, journals, and pamphlets. Millions of Americans were beginning to learn that the government had been deceiving them about how and when the United States had intervened in Vietnam, as well as about the conduct and current state of the war. They discovered that the war had begun not as the defense of a nation called "South Vietnam" from invasion by the Communist nation of "North Vietnam," but as a war of independence by Vietnam first against France and then against a dictatorship installed in the south in 1954 by the United States in violation of the Geneva Accords. They read and heard about how the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson Administrations had gradually escalated a covert war into what could already be considered America’s longest overseas military conflict. Two days before "The City on the Edge of Forever" aired, Martin Luther King, Jr., threw himself into the burgeoning anti-war movement with his "Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam," a sermon which summarized much of this history and which he gave as a speech two weeks later to a throng of hundreds of thousands of anti-war demonstrators in Central Park.
"The City on the Edge of Forever" opens with the Enterprise being buffeted by strange ripples in time. McCoy accidentally injects himself with a potent drug, and, in a paranoid delirium, hurtles through a time portal into New York City of 1930. Evidently something he does there annihilates the future in which the Enterprise exists, so Kirk and Spock follow him though the portal to prevent his action and thus reestablish the proper course of history. While searching for McCoy, Kirk falls in love with social worker and slum angel Edith Keeler. But Spock and he discover that for their future to come into being, Edith Keeler must die very soon in a traffic accident. If she is not killed then, she will become the founder of a peace movement that will misdirect the course of history. At the crucial moment, Kirk prevents McCoy from saving Edith from an oncoming truck, thus restoring the history familiar to the audience and the crew of the Enterprise.
The subtext of this episode and its significance are highlighted by the evolution of the script and key pieces of dialogue inserted into the version that was broadcast in April 1967. The original script of May 13, 1966, written by Harlan Ellison, was a poignant tragedy of doomed love. Though using the SF concept that any change in the past, no matter how slight, might radically alter the future, Ellison’s script had no reference to Edith as a peace activist, much less to a peace movement that could misguide history. In the revised script of June 3, 1966, Spock imagines possible futures that might come if Edith were to live. He speculates that her pacifist "philosophy" might have spread, delaying America’s entry into World War II and thus changing its outcome.
In the episode as it aired in 1967, this speculation introduced into the June 3, 1966 script has been turned into a major plot element whose subtext was the growing movement against the Vietnam War. Asked in 1992 whether the makers of this episode consciously intended it to have the contemporaneous anti-Vietnam-war movement as subtext, producer Robert Justman replied, "Of course we did."3
Spock works feverishly with the available materials from this primitive period to build a rudimentary computer so that his tricorder can actually display the possible futures unreeling from this focal point in time in 1930 New York. He discovers an obituary for Edith Keeler, indicating that she has been killed in a traffic accident in 1930. But he also discovers newspapers with later dates indicating that Edith has become the "founder" of a gigantic "peace movement" that will keep the United States out of World War II long enough for Nazi Germany to develop the atomic bomb, win the war, and rule the world, thus annihilating the future in which the U.S.S. Enterprise exists. So in order for the wonderful 23rd-century of Star Trek to come into being, as Spock ruefully tells Kirk, "Jim, Edith Keeler must die." And of course it is Captain James Kirk who must take the action to insure her death.
As an embodiment of the dangerously misguided peace movement, Edith is not portrayed as deserving scorn, contempt, or ridicule. She has nothing but the most admirable and worthy motives. Indeed, she is a true visionary, who, in the midst of the miseries of the Depression, offers a prophecy of a magnificent future as inspiration to the homeless and unemployed. The future she describes, in fact, is the very one dramatized by the Star Trek series:
one day, soon, man is going to be able to harness incredible energies. maybe even the atom, energies that could ultimately hurl us to other worlds, maybe in some sort of space ship. And the men who reach out into space will be able to find ways to feed the hungry millions of the world and to cure their diseases.... And those are the days worth living for.
But this apostle of peace, technological progress, prosperity, and space exploration has the misfortune to be living in the wrong historical time and place.
As broadcast in the spring of 1967, "The City on the Edge of Forever" was clearly a parable suggesting that the peace movement directed against the U.S. war in Vietnam, no matter how noble, alluring, and idealistic in its motivation, might pose a danger to the progressive course of history. The episode projected the view that sometimes it is necessary to engage in ugly, distasteful action, such as waging remorseless warfare against evil expansionist forces like Nazi Germany or the Communist empire attempting to take over Indochina, even doing away with well-intentioned, attractive people who stand in the way of such historical necessity.
At this point in the Vietnam War, the peace movement, though growing rapidly, still represented only a minority of the American people, for it seemed to most that victory in Southeast Asia was not only necessary but also feasible, and perhaps even imminent. This view would soon change.
In the months that followed, the American people, despite the media’s almost universal support for the war, began to get ever more appalling glimpses of its reality. Napalmed children, villages being torched by American GI’s, the corpses of young Americans being zipped into body bags—all started becoming familiar images within the typical American home.
As public opposition to the war kept growing, President Johnson summoned General William Westmoreland home in November 1967 to do public relations. The commander of U.S. and allied forces informed the public that "the enemy’s hopes are bankrupt," his forces are "declining at a steady rate," "he can fight only at the edges of his sanctuaries" in other countries, and we have entered the phase "when the end begins to come into view," a time when the Saigon army will "take charge of the final mopping up of the Vietcong."4 James Reston of The New York Times echoed the official assertions that "the Vietcong now control only 2,500,000 people," little more than half what they had controlled in 1965, and "it is now merely a matter of time until this trend forces the enemy not to negotiate but to fade away into the jungle." Hanson Baldwin, the leading military analyst for the major media, reported in a series of articles in the December 1967 New York Times that "the enemy is weaker than he appears to be" and is gripped by "desperation," that the morale of U.S. troops is "excellent" whereas there is "irrefutable evidence of a decline in enemy morale," that "the enemy can no longer find security in his South Vietnamese sanctuaries," and that "the allies are winning" and "there seems little reason to doubt that Hanoi has abandoned the hope of conquest of South Vietnam by military force."5 So according to the White House, the Pentagon, and the media, the Johnson Administration’s strategy of gradual escalation was on the verge of success, and the American people needed to be patient, rejecting both those who called for withdrawal and those who demanded a speedy end to the war through the use of nuclear weapons.
It was during this period that Star Trek was producing the episode that dealt most explicitly with the Vietnam War, "A Private Little War," written by Gene Roddenberry from a story by Jud Crucis. The Enterprise visits Neural, a planet Kirk remembers from an earlier visit as so primitive and peaceful that it seemed like "Eden." However, an unequal war has begun on Neural, with one side—known as "the villagers"—mysteriously armed with firearms, devices far beyond the technological level of any society on the planet. The villagers, who represent the official U.S. view of the North Vietnamese, have been attacking and attempting to conquer the peaceful "hill people," who represent the official U.S. view of the South Vietnamese. Like the National Liberation Front (or "Viet Cong"), the villagers at first seem to be armed with primitive handforged weapons, in this case flintlocks. But these weapons in fact have been mass produced by some outside imperialist power, which has been smuggling them in and making them appear to be indigenous. Who could this evil empire be? The Klingons, of course, Star Trek’s analogues for the Soviet Union and/or Communist China. Their aim, needless to say, is to subvert and take over this primitive planet, itself an analog for Vietnam, Indochina, and the rest of the Third World menaced by the domino theory of communist expansion.
