Monday, April 30, 2007
Trekdom invites its readers to critique Franklin's Conclusions.
Star Trek in the Vietnam Era, part 3
by H. Bruce Franklin
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. 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.
Saturday, April 28, 2007
by Frank Jones
According to Bush administration neocons, especially top-dogs like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, the United States was attacked on 9/11 for no reason at all, and the United States was then forced into an unfortunate war of necessity.
We had to invade the middle-east hunting down the terrorists and killing them. We had to hunt down the weapons of mass destruction, before these superweapons could be used to kill millions of innocent Americans. We had to fight them there, so that we didn't have to fight them on the homefront.
Everyone else was either for us or against us.
Apparently, Jonathan Archer and his crew did what the United States could not do. They won the War on Terror. After Earth survived an unprovoked attack by the mysterious Xindi, the NX-01 entered the expanse, hunting down the WMD and bringing justice to the victims' families. Along the way, it was OK for the noble captain to torture suspected terrorists, so long as he got vital information about the secret locations of the WMD. It was also OK to strand a helpless crew in space, because the Enterprise needed their warp coil.
Every questionable decision and immoral deed could be justified simply by stating, "Earth is in immediate danger. Terrorists are out to kill our people." If Starfleet had signed a Geneva Conventions with the Vulcans and Andorians, it probably wouldn't have applied. An attack on the homeland justified anything.
Archer never had to answer for his crimes. But then again, neither did Cheney or Rumsfeld. It's a shame, but make no mistake about who the real victim of Archer was: Star Trek, which can no longer claim to represent a progressive or enlightened view of humanity's future. Instead, we'll see more of the same. While their movie night showed bad B-movies from the 1960s, our Star Trek will be catered to the lowest common denominator.
Pass the popcorn.
(The views expressed in this article are solely those of its writer. Trekdom invites readers to submit critiques or counter-arguments)
Dozens of Star Trek fans bid farwell today to James Doohan, whose ashes are to be blasted into space on a private rocket.
Doohan, beloved for his role as the USS Enterprise's chief engineer Montgomery "Scotty" Scott, died at the age 85 in 2005, but plans for his posthumous rendezvous with the final frontier have been repeatedly delayed.
However on Saturday a symbolic portion of his ashes will be on board SpaceLoft XL rocket that is scheduled to take off from a private launchpad in the southwestern state of New Mexico.
The launch has been scheduled for between 8:30 am (1430 GMT) and 2:30 pm local time (2030 GMT).
Doohan's ashes will be accompanied by the remains of former US astronaut Gordon Cooper and those of 200 other people.
Doohan's widow Wende said Friday her husband would have been thrilled at the prospect of a "space funeral" following a poignant service at the New Mexico Museum of Space History.
"He would be ecstatic," she said. "He would be the one pressing the button. He totally was so into space."
Afficionados of "Star Trek" were among well-wishers who gathered in this desert city Friday to pay their respects to the Canadian actor, who will forever be associated with the catchphrase "Beam me up, Scotty!"
Will Steinsiek, 55, a former pastor, resplendent in a "Star Trek" costume, said Doohan's character was integral to the series.
"In many ways, when we lost him, we lost the Enterprise," Steinsiek said, referring to the long-running show's famous spaceship. "These funerals are a way to reach a dream, the dream to go into space and back again."
Steinsiek said he had been a life-long fan of the series.
"I caught the second show, and I haven't missed one since. I've been a long-time fan, and passed it to my son," he said.
Joe Latrell, the president of a private rocket company, Beyond Earth Roswell NM, also appeared decked out in full "Star Trek" regalia.
He said the science fiction adventure series had accurately predicted many of today's technological gadgets, and had also offered a portrait of a diverse group working together for the betterment of humanity.
"Star Trek is compelling because it shows people of diverse origins working together and getting along," he told AFP. "Today, we need to make that happen.
"The cell phones, the memory cards of today are almost identical to the devices seen years ago in the series. It inspires the people to create them."
Doohan's posthumous spaceflight will see him follow "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry, whose remains were fired into space by Space Services I (SSI) in 1997, six years after his death.
SSI offers a variety of services for families wishing to shoot the remains of loved ones into space.
Launching a single gram of ashes comes with a 495-dollar price tag, while sending remains into deep space, a service which comes into effect from 2009 will cost up to 12,500 dollars. — AFP
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
by Jared B.
