Wednesday, 2 October 2013

TOS - 2.19 - A Private Little War

Star Trek - A Private Little War
Keep your paws off me, you dirty ape !
You win ! Me Tarzan giving up !
You can have Jane ! Just don't hit me no more !
The title reminds one of such incidence as Bay of Pigs in Cuba, or other military ops in Africa brought to you by the 3 secretive letters of CIA.

This private little war refers to the proxy wars in the Cold War. Yeah, we're back to the most favourite topic of TOS Season 1, the Cold War. The only such episode in this TOS Season 2. In this case, the story was inspired by the Vietnam War. But it's very well just about the Korean War.

The Cold War is cold because there's no direct military confrontations between the 2 superpowers of USA and Soviet Union. But proxy wars like the Korean War and the Vietnam War were fought instead. MAD principle of nuclear arsenals prevents the 2 superpowers from going to war with each other directly. The war between the 2 superpowers would start WW3 and ends the civilisation as we know it.

The key phrase in this episode is "Balance of Power". This is the name of the game of geopolitics (or astropolitics to be exact in this case). If one side of the military power is overwhelmingly stronger than the other, the weaker side will get taken over. The Balance of Power ensures that either side will blink.

The arm and space race during the Cold War was also another 2 facets of this game of Balance of Power.

This Balance of Power can be applied to the superpowers themselves as well as the proxy states where the proxy wars are fought. When the Communist Soviet supplied AK-47 to North Vietnam, USA supplied M16 to South Vietnam, Balance of Power is restored, according to the U.S. government.

Balance of Power is also the reason why President Nixon wanted to woo/court China that resulting in the Normalisation of US-China relationship in 1978. By becoming friendly with China, USA would put Soviet in the weaker position in the strategic game of the Balance of Power. During the Cold War, this game is being playing out endlessly.

So it's obvious that the Federation represents USA and the Klingon represents the Soviet in this, and just about all other TOS episodes so far. And so when the Klingons supplied 'fire-sticks' to one tribe, USA (sorry I mean the Enterprise, I'm very confused) has to supply flintlocks to the other tribe to defend themselves.

Like George Orwell's Animal Farm, which is an allegory of the Russian Revolution, where the Old Major represents Karl Marx, the pigs are Bolsheviks (calling them pigs, real subtle), Napoleon represents Vladimir Lenin, Snowball represents Leon Trotsky, the Human represents bourgeois class and landowner, Boxer the workhorse represents the Russian farmers, Animalism represents Socialism, etc.

Many of George Orwell's works in fact the definitive literature in the West of the Cold War era. It's still considered a very important work today, voted as one of the best English language novels in the 20th century. In Cold War Era, it's the book for the West as far as political literature goes.

Because his works have such paramount influence in Cold War as a - for the lack of a better word - propaganda tools for the West, no decent Star Trek TOS writer who's going to do the Soviets in without learning from the Master of Allegory of the Cold War.

You could say the whole Star Trek TOS, at least Season 1, was inspired by the allegories of George Orwell. And indeed, most of the episodes in Season 1 are allegories about the Cold War, not too dissimilar to Animal Farm. Except instead of English speaking animals, we have English speaking aliens.

As I pointed out several times in previous reviews, they changed tack in Season 2. This episode revisits that topic in Season 2. The only one in Season 2. Of course, the whole Star Trek enterprise (no pun intended) is an allegory of human history. The journey into the future is in fact the journey into our past. TOS started Season 1 with the contemporary issue, and in Season 2, it journeys deeper and deeper into our past to get materials for the episodes.

The story of this episode is an allegory of the Vietnam War, or as the North Vietnamese called it, the War of Independence. So each of the character represents a real-world counterpart (like the definitive Animal Farm).

The Federation - USA (the Administration)
The Klingons - Soviet Union
Hill People - South Vietnamese people (especially villagers in the countryside)
Enemy Villager - VC (Vietcong)
Mona - North Vietnamese government
Captain Kirk - U.S. President (LBJ)
McCoy - the angry American people (especially the Vietnam anti-war protesters)
Fire-sticks - AK47 rifles
Flintlocks - M16 rifles
Prime Directive - None interference foreign policy

And ah yes, the ever debated Prime Directive is also given its full due in this episode. Once again, the Federation - represented by Captain Kirk - has to step in and break the Number 1 Rule (aka the Prime Directive). As he says, he has no choice. Of course, this is this TOS writer's way of making clear his position that Uncle Sam has no choice but to interfere in the internal politics of other countries. In this case, to restore the Balance of Power in Vietnam. Other times, for other reasons as shown in other episodes. In any case, this TOS writer sent a pretty clear message about his approval of the political stance on the American involvement in Vietnam.