Thus "A Private Little War" promoted the official Administration version of the history of the Vietnam War—that it had begun as an intervention by an outside evil empire—the Soviet Union and/or Communist China. In fact, as millions of Americans were then discovering, the war had begun as a defense of an existing empire (France) against an indigenous movement for national liberation, and then transformed into a war of conquest by another nation attempting to advance its own imperial interests in Southeast Asia— the United States of America.
This is not to say that the episode implicitly endorses major enlargement of the Vietnam War. Indeed, it seems to suggest that the main danger to be avoided is any form of military intervention that could lead to direct warfare between the United States, here represented by the Federation, and the evil Communist empire, here of course represented by the Klingons.
The Enterprise’s options are presented in a debate between Kirk and McCoy. It is revealing that in the "teaser," Spock, after issuing a stern warning against interfering in the planet’s affairs, is gravely wounded and spends the rest of the episode recovering on the ship, thus conveniently removing him from all further discussion and decision-making. Perhaps, as Rick Worland has suggested, Spock’s usual role as an objective outside commentator on human affairs "might have made him too dangerous here," for the Vulcan might "have perceived instantly the illogic of the whole situation and denounced the Neural/Vietnam War."6 Before McCoy challenges him, Kirk has decided to provide military training to the hill people and to arm them with the same weapons as the villagers. McCoy, appalled by this course of action, points out its hideous potential consequences for the people whom the Federation would supposedly be aiding in a speech loudly evoking Vietnam in the minds of viewers: "You’re condemning this whole planet to a war that may never end. It could go on for year after year, massacre after massacre." Kirk argues that he is merely establishing a balance of power, and makes the parallel with the Vietnam war explicit:
McCOY: I don’t have a solution. But furnishing them with firearms is certainly not the answer!
KIRK: Bones, do you remember the twentieth-century brush wars on the Asian continent? Two giant powers involved, much like the Klingons and ourselves. Neither side felt that they could pull out?
McCOY: Yes, I remember—it went on bloody year after bloody year!
KIRK: But what would you have suggested? That one side arm its friends with an overpowering weapon? Mankind would never have lived to travel space if they had. No—the only solution is what happened, back then, balance of power.
McCOY: And if the Klingons give their side even more?
KIRK: Then we arm our side with exactly that much more. A balance of power—the trickiest, most difficult, dirtiest game of them all—but the only one that preserves both sides!
Kirk here aligns himself closely with the avowed policies of the Johnson Administration and suggests that, although the road may be long and ugly, a patient application of realpolitik will eventually lead out of the Vietnam morass and into humanity’s glorious future. At the time, the growing impatience of the American people with a seemingly endless war was producing an increasingly bitter conflict between advocates of total war, such as Barry Goldwater (who had suggested using tactical nuclear weapons) and Ronald Reagan (who asserted that "we could pave Vietnam over and bring our troops home by Christmas"), and the now huge peace movement, which was more and more demanding that the United States withdraw from Vietnam and let the Vietnamese settle their own affairs. With the logical Spock absent, McCoy is unable to articulate any coherent alternative to the Captain’s analysis and is reduced to mere moral outrage. Kirk’s own moral anguish in making his choice precisely mirrors that being projected by Lyndon Johnson, who presented himself as a realistic moderate, torn by his rejection of seductive but illusory extremes.
The episode ends with a sense of foreboding and disillusion uncharacteristic of Star Trek. When he orders Scotty to manufacture a hundred flintlock rifles for the hill people, Kirk refers to these instruments as "a hundred serpents...for the garden of Eden." Then, as McCoy tries to comfort him, the Captain says somberly, "We’re very tired, Mr. Spock. Beam us up home."
Even as it was being produced, "A Private Little War" was anachronistic in its view of the Vietnam War, referring more clearly to the period of covert U.S. involvement prior to the assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963 than to the open U.S. war of 1968. Kirk even points out early in the episode that "keeping our presence here secret is an enormous tactical advantage" over the Klingons. The leader of the hill people has a wife clearly modeled on President Diem’s wife, Madame Nhu, the infamous "dragon lady," and each wicked woman helps precipitate the event that triggers escalation by the good outside power. In late 1967 and the first month of 1968, despite all official and media reassurances, Kirk’s policy of measured escalation had certainly not led to any resolution, and McCoy’s warnings about "a war that may never end" could not be easily dismissed.
Yet like "The City on the Edge of Forever," "A Private Little War" suggests that the Vietnam War is an ugly necessity that forms a critical part of the pathway to the glorious 23rd century of space travel and the universe of Star Trek. But two days before the episode aired, an event began that was to challenge even such guarded optimism.
Although "A Private Little War" was produced while the government and media were proclaiming that the United States was nearing victory, it was originally telecast on February 2, 1968, while the nation was in shock from the start of the devastating Tet Offensive, when the insurgent forces simultaneously attacked every U.S. base and over a hundred cities and towns in South Vietnam. This astonishing offensive convinced the nation that the Vietnam War could not end in victory. When the next episode directly relevant to Vietnam was broadcast one month later, it dramatically expressed the effect of the Tet Offensive on America’s consciousness. Completed in December 1967, while anti-war newspapers were debunking official optimism with accounts of the rapidly deteriorating U.S. military situation, this episode suggests that the makers of Star Trek themselves had moved much closer to the anti-war movement.7 Sardonically entitled "The Omega Glory," it displayed a profound darkening of Star Trek’s vision of the Vietnam War and its possible consequences.
By the time "The Omega Glory" aired on March 1, the Tet Offensive had shattered all expectations of victory in Vietnam. The episode, written by Gene Roddenberry, now examined the consequences of a possibly endless war in Vietnam from a perspective much closer to the grim view McCoy had expressed in "A Private Little War." Indeed, the main victims of such a war are no longer seen as some alien peoples confined to some remote location like the planet Neural or Southeast Asia, for America itself is imagined as a devastated former civilization reduced to barbarism.
Kirk, Spock, and McCoy visit the planet Omega IV, whose dreadful history is gradually revealed to them. The planet is now dominated by a race of Asian villagers known as "the Kohms," who are engaged in unending warfare against a fair-haired, fair-skinned race of savages known as "the Yangs." The Yangs, who are so primitive they seem scarcely human, are beginning to overwhelm the Kohms with the sheer ferocity of their hordes. Meanwhile, starship Captain Tracey, a mad renegade, has violated the Prime Directive, directly intervening in the planet’s war on the side of the Kohms, using his phasers personally to slaughter many hundreds of Yangs.