Although Trekmovie.com and other sites have repeatedly dismissed the rumor that Star Trek XI will focus on Kirk and Spock's early days at Starfleet Academy, this piece of gossip continues to circulate the web, sometimes even making its appearance in the mainstream press. In an effort to finally put this rumor to rest, Trekdom examines the origins of Harve Bennett's Star Trek: The Academy Years.
In 1984-85, the Star Trek franchise was preparing to celebrate its 20th anniversary, and the future looked bright. Following the box office successes of the first two films, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock had opened to eager audiences, displacing Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom from its top spot while raking in Paramount's largest weekend box-office gross of $34.9 million. Star Trek had truly entered the mainstream, and talk of a fourth feature film began immediately.
Yet, beneath the surface, trouble brewed. Although Leonard Nimoy enjoyed resurrecting the character of Spock during his feature film directorial debut in The Search for Spock, he continued to emphasize the finality of Spock's death as a regular member of the Enterprise crew.
"He's in the box," Nimoy told the New York Times in late 1984, adding, "I'm calling it death, dead, finished." Apparently, Nimoy believed that Spock's rehabilitation on the planet Vulcan would become a permanent exile from the adventures of the Enterprise. After all, Nimoy had only agreed to return as Spock if Paramount let him direct the movie and contract him to direct other non-Trek films, such as Three Men and a Baby.
Paramount was forced into an familier predicament: How to continue the franchise without the character of Mr. Spock. To make matters worse, William Shatner threatened not to resume his role as Captain Kirk unless the studio granted his demands for a markedly higher salary. After eight months of negotiation, Shatner and Paramount had reached a standstill, leaving Paramount to now ask, "How can we do this without Shatner or Nimoy?"
Executive Producer Harve Bennett proposed an ingenious solution: Why not examine the lives and trials of Kirk, Spock, and Bones during their early days at the academy? With younger (and cheaper) actors, the franchise could continue, keeping the icons of Kirk and Spock alive while dismissing the expensive actors entirely.
When Harve Bennett began writing a script titled Star Trek: The Academy Years, the fans, the cast, and Gene Roddenberry voiced their outrage at the idea of a new Spock and Kirk. Yet, Bennett remained committed to the idea, and, for a brief period of time, Paramount seriously considered its merits. In her autobiography Beyond Uhura, Nichelle Nichols recalls:
From the studio's point of view, the beauty of Starfleet Academy [sic]
was not how it would add to Trek lore, but how it would eliminate the original cast, and, most important, the large paychecks Bill and Leonard commanded.
Also, the pitched outline satisfied Paramount's demand that the fourth film be less serious and more comedic.
It is possible that the studio entertained Bennett's proposal as a way to bring Shatner and Nimoy back into the fold. It is of course an old Hollywood trick: Stifle an actor's egregious demands by threatening to recast the role. In this instance, it worked, and both Shatner and Nimoy came to terms. The studio had Bennett shelve his script for the time being, although they secretly promised him that it would become a movie at some point, possibly the next film.
However, following the extraordinary box office success of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Paramount suddenly cooled to the idea of a recast. Bennett still hoped that his script would be filmed after the lukewarm performance of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Thankfully, the studio decided instead to celebrate the 25th anniversary with one last hurrah for the original cast (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country). They also began preliminary discussions with Rick Berman regarding a Next Generation film. When TUC began preproduction, there was no longer any interest in Bennett's script. It was precisely at this point that Harve Bennett left the franchise.
During the original cast's last years in feature films, the rumor of a recast continued to haunt the sets. Undoubtedly, Paramount insiders stoked the rumor from time to time, because it gave the studio tremendous leverage when dealing with contract negotiations and actor egos. By the sixth feature film, Spock was not alone in wondering insecurely, "Is it possible that we have grown so old, that we have outlived our usefulness?"
Given the history of Bennett's project, it was not surprising that the Academy rumor resurfaced when word of a prequel series circulated during the last season of Star Trek: Voyager. And, indeed, it is not surprising that the rumor has resurfaced now, when most reliable evidence indicates that Star Trek XI will not be Kirk and Spock: The Wonder Years. If Paramount had any intention of reviving Harve Bennett's concept, then they would not be letting Shatner co-write a novel about Kirk and Spock's academy days (with no studio supervision!).
Yet, the rumor continues to circulate, and the "show that will never die" will long be accompanied by a rumor with a vampire's lifespan.
Comments and Reviews
The biggest Star Trek news of 2007, so far, is that “Star Trek XI” will be a remake.