It's war like the Vietnam War that urged the American people to think about their interference in other countries' affairs. This dilemma is translated into the Prime Directive. Uncle Sam had fought so many wars in so many countries in the 20th century that this Prime Directive has been come into question again and again. The struggle of the Prime Directive by the Enterprise crew reflects the wrestling of American Foreign Policy towards other countries.

The 2 alien villagers or tribes who represent north and south Vietnamese are in fact based on American Indian. They dress and talk in the way as the native Americans being portayed in cowboys-and-Indians movies (although this episode is more like Indians-and-aliens, and funny enough, the American Indians are the aliens, and the aliens are the human! Confuse?). They also live in tepees. Of course, no depiction of native American culture is complete without the medicine woman or witch-doctor, who cures people of their illness with magic and potion. Although the term 'witch' would describe her role better. She seduces men with aphrodisiac herb to 'cast a spell' on them. She's also deceitful and treacherous. As I said, a witch (or if you fan of Santana, "Black Magic Woman").

While the villagers are based on the native American, they're however deliberately make them looked as different as possible by having Caucasian blondes playing them. After all, they don't want the audience to confuse that they're American Indians. Having said that, there're blond American Indians living in USA (and blond Australian Aborigines with blue eyes). But I don't think that's what the Trek writer or casting directors had in mind. Confuse?

Mona, the actress who played the witch-doctor, however is also a Caucasian female, whom was tanned to look like native American. The explanation is simply this. Whenever Hollywood wanted to show somebody innocent and pure, they used blond Caucasians. If they wanted to show evil people, they used brunette with dark skin. At least, that's the deal in Hollywood before, oh say, the 1980s. Probably is still true today, but to a lesser extent, and more subtle. After all, the word "dark" often associates with sinister. By applying to skin, it becomes a racial issue.

At the end, Kirk has to order 100 flintlocks to get the Balance of Power that's needed for the 2 warring tribes. And then he says he wants "100 serpents for the Garden of Eden". Coincidental or otherwise, this is an allusion to episode 2.5 "The Apple" where the Biblical serpents symbolise interference from outside world. Not coincidentally, Prime Directive is also a hotly debated topic in episode 2.5.

This episode was made in 1968 at the height of American involvement in Vietnam. The Green Berets (1968) was also released later in the same year as this episode, which is hardly surprising given the political climate at the time.

If you watch this youtube clip, particular between 03:00 and 3:50. When the green beret was told by the journalist that this is a war between the North and South Vietnam, the green beret shows a range of weapons supplied to the North Vietnamese by the various communist countries. That pretty much sums up the core message of this TOS episode.

We simply can't let the Communists (ahem, I mean the Klingons) spreading their Empire throughout the galaxy. Oh, by the way, Georget Takei also played in The Green Berets. Of course, there weren't that many Asian actors at the time in Hollywood (or now). Every known Asian faces would be called in for service, so to speak. This explains his absence on the Enterprise set on quite a number of consecutive episodes in Season 2 around the time when The Green Berets was being made, including this episode (kinda ironic, don't you think?).
Funny enough, the well known Chicago film critic Roger Ebert described The Green Berets (1968)as "cowboys and Indians" movie. Did he watch this episode of Star Trek TOS earlier in the year? I wonder... Usually, a story of TOS episode is inspired by a recent popular movie. As this episode is aired before the The Green Berets, it's tempting to conclude that the TOS writer didn't get the idea from The Green Berets. I'm not saying it is, or it isn't. I'm just saying you can't jump to conclusion simply because this episode was screened before The Green Berets. This is because The Green Berets may have started earlier, just finished later. This is to be expected as The Green Berets is a big budget feature length movie.
This is one of those serious episode that's characteristic in TOS Season 1. And so no light hearted ending where the bunch of senior officers of the spaceship Enterprise would laugh it off until the credit rolls. No such comic relief here. Just some sobering thoughts for captain Kirk (and the American audience) to ponder on. Should you or shouldn't you get involved in the Vietnam War? Cast your vote now...

No comments:

Post a Comment