McCoy’s medical research reveals that once there had been very advanced civilizations here, but they had destroyed themselves in this constant warfare. The survivors show signs that they had even waged "bacteriological warfare," similar to Earth’s "experiments in the 1990s"; "Hard to believe," he says, "we were once foolish enough to play around with that." Spock’s logic ultimately concludes that this planet presents a case of parallel evolution: "they fought the war your Earth avoided, and in this case the Asiatics won and took over the planet." He comes to this conclusion as soon as he and Kirk realize the significance of the names of the two warring races:
KIRK: Yangs? Yanks. Yankees!
SPOCK: Kohms. Communists!
At this point, the Yangs, who have conquered the Kohm village, are being incited by Captain Tracey to execute Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. The scene is dramatically punctuated by the entrance of the sacred banner of the Yangs, a tattered American flag, evidently the "omega glory" of the episode’s title. Forgetting all the principles for which they were fighting in their endless war against the Communists, these Yankees have become savage barbarians teetering on the very edge of bestiality. All they have left of the great American ideals are their worship words, garbled versions of the Pledge of Allegiance and the preamble to the constitution of the United States, which they recite as mere sacred gibberish.
In a melodramatic ending, Kirk grabs their holiest of holies, a printed version of the preamble to the Constitution, and recites it, with emphasis on "We the People." He explains to the Yangs, who now worship Kirk as a god because of the seemingly miraculous appearance of a rescue team from the Enterprise, that "these words . . . were not written only for the Yangs, but for the Kohms as well." Such thoughts constitute a shocking heresy for the Yangs, but Kirk insists, "They must apply to everyone, or they mean nothing." The eyes of the Yangs gradually seem more human as Kirk thus awakens them from their eons of mindless anti-Communist warfare, and the thrilling sight of Old Glory and strains of the Star Spangled Banner suggest that this planet too may return to the true path of American ideals.
"The Omega Glory" implies that the war in Southeast Asia, which no longer held any promise of victory or even suggestion of an end, could evolve into an interminable, mutually destructive conflict between the "Yankees" and the "Communists" capable of destroying civilization and humanity. True Americanism is shown as antithetical to mindless militarism and anti-Communism, and the episode rather paradoxically uses ultrapatriotic images of a tattered Old Glory and strains of the Star Spangled Banner to preach a message of globalism. Kirk’s emphasis on "We the People" might even be a suggestion to the American people that they must reassert their own role in the nation’s affairs.
If there were any doubts where the makers of Star Trek now stood on the Vietnam War itself, these were resolved in the pages of the nation’s leading SF magazines. Like other Americans, SF writers were profoundly and bitterly divided about the Vietnam War, and in early 1968 more than a hundred and fifty of them took out rival advertisements supporting and opposing continuation of the conflict. These ads, signed before the Tet Offensive, appeared first in the March issue of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, which came out just before "The Omega Glory." Not one person associated with Star Trek joined the 72 signers of the ad that stated "We the undersigned believe the United States must remain in Vietnam to fulfill its responsibilities to the people of that country." Among the 82 who signed the ad that stated "We oppose the participation of the United States in the war in Vietnam" were Star Trek scriptwriters Jerome Bixby, Jerry Sohl, Harlan Ellison, and Norman Spinrad as well as Gene Roddenberry himself.
Nineteen sixty-eight was not only the decisive moment in the Vietnam War but also the period of the most intense domestic crisis of recent American history. Most of the countryside of South Vietnam was lost to the insurgent forces, and the 1.4 million troops under U.S. command were locked into a defensive posture around their bases and the cities and towns of the south. General Westmoreland was dismissed from his command. The President of the United States was forced to withdraw from the election campaign, and anti-war forces swept every Democratic primary. Massive uprisings erupted in 125 cities within a single week after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. More than 55,000 troops had to join police to suppress these uprisings. Washington itself had to be defended by combat troops, while towering above the Capitol rose columns of black smoke from burning buildings. Police and sometimes soldiers battled demonstrators on college campuses across the country. The international finance system reeled from blows to the U.S. economy and its credibility, and the Johnson Administration was forced into negotiations with Hanoi and the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam. Robert Kennedy, running as an anti-war candidate for president, was assassinated on the evening when he had virtually clinched the Democratic nomination. Forty-three GIs, mainly Vietnam veterans, were arrested for refusing to join the 12,000 soldiers, 12,000 Chicago police, and a thousand Secret Service agents who battled anti-war demonstrators outside the Democratic convention in August.8 Earlier that month, outside the Republican convention in Miami Beach, a line of tanks had sealed off the entire peninsula from Miami itself, where police and National Guard units fought rebelling African-Americans in what a Miami police spokesman called "firefights like in Vietnam."9 In his acceptance speech, Richard Nixon, after noting that "as we look at America, we see cities enveloped in smoke and flame," vowed that "if the war is not ended when the people choose in November," "I pledge to you tonight that the first priority foreign policy objective of our next Administration will be to bring an honorable end to the war in Vietnam."10 Nixon won that 1968 election as a peace candidate.
On January 10, 1969, ten days before Richard Nixon’s inauguration and four years before the end of official U.S. participation in the Vietnam War, Star Trek broadcast an aptly titled episode: "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield." This episode views the racial conflict of the 1960s in a parable about two races on an alien planet, each half black and half white, who annihilate each other in an increasingly violent struggle between oppression and revolution. The master race, white on the left half and black on the right, has enslaved and continues to exploit the other race, black on the left half and white on the right.
Enraged by millennia of persecution, the oppressed are led by a fanatic militant. In a clear allusion to the disproportionate deaths being suffered by African-Americans in Vietnam, he asks crew members of the Enterprise: "Do you know what it would be like to be dragged out of your hovel into a war on another planet, a battle that will serve your oppressor and bring death to your brothers?"
The ultimate end of the mutual hatred of these races is spelled out when the Enterprise reaches their home planet. Spock reports there are now "no sapient life forms": "they have annihilated each other totally." As the last representative of each race continues their fight to mutual doom, behind them flash actual footage of scenes from America’s burning cities. The vision of global disaster projected as a possible outcome of the Vietnam War in "The Omega Glory" has now, less than a year later, literally come home.
The first of these two episodes, "The City on the Edge of Forever" and "A Private Little War," had suggested that the Vietnam War was merely an unpleasant necessity on the way to the future dramatized by Star Trek. But the last two, "The Omega Glory" and "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield," broadcast in the period between March 1968 and January 1969, are so thoroughly infused with the desperation of the period that they openly call for a radical change of historic course, including an end to the Vietnam War and to the war at home. Only this new course presumably would take us to the universe of the U.S.S. Enterprise.
1. This essay is developed from the script that I wrote for the "Vietnam" section of the National Air and Space Museum’s 1992 exhibit entitled "Star Trek and the Sixties," for which I served as Advisory Curator. As co-author of the full script, Mary Henderson, Art Curator of the museum and Curator of the exhibit, also contributed to the Vietnam section.
2. Allan Asherman, The Star Trek Compendium (NY: Pocket Books, 1989), 9.
3. Interview with Robert Justman, February 26, 1992.
4. New York Times, November 22, 1967.
5. Hanson W. Baldwin, "Vietnam Report: Foe Seeks to Sway U.S. Public," "Vietnam Report: The Foe Is Hurt," "Report on Vietnam: Sanctuaries viewed as a Major War Factor," New York Times, December 26, 27, 28, 1967.