Not just any remake, mind you, but rather a “re-imagining.” The writers who label it such fail to explain whether this requires more or less creative effort than a “reboot,” like Casino Royale or Batman Begins. All I know for sure is that I’ve yet to decide whether I’ll be driving my “pre-owned” car to the theater to yet another franchise “re-imagining” on the silver screen.
But there’s bigger news implied by the announcement that the new Star Trek is throwing out the bathwater. If this movie is a re-telling of the original series instead of just the telling of an untold story from those days, then the original adventure is probably done for good. And, in a way, the end of Star Trek is a relatively new idea.
Sure, back in the sixties it was almost over after two years of the original series, and seemed over for good when the show was canceled after year three. But then it happened. The story that Trek fans have all heard dozens of times. The tale of how Star Trek’s popularity exploded after its cancellation, and how it was kept alive by fans, syndicated airings, the animated series, books, comics, conventions and more. The story of how the late 70’s ushered in a quarter century of Star Trek being in virtuously continuous production.
During those years, it seemed like Star Trek could be as perpetual as television itself. If the original movies ended, The Next Generation would take over. If one series ended another was waiting in the wings, or was likely already on the air.
But, alas, all good things do come to an end, especially when they are no longer good. TNG transitioned from the most popular TV series in the history of syndication to an utterly mediocre film series. Voyager and Enterprise were both ill-conceived in the minds of many fans. Deep Space Nine was good, but not good enough to stem the fatal hemmorage of the franchise audience. Eventually the day came when there was no new Star Trek on air or in the works.
No more. Whether or not Star Trek XI is good or bad, success or failure, future Trek offerings will likely be set either in the universe of the remake, or will remake the universe yet again. All Trek’s yesterdays become relevant only in how they provide recyclable ideas for tomorrow’s Enterprise.
And it’s kind of a shame. A shame that, with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy still healthy and willing to contribute, Trek fans can’t have one more trip to their well before that well is plugged in favor of a new one. A shame that Hollywood lacks the creativity to both re-create Star Trek for a new millennium and embrace the ongoing story about which generations have become so passionate.
I write this not to take a movie announcement too seriously, or to be melodramatic. Yes, Star Trek is just an entertainment. Sometimes its magic exceeded its quality, and a few of its fans obviously drank too much of the kool-aid.
But allow those of us who will to pause to recognize the story that may finally end, even if only to be retold. To remember the story that made passionate fans engage in storied letter writing campaigns that renewed Star Trek for a third season, and even named the first American space shuttle.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
In part 1, Franklin critiqued "City on the Edge of Forever" as Trek's commentary on the growing peace movement. He now continues with an interesting interpretation of "A Private Little War." It is worth noting that many Trek insiders, such as Gene Roddenberry, Bob Justman, and Gene Coon label this episode as Star Trek's most blatantly anti-war statement.
Franklin's interpretation differs markedly.
Is this scholar being fair to Star Trek? Do you agree with his analysis of "A Private Little War"?
Star Trek in the Vietnam Era, part 2
by H. Bruce Franklin
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. 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." 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.
[Trekdom insert: Jud Crucis was a pseudonym for writer Don Ingalls. It references "Jesus Crucified" as a statement that Roddenberry crucified his original script - Thanks to Sir Rhosis at TrekBBS for that tidbit]
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." 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.
To be continued...
Monday, April 23, 2007
by Jared B.
On a cloudless September day in Palmdale, California, over 2500 people gathered to witness the dawn of a new age of space flight. Hundreds of families traveled to experience the event firsthand, and hordes of reporters stood by eagerly with cameras in wait. As the crowd's anticipation grew, all eyes focused intently on a large airfield hanger, soon to reveal the next generation of space vehicles to an enthusiastic crowd.
Moments before the unveiling, authorities announced, "We are about to enter a new era." This spacecraft, they predicted, would allow humanity to exploit the new frontier of space, to expand our knowledge, and to explore the cosmos "for the benefit of all mankind." Space flight, they further claimed, would become a routine enterprise, in which all nations cooperated in the exploration of the heavens.
The hanger doors soon opened, and the spacecraft slowly emerged. Spectators cheered wildly. While reporters snapped hundreds of photos to capture the scene, onlookers marveled at the craft's size and novelty. Among its most discernible features, the ship's name stood out in big, black letters painted across the hull: ENTERPRISE.
Gene Roddenberry, Leonard Nimoy, Deforrest Kelley, and most of the original cast were present to give her a send off. They smiled as Alexander Courage's Star Trek musical score blasted on nearby loudspeakers. The year was 1976.
