Saturday, October 19, 2013

Writing 'A Private Little War,' Star Trek's Allegory for the American War in Vietnam (Part Three)

Still from 'A Private Little War' (1967)
Don Ingalls delivered his second draft story outline a month after the first, on June 1, 1967 (during the second day of filming on ‘Who Mourns for Adonais?’). His revised version of the story had a new title, ‘A Private Little War,’ and was three pages longer than the first draft. Structurally, the two drafts are very similar, but with added length, the revised version has room to clarify a few story points and expand upon the parallels to the American War in Vietnam. Among the changes Ingalls made in his second draft:

-- The Enterprise’s last visit to Neural is said to have been three months ago, rather than the two year figure given in the first draft.

-- Neural is now described as “one of the several planet groups to which the Federation has made commitments to protect against any acts of aggression… It is absolutely vital to the maintenance of interplanetary peace that the Klingon threat be met head-on.”

-- Ingalls attempts to explain the conceit that only Kirk can carry a phaser, writing, “if their real identity remains unknown, [the landing party] must obviously forego their normal weapons, except for a ‘just in case’ small hand phaser which Kirk himself wears on his belt.”

-- The conflict between the Klingon Empire and the Federation is framed in terms that bring to mind the Domino Theory of the Cold War. “If the Klingons are let move in here, or anywhere, and they do as they wish,” writes Ingalls, “the Klingons gain not only satellite-group strength, but also discredit the Federation’s word and soon other border-line planets who haven’t yet taken sides, will see that our word is useless. They too will then swing to the enemy orbit, seeking the best deal they can make….and the strength of a dangerous, fanatical enemy will grow…and grow. We must protect those we say we will protect…we must keep our promises.”

-- The idea of bringing back Kor from ‘Errand of Mercy’ has been dropped. Instead, the character of Krell appears, although he still recognizes Kirk when the Captain infiltrates the camp.

-- The dangerous beast in the story is called the “Neural Great Ape” in this version.

-- The positions of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy on arming the Central people are more clearly established in this version. Spock points out that with both sides armed, “the slow but sure decimation of both camps” could result. McCoy, on the other hand, presents an uncharacteristically hawkish view. “Why kill a man with slow poison?” Ingalls has the doctor ask. “If one side is right… morally… if an aggressor must be squashed… well then squash him! Quickly, humanely! Give Ty-ree advanced weapons that will make the enemy rifles seem like pea-shooters.” Kirk decides that the only way to follow his orders and maintain the balance of power on the planet is to provide Ty-ree with the rifles, although he does try to make peace by meeting with Krell first. That meeting fails, however, when Krell says he will only accept “the unconditional surrender of the Central people [and] the withdrawal of Kirk and any representatives of the Federation.”

-- Ultimately, after he provides Ty-ree with the rifles, Kirk tells McCoy, “I had to do it, you know.” In response, “Bones shakes his head…it was a cruel thing to do…what’s our purpose in this whole thing, anyway?! What’s yours?! A private little war, with men instead of chess pieces?” Passing a dead soldier, Kirk tells the doctor, “I’m like him, Bones. I obey orders, and I hope my way is right… This ‘little’ war has been fought a million times before in a million different places, and it will probably be fought a million times more…and there isn’t a damn thing you or I can do about it.”

-- Aboard the Enterprise, at the very end, Kirk wonders, “We have advisors there now… how long will it be until we have troops?”

At this point, script consultant D.C. Fontana chimed in with a memo of her own, dated June 8, 1967. Like Roddenberry before her, she was worried that the episode had “a close resemblance to ‘Friday’s Child.’” Looking for a way to set the two episodes apart, Fontana suggested using the Romulans instead of the Klingons, and also asked if there was “any point to making the Neuralese less Arabic and perhaps more Mongolian or Apache Indian or something?”

Although Ingalls had changed Kor to Krell – which Fontana pointed out “were the dead ancients…in the movie Forbidden Planet” – since the Klingon still recognized Kirk on sight, Fontana asked, “Does everyone in the galaxy know Kirk?” On the same point, she argued that “Krell should not know so much about Kirk. Kirk is only one man in the entire Star Fleet.”

Despite her reservations, however, Fontana’s memo was a short one, clocking in at less than one page. Considering she opened it by praising the story as being “much improved,” I suspect she was onboard with “A Private Little War,” at least in outline form.

Roddenberry, too, thought the revised story was an improvement upon the first try, calling it “a good, highly professional outline” in a June 9, 1967 memo to Gene Coon. He went on to praise Ingalls in the memo, going as far to state that, “Properly handled Don Ingalls could become a principle and highly useful STAR TREK writer.”

Still, Roddenberry’s three page memo was not without criticisms. Among them:

-- He asked that the episode begin on the planet, thrusting the episode straight into the action.

-- He wondered if it was necessary for Kirk to have revealed he was from outer space during his previous visit. “On a semi-primitive world like this, starship personnel visiting the planet could easily claim they were from some “village” on the other side of the planet,” wrote Roddenberry. “It would further preserve the integrity of the theme that we interfere not in the slightest, not even by giving out knowledge of exactly who we are and where we come from.”

-- He found it impossible for the Enterprise to have manufactured so many rifles and ammunition in only three hours, “unless they had an automated armory already in operation.”

-- He felt Spock and McCoy were underused and unimportant to the story, and suggested “doing exclusively a Kirk story.”

-- He asked that the Klingons operate less in the open, and compared their intervention directly to Vietnam, writing:

If Earth knew the Klingons were on the planet…then Earth obviously would be obligated to not only set things right here, but take action against the Klingons. In other words, the situation is even closer to the Viet Nam [sic] situation. North Viet Nam [sic] tries to preserve the illusion, or at least tried to preserve it for sometime, that they were not sending men and material to South Viet Nam [sic]. And that way they insisted it was the United States which was the meddler and the aggressor.

-- Writing more on the story’s parallels with the American War in Vietnam, Roddenberry further revealed his stance on that conflict:

Don has done a good Viet Nam [sic] parallel in this but somehow I sense something is missing.  Perhaps it is carrying the parallel all the way--i.e. in the Viet Nam [sic] situation if either side makes a mistake there will be a world wide [sic] holocaust.  So the stakes are terribly great.  In this story, not to be unkind, mistakes seem merely that Earth or the Klingon Empire will probe the other is “cheating” and there will be angry words but it will end there.  At any rate let’s discuss.

Ingalls delivered one more revision to his story outline on June 10, 1967, but this version was largely the same as the second draft, making only cosmetic changes. With Roddenberry and Fontana pleased with the outline’s potential, Ingalls went to work on the teleplay.

(To be continued in Part Four)

(Part One can be read here, Part Two here).

Image courtesy of Trek Core.


The Gene Roddenberry Star Trek Television Series Collection (1964-1969)

1 comment:

  1. I was amazed that this late in the game, Ingalls could get McCoy's characterization so wrong. We may not have heard him spouting politics, but his hawk views definitely seem out of character.