6. Rick Worland, "Captain Kirk: Cold Warrior," Journal of Popular Film and Television 16 (3), 115. My own analysis owes a considerable debt to Worland’s exceptionally insightful essay.
7. For an account of the profound contradictions between views of the war in the establishment media and the movement press, see H. Bruce Franklin, "1968: The Vision of the Movement and the Alternative Press" in The Vietnam Era: Media and Popular Culture in the US and Vietnam, edited by Michael Klein (London and Winchester, MA: Pluto Press, 1990), 65-81.
8. Thorne Dreyer, "Know Your Enemy," Liberation News Service, August 30, 1968.
9. New York Times, August 9, 1968.
10. Nixon Speaks Out: Major Speeches and Statements by Richard Nixon in the Presidential Campaign of 1968 (NY: Nixon-Agnew Campaign Committee, 1968), 235.
Episode example..."The Arena"...from Jack Seabrooks' blog...
"Fredric Brown on TV Part Five - Star Trek: Arena"
Fredric Brown’s classic science fiction story “Arena” was first published in the June 1944 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. There is some controversy over whether it was a source for the “Fun and Games” episode of The Outer Limits..., but there is no disagreement that it was acknowledged as a source for the “Arena” episode of Star Trek, which was broadcast on January 19, 1967.
Briefly, the story concerns Bob Carson, an Earthman in space, who is whisked off to a strange planet to fight a representative of an enemy, alien race. The planet has blue sand and the battle occurs beneath a blue dome; Carson is naked, and his opponent is a red, rolling sphere with tentacles that can retract when not in use. An invisible barrier separates the combatants, and Carson must use his ingenuity to cross through the barrier and kill the enemy. As a result, an omnipotent alien destroys the entire race of the loser, thus avoiding a catastrophic interspace battle.
According to the producers of Star Trek, Gene L. Coon handed in the script for that show’s adaptation of “Arena” unaware that it was similar to Brown’s short story. This time (unlike on The Outer Limits) the source was identified and permission was sought and granted by Fredric Brown.
Star Trek was hitting its stride by this episode and the characters had already fallen into familiar patterns. This required considerable revision of the original short story. The show begins as Captain Kirk & co. visit an outpost, “isolated, exposed, out on the edge of nowhere.” They beam down to the planet, only to find that the colony of Cestus 3 has been destroyed.
Kirk, Spock and McCoy are joined by three expendable crewmen. As they explore the ruins of Cestus 3 they come under attack, as does The Enterprise, which is orbiting the planet in space. Kirk does some nice serpentine running (reminiscent of Alan Arkin in The In-Laws), before getting the upper hand and driving the attackers back to their spaceship. Kirk and crew return to their ship as well and he decides to act as space policeman and chase the enemy ship into a “largely unexplored section of the galaxy.”
The chase proceeds into deep space at high speed, until both ships approach an unknown solar system, where they are scanned by an unknown entity. It is here, almost halfway through the episode, that parallels with the short story began to appear. A race known as The Metrons holds both ships in place and announces that they will take each ship’s captain and transport them to a planet where they can engage in a fight to the death. The winner’s ship will be spared; the loser’s will be destroyed.
Unlike the short story, where Carson finds himself on a strange planet and the alien voice tells him what is going on, the Star Trek crew gets the news in advance but cannot do anything about it. Also, instead of destroying an entire race and preserving another, only the spaceships will be destroyed. The Metrons say that they want future ships to stay away from their area of space; the omnipotent alien in the story has more altruistic goals, wanting to ensure that the surviving race is left strong enough to develop to its full potential.
Television special effects in 1966 (when “Arena” was filmed) did not allow for a rolling red ball with retractable tentacles, so Kirk’s enemy is one of the Gorn, who looks like a man in an alligator suit. He has shiny silver eyes and wears a tunic, and he moves about as quickly as a zombie, which makes it hard to believe that Kirk is racing for his life to defeat the creature.
Kirk’s interior monologue is provided in two ways—through voiceover, and by means of a hand-held “microphone” that is supposed to preserve a record of the events. Kirk speaks into the microphone and talks about what he’s doing, not realizing that the Gorn can hear every word he says through his own device.
Kirk and the Gorn throw some rocks at each other, as in the story, but on Star Trek there is no invisible barrier between them. This removes one of the key plot points in the tale and makes the televised contest a bit silly, as Kirk runs off into the rocky hills and the Gorn lumbers around. The Gorn actually appears to be more ingenious than Kirk, when it sets a trap for him and appears to play dead, much as Carson does in the story.
However, Kirk finally discovers various minerals and other items on the planet that allow him to construct a makeshift cannon and shoot the Gorn. In the middle of all of this, the program takes a turn that reflects a mid-sixties, Vietnam-era sensibility. In the short story, the battle between Carson and the Roller can be interpreted as an allegory of the US versus Japan in World War Two. The enemy is totally alien and Carson does not hesitate to kill it when given the chance.
On Star Trek, Kirk learns that the Gorn may not have been the cruel invaders he had first thought them to be, and he suspects that they may have been natives defending their planet from what they saw as human invaders. When given the chance to kill the Gorn captain, he refuses, announcing to the omnipotent alien that “you’ll have to get your entertainment someplace else.” This is a clear reference to the anti-war feeling that was brewing in America in 1966, as some people began to question whether the war in Vietnam was justified.
The Metron appears at the end of the episode and allows both ships to depart in peace. He is surprised by Kirk’s demonstration of mercy and states that “there is hope” that our race will mature.
“Arena” takes the general theme of Brown’s short story and adapts it for a television series with recurring characters, whose personalities must be included and who must share screen time with the original, limited number of characters. It is hard to believe that Gene L. Coon, the author of the teleplay, had not read Brown’s story, but it is also hard to believe that he was not familiar with The Outer Limits episode, “Fun and Games,” since the Metrons allow the crew of the Enterprise to watch the events unfolding on the planet below on their giant view screen, which looks an awful lot like the big-screen TVs of today. In “Fun and Games,” the omnipotent alien broadcasts the competition for the inhabitants of his planet to watch as entertainment.
Gene L. Coon lived from 1924-1973. He wrote 12 episodes of Star Trek (including the infamous “Spock’s Brain”) and was also the show’s producer for a portion of its run. He also wrote many other TV series episodes. Joseph Pevney, director of “Arena,” lived from 1911-2008 and began his career in vaudeville. He directed movies in the 1950s, including Man of a Thousand Faces, before moving to TV, where he directed many episodes into the mid-1980s, including 14 episodes of Star Trek.
The cast of “Arena” is well-known. William Shatner is North America’s Greatest Living Actor, and Leonard Nimoy recently came out of retirement to appear as a cartoon on Fringe. The Gorn was played by Bobby Clark, a stuntman who has been appearing at Star Trek conventions. Ted Cassidy provided the Gorn captain’s growls and chuckles.