Although many Star Trek fans know that NASA's first reusable space vehicle was named Enterprise, the story of how that came to be is rarely told. It was not NASA's first choice. Certainly, NASA personnel were "Trekked out" during the 1970s, and many engineers and scientists confessed to being devoted Trekkers. Yet, top NASA officials were not so bold (or crazy) to suggest naming the Space Shuttle after a fictional starship from a cancelled television show. Indeed, it is hard to imagine NASA administrator James Fletcher walking into President Gerald Ford's Oval Office and announcing, "Mr. President, we'd like to name this seven-billion-dollar spacecraft in honor of the guy with the pointy ears." It was not going to happen, especially during a time of increasing public and political scrutiny of the space agency.
Instead, NASA had picked the name of Constitution, not only as a celebration of the bi-centennial in 1976, but also as a symbolic tribute to the American "way of life" within the broader contexts of the Cold War and the continuing U.S./Soviet Space Race. Constitution was a obvious and logical choice.
However, Trekkers thought otherwise...
Bjo Trimble, the most famous and influential fan in Trek history, launched a new letter writing campaign in the spirit of her earlier Save Star Trek campaigns during the last years of the show. Using mailing lists from conventions and advertisements in fanzines and newspapers, Trimble pleaded with fans to send letters and petitions asking that the name be changed to Enterprise. Could there be, she asked, any more fitting tribute to the space program? This new epoch of human history would be symbolized by Gene Roddenberry's optimistic vision of a future of international cooperation and social harmony. Wasn't that better than a nationalistic or Cold Warrior-ish designation?
Soon, the White House was flooded with thousands of letters. It is not clear how many were sent, but most reliable sources estimate between 10,000 - 40,000.
Faced with this deluge of Trekkers, President Gerald Ford casually remarked to NASA chief James Fletcher in a late afternoon meeting, "You know, I'm a little partial to the name Enterprise." Ford did not mention the letters or petitions. Instead, he claimed that he liked the name because he had served aboard a Navy ship that serviced an aircraft carrier of that name. Fletcher then objected, but was immediately overruled by Ford.
It is also possible that Ford preferred the name Enterprise for other reasons. Not only did the word conjure up images of human endeavor, but it also hinted at cost-effectiveness and profitability, two characteristics that Ford desparately hoped to associate with the expensive space program.
While Trekkers rejoiced at the news, many journalists and NASA critics denounced the decision, depicting the name change as a "press agent's coup" or an obvious NASA publicity stunt. However, others applauded the decision. The New York Times, for example, remarked, "Tribute to all forms of imaginative entertainment that have spurred interest in space and science this past century is long overdue." It then asked NASA to consider naming the next shuttle The Jules Verne.
To many Trek fans' dismay, the Enterprise never orbited in space. Instead, it was used for test flights, one of which stacked the vehicle atop a 747 jet.
Nevertheless, it was a huge grassroots victory for Star Trek fans everywhere. They should be proud of this accomplishment. Not only were fans able to save the show from cancellation in 1967, but they also influenced governmental policy at the highest levels.
Sunday, April 22, 2007
The following quotes come from a book titled, Race-ing towards a White Future. This scholarly analysis of Star Trek (mostly TOS and TNG) was written by Prof. Daniel Bernardi.
Trekdom invites its readers to critique this scholar's viewpoints. Is he being fair to Star Trek? Why or why not?
A few quotes:
"Trek perpetuates the longstanding myth of the natural and humane right of white rule and occupation into and beyond the final frontier."
Star Trek represents the paradox of 1960s liberalism:"The more ideologically hegemonic liberal values seem and the more open to difference liberal modernity declares itself, the more dismissive of difference it becomes and the more closed it seeks to make the circle of acceptability."
About Plato's Stepchildren, the TOS episode that broadcast the first interracial kiss on network TV, Bernardi writes, "The coupling between black and white is coded as undesirable and perverse, a thing to be resisted or kept at arm's length."
"The integrated cast was kept at the margins of most stories and in the background of most shots."
Sulu was "only supposed to look Asian. Otherwise, he was fully assimilated to European values, thus reflecting the destruction of his Asian-ness."
Uhura was "more of a token than a truly integrated character," and her only real screen time presented her as an exotic "prize" for white colonial fantasies.
"The Undiscovered Country... ends up perpetuating more stereotypes than it challenges and questions. The whiteness of the Federation ends up morally supreme, as the critique of humanocentrism fails to hinder the manifest destiny of white superiority."