Was there ever a more exciting time to be a kid than the 1966-1967 television season? This was the first year that most of the shows were in color, and the colors were exploding off of the screens! “Arena” is awash in reds, blues, yellows and greens, and it is clear that, to the designers at the time, the advent of color TV was an excuse to stuff as many colors as they could into a frame.
January 19th, 1967
January 19th, 1967
(Enterprise is in orbit of a planet)
KIRK: You'll enjoy Commodore Travers. He sets a good table.
MCCOY: I wonder if he brought his personal chef along with him to Cestus Three.
KIRK: Probably. Rank hath its privileges.
MCCOY: How well we both know that.
KIRK: Scotty. Kirk here.
TRAVERS [OC]: Travers, Jim. We're waiting.
KIRK: Good, Commodore. We're on our way.
TRAVERS [OC]: Be sure to bring along your tactical people. I've got an interesting problem for them.
KIRK: We'll beam down immediately, Commodore. Kirk out.
SPOCK: Captain. I wonder why he's insistent that our tactical aides come down.
KIRK: This colony is isolated, exposed, out on the edge of now here. He probably wants additional advice.
SPOCK: Perhaps, Captain, but nevertheless
MCCOY: Spock, isn't it enough the commodore is famous for his hospitality? I, for one, could use a good non-reconstituted meal.
SPOCK: Doctor, you are a sensualist.
MCCOY: You bet your pointed ears I am. Ready whenever you are, Captain.
(Six men, including one red shirt, get on the transporter platform)
(There is no one waiting to meet them. Instead, just razed ground and the smoke of a few fires)
KIRK: Kirk to Enterprise. Red alert.
SULU [OC]: What is it, Captain?
KIRK: Cestus Three has been destroyed.
(They take cover)
KIRK: Full alert. Tricorder readings, Mister Spock. Life detection.
SPOCK: Those messages we got, Captain, the one directing us here yesterday.
KIRK: Faked. All this happened several days ago. (to a man in a yellow shirt) Lang, over there. Look for survivors. Kelowitz, (blue shirt) that way. (to the red shirt) O'Herlihy, stick with me.
SPOCK: Captain, impulses that direction. Very weak, possibly a survivor.
KIRK: Come on, Bones.
Captain's log, Stardate 3045.6 The Enterprise has responded to a call from Earth observation outpost on Cestus Three. On landing, we have discovered that the outpost has been destroyed.
MCCOY: Captain, over there.
(They run to a lone survivor amongst a tangle of wreckage)
Careful, careful. Shock, radiation burns, internal injuries for certain.
MCCOY: Careful, careful. Shock, radiation burns, internal injuries for certain. He's in a bad way, Captain.
KIRK: Keep him alive, Bones. I want to know what's been happening here.
SPOCK: Getting another life reading, Captain.
SPOCK: Not survivors. Not warm-blooded. Living creatures, but not human.
SPOCK: Azimuth ninety three degrees, range one five seven zero yards.
(Kirk sends his security guard off to look, but he hasn't gone far before he stands up and says)
O'HERLIHY: Captain, I see something.
(And promptly gets hit by a beam and vanishes. There's also an incoming whistle and an explosion.)
KIRK: Cover! Kirk to Enterprise, lock on transporters. Beam us up.
SULU: Captain, we're coming under attack. Unidentified ship quartering in.
SULU [OC]: We can't beam you up. I've just rigged up defensive screens.
KIRK: Keep those screens up. Fire all phasers.
SULU: Firing phasers, Captain. The alien has screens up, too.
KIRK: Take all action necessary to protect the ship. We'll hold out here.
SULU: Are you under attack, Captain?
SULU [OC]: We could drop screens.
KIRK: Keep those screens up. Worry about us when the ship is safe.
KIRK [OC]: Kirk out.
(More bombs rain down around them)
KIRK: If they lower those screens to beam us up, they'll be open to phaser attack.
SPOCK: We're hopelessly outnumbered here, Captain. It's those disruptors versus our hand phasers.
KIRK: We're stuck with it, Mister Spock. We'll have to make do with what we've got.
(Carrying the survivor, the away team heads into better shelter - Life Support Ramp 3 Level K according to the sign)
KIRK: Kelowitz, Lang, flank out. Lay down fire on co-ordinates Mister Spock gave you. Even if you don't see them. Keep your heads down.
(Lang and Kelowitz leave)
KIRK: We're helpless down here. And the Enterprise
SPOCK: Sulu is an experienced combat officer.
KIRK: It's my ship, Mister Spock. I should be there. We can't even get at them.
SPOCK: Nor can they at us at the moment. Not unless they moved their original position. That intervening high ground.
KIRK: Can you remember the layout of this place? The arsenal?
SPOCK: About one hundred yards in that direction. But after an attack as thorough as this one
KIRK: I'll risk it.
(He does an heroic zigzag run amongst the incoming explosions, takes shelter behind an oil drum and calls Enterprise)
KIRK: Kirk here. Report.
SULU: Captain, are you all right?
KIRK: Never mind about me. What about the ship?
SULU: We returned fire with all phaser banks. Negative against its deflector screen.
KIRK: Arm your photon torpedoes.
SULU: Aye, aye, sir. Arm photon torpedoes. Stand by.
KIRK: Any identification on the attacking vessel?
SULU [OC]: No, sir. Doesn't correspond with any configuration we're familiar with.
SULU: We can't get visual contact. She's too far away.
DEPAUL: Mister Sulu, photon torpedoes locked on.
SULU: Photon torpedoes locked on, Captain.
KIRK; Fire all banks.
SULU: All banks fired, sir.
KIRK: Sulu. Sulu, our communications are being interfered with. (An explosion makes him run further on into an old bomb crater) Now get this straight.
KIRK [OC]: You do anything you think necessary to protect the ship. Leave orbit, maximum warp, anything. Clear?
SULU: Clear, Captain, but you
KIRK: Never mind about me. Protect my ship!
SULU: Yes, sir. Photon torpedoes negative, Captain. I'm warping out of orbit.
KIRK: Good. Contact me when you can. Kirk out.
(Kirk ducks into a building. Meanwhile, back over at Ramp 3)
SPOCK: How is he, Doctor?
MCCOY: He'll be dead in half an hour if we don't get him some decent care.
SPOCK: They're moving. I've got to get to the Captain.
(He joins Kirk in the bomb crater, where a grenade launcher is being set up)
SPOCK: Locked on to the enemy, Captain. They're moving toward the high ground. (fizzing sound and smoke) They've locked on to my tricorder.
(He throws it away and it goes bang)
SPOCK: Very ingenious. They fed back my own impulses and built up an overload.
KIRK: We'll see how ingenious they are. Here, give me a hand with this grenade launcher. Lang!
SPOCK: Any word from the Enterprise?
KIRK: Sulu's taken her out of orbit.
KELOWITZ: They got Lang, sir.
KIRK: Did you see them?
KELOWITZ: No, sir.
KIRK: An evaluation, Mister Kelowitz. Where do you think they are?
KELOWITZ: If I were them, I'd go to the high ground on the right. I make it twelve hundred yards, azimuth eighty seven. It's pretty close for one of these little jewels, Captain.
KIRK: It'll be a lot closer to them. Stand clear.
(He drops a blue ball into the launcher, it zooms off and there is a blinding flash and bang. Silence reigns until Kirk's communicator beeps.)
KIRK: Kirk here.
SULU [OC]: Captain, the alien's withdrawing. She's at extreme range, but our sensors indicate she just activated her transporters.
KIRK: Lock on to the alien, Mister Sulu. I don't want to lose her.
SULU: Aye, aye, sir. Our screens are down. We can beam you up now, sir.
KIRK: I want a search party of thirty medical personnel beamed down immediately to search for survivors. Notify the transporter room. Lock onto us. We're beaming up.
SULU: Aye, aye, sir.
Captain's log, supplement. We have beamed back to the Enterprise and immediately set out in pursuit of the alien vessel. It appears to be headed toward a largely unexplored section of the galaxy.
KIRK: Can you tell me what happened?
MAN: Scanners reported a ship approaching. We get them now and then. They're all welcome to use our facilities. You know that.
KIRK: Yes, I know.
MAN: They came in space normal speed, using our regular approach route, but they knocked out our phaser batteries with their first salvo. From then on we were helpless. We weren't expecting anything! Why should we? We didn't have anything anyone would want.
KIRK: Easy. Easy.
MAN: They poured it on, like, like phasers, only worse, whatever they were using. I tried to signal them. We called up. Tried to surrender. We had women and children. I told them that! I begged them! They wouldn't listen. They didn't let up for a moment.
KIRK: Lieutenant, the Enterprise received two messages, ostensibly from Cestus Three. One for the Enterprise to go there, and the other for myself and my tactical crew to beam down to the surface.
MAN: They hit us a full day before you got there, Captain. No messages came from us, Captain. Why did they do it? Why? Why did they do it? There has to be a reason. There has to be a reason!
KIRK: It was a trap. Getting the Enterprise to come to Cestus Three, getting us and our whole crew to come ashore.
SPOCK: Very clever. As to the reason?
KIRK: The reason is crystal clear. The Enterprise is the only protection in this section of the Federation. Destroy the Enterprise, and everything is wide open.
SPOCK: You allude to invasion, Captain, yet positive proof
KIRK: I have all the proof I need on Cestus Three.
SPOCK: Not necessarily, sir. Several possible explanations
KIRK: How can you explain a massacre like that? No, Mister Spock. The threat is clear and immediate. Invasion.
SPOCK: Very well, then. If that's the case, you must make certain that the alien vessel never reaches its home base.
KIRK: I intend to. If we can keep them in the dark as to our strength, they'll never dare move against us. Captain to helmsman.
SULU [OC]: Sulu here, sir.
KIRK: Is the alien still making warp five?
SULU [OC]: Affirmative, sir.
KIRK: Initiate warp six.
SULU [OC]: Affirmative, sir.
KIRK: Overtake. Phaser banks, lock on to the enemy vessel. Stand by for firing orders. All hands, this is the Captain. We are going into battle. All hands, battle stations. Red alert. I repeat, red alert. This is no drill. This is no drill.
Captain's log, Stardate 3046.2. We are in hot pursuit of the alien vessel which destroyed the Earth outpost on Cestus Three.
KIRK: Mister DePaul.
DEPAUL: Yes, sir.
DEPAUL: Twenty two point three parsecs beyond latest chart limit, sir.
KIRK: All scanners lock into computer banks. I want a complete record of this. Mister Spock, what do we have on this general area?
SPOCK: Virtually nothing, Captain. No records of any explorations. There are rumours of certain strange signals on subspace channels. However, none has ever been recorded.
KIRK: Anything on intelligent life forms?
SPOCK: Nothing specific, Captain. Unscientific rumours only. More like space legends.
KIRK: Mister Sulu, status, alien vessel.
SULU: They must be aware we're after them, sir. They've gone to warp six also.
KIRK: Warp factor seven.
SULU: Aye, aye, sir.
KIRK: Something the matter, Mister Spock?
SPOCK: A sustained warp seven speed will be dangerous, Captain.
KIRK: Thank you, Mister Spock. I mean to catch them.
SCOTT: We'll either catch them or blow up, Captain. They may be faster than we are.
KIRK: They'll have to prove it. Yes, Mister Spock?
SPOCK: You mean to destroy the alien ship, Captain?
KIRK: Of course.
SPOCK: I thought perhaps the hot pursuit alone might be sufficient. Destruction might be unnecessary.
KIRK: Colony Cestus Three has been obliterated, Mister Spock.
SPOCK: The destruction of the alien vessel will not help that colony, Jim.
KIRK: If the aliens go unpunished, they'll be back, attacking other Federation installations.
SPOCK: I merely suggested that a regard for sentient life
KIRK: There's no time for that. It's a matter of policy. Out here, we're the only policemen around. And a crime has been committed. Do I make myself clear?
SPOCK: Very clear, Captain.
KIRK: I'm delighted, Mister Spock. Report, Mister Sulu.
SULU: Alien ship maintaining interval, Captain. Now at warp seven.
KIRK: Warp factor eight.
(Everyone looks surprised. Scotty is aghast.)
SULU: Aye, aye, sir.
KIRK: Captain to phaser banks. All components at battle ready. All banks primed.
CREWMAN [OC]: Aft phaser to Bridge. Alert status. All weapons at operational ready.
(Later, the ship has not blown up, and Sulu has a grin on his face)
KIRK: Yes, Mister Sulu.
SULU: Closing on target, sir.
KIRK: Good. Mister DePaul.
DEPAUL: Yes, sir.
KIRK: Our position.
DEPAUL: Two two seven nine pl, sir. Uncharted solar system at two four six six pm.
KIRK: Is it on the alien's course?
DEPAUL: No, sir. He's headed away from it.
UHURA: Captain, sensors report we're being scanned.
KIRK: By the alien ship?
UHURA: No, sir. It's from that solar system ahead.
KIRK: Any interference? Resistance?
UHURA: No, sir, Just scanning beams. It's on an unusual wave length.
KIRK: Mister Spock?
SPOCK: It would appear someone is curious about us.
KIRK: Mister Sulu, is the alien still heading away from that solar system?
SULU: Yes, sir. We're closing, sir.
KIRK: Lieutenant Uhura, anything further on those scanning beams?
UHURA: There's no hostility, sir. They're not tractors or weapons of any sort, Just increasing in intensity. Steady. Regular. It's growing stronger, sir.
KIRK: Yes, what is it?
SULU: The alien. It's slowing down. Warp five, four, two. It's going sublight, sir. Sir? It's stopped dead in space.
KIRK: He may be turning to fight.
SULU: No, sir. They're just dead out there.
KIRK: Are you sure?
SULU: Yes, sir. Unmoving.
KIRK: Then we've got them. Go to Red Alert. Prepare to fire phaser banks. Sensors, lock on. Mister Sulu, continue closing. Mister Spock, lock phasers into computer. Computers will control attack.