"For all its rhetoric of humanism, diversity, and plurality, The Next Generation presents us with a future where everything from the multicultural past to the assimilation of dark aliens smack of a neoconservative project."
"The point: wherever we come from, the course of evolution, of advancement and sophistication, is literally and metaphorically, physicallly and socially, white. Humans and aliens of color might not get there, or if they do, they have to 'assimilate' and ultimately mind their place... That's TNG's (and Trek's) version of the promised land."
Saturday, April 21, 2007
Gene Roddenberry's Atheism: In his own words
My family was from the South. My mother was very religious. Every Sunday we went to church, Baptist church. I didn't really take religion that seriously. It was obvious to me, almost from the first, that there were certain things that needed explaining and thinking on, but why bother about them? I was a child. Life was interesting and pleasant.
I think the first time I really became aware of religion, other than the little things you do as a child because Mom says to do it (it was mostly Mom) was when I went to church. In my early teens I decided to listen to the sermon. I guess I was around 14 and emerging as a personality. I never really paid much attention to the sermon before. I was more interested in the deacon's daughter and what we might be doing between services.
I listened to the sermon, and I remember complete astonishment because what they were talking about were things that were just crazy. It was communion time, where you eat this wafer and are supposed to be eating the body of Christ and drinking his blood. My first impression was, "This is a bunch of cannibals they've put me down among!" For some time, I puzzled over this and puzzled over why they were saying these things, because the connection between what they were saying and reality was very tenuous. How the hell did Jesus become something to be eaten?
I guess from that time it was clear to me that religion was largely nonsense, largely magical, superstitious things. In my own teen life, I just couldn't see any point in adopting something based on magic, which was obviously phony and superstitious.
I don't remember ever being serious about any of those things. When I sang in the choir, we made up cowboy words to the choir songs. The rest of the choir would be singing "Holy, Holy Jesus," and we would be singing something entirely different.
At five years old I was serious about Santa Claus, but at five and a half I learned it was nonsense. Writers often write these as weighty moments, but in my experience they're not. Santa Claus doesn't exist. Yes, I think back now that there were all sorts of reasons he could not exist and maybe have a little sadness that he is gone, but then I think the same thing about Jesus and the church.
So my thinking about religion sort of stultified at that time and I just decided not to pay any attention to it. I stopped going to church as soon as it became possible for me to do things on my own as a teenager. I made up my mind that church, and probably largely the Bible, was not for me. I did not go back to even thinking much about it for years. If people need religion, ignore them and maybe they will ignore you and you can go on with your life.
I can't say I didn't care about it or examine it; I just let it pass lightly over me. Religion was so full of inconsistencies that I could see no point in arguing each inconsistency out. It was background noise that you ignore.
I've been thinking about how I said that religion seemed pretty foolish to me for most of my life. Indeed, it did, but then comes the question of why didn't I take a stand against it? I used religion several times in Have Gun, Will Travel. Once in a penitentiary where a pastor was trying to keep a fellow from being hung, I wrote that the pastor grabbed a hacksaw blade, was cut by it, and was bleeding. I had him make some comment about blood and salvation. It's not that I actually believed in blood and salvation being connected, but that was the way the audience believed and I can remember going out of my way not to deal directly with what my thoughts were for several reasons.
There will always be the fundamentalism and the religious right, but I think there has been too much of it. I keep hoping that it is temporary foolishness. Some of it will always be around because there will always be people who are so mean-spirited and such limited thinkers that their religious beliefs seem so logical: that there is a god, and so forth, that nothing else in their limited concept can explain what the existence of a god can. There's been a lot of it lately: Youth for Christ and that sort of thing. I'm hoping that this is just a bump in time.
Of course, the only thing that will keep such things from continuing and growing is education. Dewey was right about that. Unless we have an educated populace, there's no telling what may come along. The pressures of life are so great that a certain percentage of all these uneducated people will come up with strange ideas. Strange, violent ideas. They seem to have good answers for all of our problems. I don't think life's problems are such that we have to rely on simplistic answers instead of thinking things through. I think these things will be found in proportion to and in reverse order of how well we educate ---populace.
Source: Humanist 1991 interview by David Alexander.
Comments and Reviews
Friday, April 20, 2007
Thursday, April 19, 2007
Trekdom invites our readers to critique and review this essay. Is this scholar over-analyzing? Does he make valid points? Do you agree with his interpretation of City on the Edge of Forever?
H. Bruce Franklin
Star Trek in the Vietnam Era
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.