SPOCK: Computer lock ready, Captain. All systems standing by.
SULU: Range is one eight one zero. One seven six zero. Range is one seven zero zero. One six four zero. Range is one five nine zero. One five five zero and closing, sir.
(Suddenly, the ship decelerates, and everyone hangs on to something as the lights dim.) SULU: Warp six, warp five, four, warp three, warp one. Sublight, Captain. We're stuck, Captain. It's impossible, but. It's impossible.
KIRK: From warp eight? Have you lost your mind?
SPOCK: Same as the alien, Captain.
KIRK: Mister Scott, report.
SCOTT: We're dead, Captain. Locked up. Frozen tight. All propulsion systems read zero.
KIRK; Life systems?
SCOTT: They're all normal, sir. Atmosphere, heat, light. No variance.
KIRK: Phaser banks. Report.
CREWMAN [OC]: We're all inoperative here, Captain. No power at all. No faulty circuits I can find. Just no power.
KIRK: Damage Control, report.
SPOCK: All systems report normal, Captain. No ascertainable damage.
KIRK; Then what is it?
SCOTT: I don't know, sir, but whatever it is, we canna move.
SPOCK: We're being held in place, Captain, apparently from that solar system.
KIRK; This far out? That's impossible.
SPOCK: We are being held.
KIRK: Tractor beam?
SPOCK: No, sir. An unidentifiable power.
(The lights flicker and the viewscreen goes psychedelic.)
METRON [OC]: We are the Metrons. You are one of two crafts which have come into our space on a mission of violence. This is not permissible. Yet we have analysed you and have learned that your violent tendencies are inherent. So be it. We will control them. We will resolve your conflict in the way most suited to your limited mentalities. Captain James Kirk.
KIRK: This is Kirk.
METRON [OC]: We have prepared a planet with a suitable atmosphere. You will be taken there, as will the Captain of the Gorn ship which you have been pursuing. There you will settle your dispute.
KIRK: I don't understand.
METRON [OC]:You will be provided with a recording-translating device, in hopes that a chronicle of this contest will serve to dissuade others of your kind from entering our system, but you will not be permitted to communicate with your ship. You will each be totally alone.
KIRK: What makes you think you can interfere with
METRON [OC]: It is you who are interfering. We are simply putting a stop to it. The place we have prepared for you contains sufficient elements for either of you to construct weapons lethal enough to destroy the other, which seems to be your intention. The winner of the contest will be permitted to go his way unharmed. The loser, along with his ship, shall be destroyed in the interests of peace. The contest will be one of ingenuity against ingenuity, brute strength against brute strength. The results will be final.
KIRK: Just a minute
METRON [OC]: There will be no discussion. It is done.
(Kirk vanishes, and Uhura screams)
SULU: He's gone.
(A dinosaur- like being with multifaceted eyes and a multicoloured tunic greets us with a roar. Kirk is now wearing a belt with the recorder/translator on it)
KIRK [OC]: The Enterprise is dead in space, stopped cold during her pursuit of an alien raider by mysterious forces, and I have been somehow whisked off the bridge and placed on the surface of an asteroid, facing the Captain of the alien ship. Weaponless, I face the creature the Metrons called a Gorn. Large, reptilian. Like most humans, I seem to have an instinctive revulsion to reptiles. I must fight to remember that this is an intelligent, highly advanced individual, the Captain of a starship, like myself, undoubtedly a dangerously clever opponent.
(The Gorn breaks a branch of a tree with great ease. Kirk struggles to break off a twig. Their first physical engagement is uneven. Kirk is more agile than the reptile but nowhere near as strong. He boxes the Gorn's ears to get out of a bear-hug and runs up into the rocks looking for weapons. He throws a heavy rock at the Gorn, but it just bounces off his chest. When a boulder gets flung at him in return, Kirk retreats. Quickly.)
(Spock goes over to the Engineering Station)
SPOCK: Have you tried overload?
SCOTT: Aye, sir. It does no good.
SPOCK: How about bypassing the transformer banks? Feed the impulse engines directly.
SCOTT: I tried that, sir. Nothing.
SPOCK: Lieutenant Uhura, have sensors learned anything about the nature of the force which holds us here?
UHURA: No, sir. They report they definitely emanate from that solar system ahead.
SPOCK: No indication of its composition? Gravimetric? Magnetic? Electronic?
UHURA: Nothing, sir.
(Standing on rocks, silhouetted against a clear blue sky, Kirk makes an entry on his recorder for posterity.)
KIRK: This is Captain James Kirk of the Starship Enterprise. Who ever finds this please get it to Starfleet Command. I'm engaged in personal combat with a creature apparently called a Gorn.
(We see that the recording is also being transmitted and translated by the Gorn's device too)
KIRK [OC]: He's immensely strong. Already he has withstood attacks from me that would have killed a human being. Fortunately, though strong, he is not agile. The agility and, I hope, the cleverness, is mine.
(Back on the rock)
KIRK: The Metrons, the creatures that sent us both here, said that the surface of the planet provides the raw material to construct weapons. There's very little here. Scrub brush, rocks, an abundance of mineral deposits, but no weapons in the conventional sense. Still, I need to find one. Bare-handed against the Gorn, I have no chance.
SPOCK: Leave channel one open, Lieutenant, just in case.
UHURA: Aye, aye, sir.
MCCOY: What are you going to do, Mister Spock?
SPOCK: I'm going to wait, Doctor. There's little else I can do.
MCCOY: What about the Captain?
SPOCK: If I could help him, I would. I cannot.
MCCOY: Now, you're the one that's always talking about logic. What about some logic now? Where's the Captain, Mister Spock?
SPOCK: He's out there, Doctor. Out there somewhere in a thousand cubic parsecs of space, and there's absolutely nothing we can do to help him.
(Running up a slope, Kirk comes across a clump of mature bamboo. Good, solid, hollow stems, but he doesn't regard them as suitable clubs. He carries on gaining height. Meanwhile, the Gorn is using trailing vines to construct something. Kirk comes across an outcrop of minerals, and decides to tell us what they are.)
KIRK: A large deposit of diamonds on the surface. Perhaps the hardest substance known in the universe. Beautifully crystallized and pointed, but too small to be useful as a weapon. An incredible fortune in stones yet I would trade them all for a hand phaser, or a good solid club. Yet the Metrons said there would be weapons, if I could find them. Where? What kind?
(From his vantage point on the ridge, Kirk watches the Gorn at work, then spots a lone rock neatly balanced on a pinnacle above his adversary. He pushes it over, the Gorn looks up, then we get the cloud of dust and a view of the reptile under the rock, lying still. Confident, Kirk comes down to check on his kill, just in time to see the Gorn move, grasp his stone dagger, and get up again. The rock continues on its way down the slope. The mammal runs away, straight into reptiles trap of vines and rocks. Now Kirk is pinned under a boulder, and at his enemy's mercy.
But the Gorn has to move the boulder to be able to stab him, so once again Kirk is able to dodge away, albeit with a limp.
SPOCK: This is the U.S.S. Enterprise calling the Metrons. Our channels are open. Come in, please. We urgently desire a conference. Please answer.
(Kirk hobbles up to a rock face with bright yellow powder spread across it, and takes a rest. We keep cutting to the Gorn, who can hear everything he says, remember.)
KIRK: This may be my last entry. I am almost exhausted. Unless I find the weapon the Metron mentioned I have very little time left. Native sulphur, diamonds. This place is a mineralogist's dream. Yet there is something about sulphur. Something very old. Something? If only I could remember.
(The Gorn's roar comes closer, and he moves on)
MCCOY: The ship, our engines, our weapons. It's just inconceivable that we are immobilised.
SPOCK: But it has happened, Doctor.
(Dimmed lights and swirly viewscreen again)
METRON [OC]: We are the Metrons. Your Captain is losing his battle. We would suggest you make whatever memorial arrangements, if any, which are customary in your culture. We believe you have very little time left.
MCCOY: We appeal to you in the name of civilisation. Put a stop to this.
METRON [OC]: Your violent intent and actions demonstrate that you are not civilised. However, we are not without compassion. It is possible you may have feelings toward your Captain. So that you will be able to prepare yourself, we will allow you to see and hear what is now transpiring.
(There on the viewscreen is their first sight of a Gorn, then Kirk and yet another mineral deposit.)
MCCOY: If there were only some way we could contact him.
SPOCK: Yes, indeed, Doctor, if only there were. Notice the substance encrusting that rock. Yes. Unless I'm mistaken, it's potassium nitrate.
SPOCK: Perhaps nothing, Doctor. (Kirk tastes the mineral and spits it out) Perhaps everything.
(The bridge crew watch as enlightenment dawns and Kirk goes off in search of his other mineral discoveries.) GORN [OC]: Earthling! Captain!
KIRK [on viewscreen]: Who is this, the Metron?
GORN [OC]: This is your opponent, Earthling. I have heard every word you have said.
KIRK [on viewscreen]: All right. What do you want?
GORN [on viewscreen]: I'm weary of the chase. Wait for me. I shall be merciful and quick.
KIRK [on viewscreen]: Like you were at Cestus Three?
GORN [OC]: You were intruding! You established an outpost in our space.
KIRK [on viewscreen]: You butchered helpless human beings
GORN [OC]: We destroyed invaders, as I shall destroy you!
MCCOY: Can that be true? Was Cestus Three an intrusion on their space?
SPOCK: It may well be possible, Doctor. We know very little about that section of the galaxy.
MCCOY: Then we could be in the wrong.
SPOCK: Perhaps. That is something best decided by diplomats.
MCCOY: The Gorn simply might have been trying to protect themselves.
(They watch as Kirk returns to the bamboo clump and picks out a short, wide stem.)
SPOCK: Fascinating. Good. Good. (Kirk cuts vines to length against a rock) He knows, Doctor. He has reasoned it out.
(Potassium nitrate gets shoveled into the bamboo)
SPOCK: Yes. Yes.
MCCOY: What is it, Spock?
SPOCK; An invention, Doctor. First potassium nitrate, and now if he can find some sulphur and a charcoal deposit or ordinary coal.
(Kirk is at the outcrop of sharp diamonds, and putting them into the bamboo too.)
MCCOY: What's he doing?
SPOCK; Diamonds. The hardest known substance. Impelled by sufficient force, they would make formidable projectiles.
MCCOY: What force?
SPOCK: Recall your basic chemistry, Doctor. Gunpowder.
GORN [OC]: Captain, let us be reasonable.
GORN [on viewscreen]: You have lost. Admit it to yourself. Stop running.
(Now the sulphur goes into the cannon, and finally he finds a vein on coal.)
(Now Kirk settles down to empty the bamboo, crush the coal, make a hole in the bamboo for a fuse and then mix his ingredients a little more precisely.)
MCCOY: Can he do it?
SPOCK: If he has the time, Doctor. If he has the time.
(The cannon is strengthened with the vine tied around it, and the gunpowder gets rammed home with a small branch. Finally the diamonds go in, and a piece of torn trouser will serve as a fuse, once he can raise a spark from a stone and the translating device. Fire is created as the Gorn approaches him from behind. Seeing the danger, he braces the cannon and fires it. The explosion blows the bamboo apart, and also incapacitates his opponent. Kirk picks up his fallen stone dagger and puts the point to the Gorn's windpipe, but cannot administer the coup de grace.)
KIRK: No. No, I won't kill you. Maybe you thought you were protecting yourself when you attacked the outpost.
(He throws the dagger away, stands up and shouts to the sky)
KIRK: No, I won't kill him! Do you hear? You'll have to get your entertainment someplace else!
(The Gorn disappears, and a young blond boy in a white shift appears instead.)
KIRK: You're a Metron?
METRON: Does my appearance surprise you, Captain?
KIRK: You seem more like a boy.
METRON: I am approximately fifteen hundred of your Earth years old. You surprise me, Captain.
METRON: By sparing your helpless enemy who surely would have destroyed you, you demonstrated the advanced trait of mercy, something we hardly expected. We feel there may be hope for your kind. Therefore, you will not be destroyed. It would not be civilised.
KIRK: What happened to the Gorn?
GORN: I sent him back to his ship. If you like, I shall destroy him for you.
KIRK: No. That won't be necessary. We can talk. Maybe reach an agreement.
METRON: Very good, Captain. There is hope for you. Perhaps in several thousand years, your people and mine shall meet to reach an agreement. You are still half savage, but there is hope. We will contact you when we are ready.
(Kirk suddenly appears in front of the crew, who all leap to their feet.)
UHURA: Captain! Are you all right?
KIRK: I don't know. I don't know. All right, everybody. Back to your posts. Let's get out of here.
(He takes his seat.)
KIRK: Mister Sulu.
SULU: It's impossible, but there's Sirius over there when it should be here. And Canopus. And Arcanis. We're. All of a sudden, we're clear across the galaxy, five hundred parsecs from where we are I mean, were. I mean
KIRK: Don't try and figure it out, Mister Sulu. Just plot a course for us back to Cestus Three.
SULU: Aye, aye, sir.
SPOCK: After you touched off your primitive cannon, Captain, we lost the picture the Metron was sending us.
KIRK; You saw what happened down there?
SPOCK: Most of it. I would be interested in knowing what finally happened.
KIRK: We're a most promising species, Mister Spock, as predators go. Did you know that?
SPOCK: I've frequently had my doubts.
KIRK: I don't. Not anymore. And maybe in a thousand years or so, we'll be able to prove it. Never mind, Mister Spock. It doesn't make much sense to me either. Take us back to where we're supposed to be, Mister Sulu. Warp factor one.
SULU: Warp factor one.
SPOCK: A thousand years, Captain?
Well, that gives us a little time.
Arena (Star Trek: The Original Series) [Wikipedia]
Essay #1...nuclear energy as a metaphor for power in science fiction
Essay #2...first British science fiction magazine
Essay #3...cosmology and science fiction...a separation of scientists and writers?
Essay #4...the influence of Yevgeny Zamyatin's "We" and H. G. Wells
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