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"A Private Little War" is the nineteenth episode of the second season of the American science-fiction television series, Star Trek, first broadcast February 2, 1968, and repeated on August 23, 1968. The screenplay was written by Gene Roddenberry, based on a story by Don Ingalls under the pseudonym Jud Crucis, and directed by Marc Daniels. It was intended as an allegory about America's involvement in the Vietnam War.[1]

"A Private Little War"
Episode no. Season 2
Episode 19
Directed by Marc Daniels
Story by Jud Crucis
Teleplay by Gene Roddenberry
Featured music Gerald Fried
Cinematography by Jerry Finnerman
Production code 045
Original air date February 2, 1968 (1968-02-02)
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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List of Star Trek: The Original Series episodes

In the episode, the crew of the Enterprise discovers Klingon interference in the development of a formerly peaceful planet and joins them in what becomes an arms race.



On stardate 4211.4, the Federation starship USS Enterprise arrives at the planet Neural, 3rd planet in the Zeta Boötis System. Upon their arrival, Chief Medical Officer Dr. McCoy finds the planet is a medical treasure trove of materials needed for various serums and drugs. Captain Kirk also reports that the people of the world are still primitive.

Kirk and First Officer Spock soon notice a group of villagers crouching in the nearby rocks, apparently preparing for an ambush. Kirk is shocked to see they possess flintlock long guns and other firearms. Moreover, they seem to be waiting not for game but for a group of Hill People, one of whom Kirk recognizes as Tyree, his closest friend on this world. Since the landing party aren't supposed to use phasers, Kirk tosses a rock to make a distraction, but this causes one of the natives' guns to go off and a chase ensues. Spock is shot by one of the natives.

Once back aboard the Enterprise, Spock is looked after by Dr. M'Benga who specializes in Vulcan physiology. He informs Kirk that he has done all he can for Spock, who has fallen into a healing trance. Suddenly, sensors detect a Klingon vessel in orbit around the planet, and Kirk orders Ensign Chekov to maintain a position outside of their sensor range.

Kirk returns with McCoy, both now disguised as local natives to blend in. Suddenly, the two are attacked by a mugato.[note 1] The beast bites Kirk, injecting him with poison before McCoy can kill it with his phaser. McCoy is unable to call for help, as the Enterprise has moved out of communication range to avoid detection by the Klingons.

A friendly group of Hill People finally arrive and take Kirk and McCoy to their cave, where Kirk discovers Tyree is now their tribal leader. Tyree, who has just returned from a hunting mission, is married to Nona, a Kahn-ut-tu witch doctor who can cure the Mugato bite. In reality, Nona is influencing Tyree with her herbal drugs and urging him to acquire the villagers' "fire sticks" for their tribe. He has managed to hold out, maintaining a traditional, pacifistic view.

On hearing of Kirk's arrival, Nona heads for the caves and gets there just in time to see McCoy using his phaser to heat up rocks to keep Kirk warm. Nona is intrigued with the weapon and wants to know more about the mysterious guests. Nona treats Kirk with a Mahko root, a mobile plant. She cuts her own hand and presses it against the root over his wound ("Take this of my soul into thine..."). Kirk is fully healed by the small ceremony, and McCoy says he'd like to know more about the plant she used. According to legend, because their blood has mingled, and their souls have met in the spirit world, Kirk will be unable to refuse Nona anything once he recovers.

Meanwhile, back on the Enterprise, Spock seems to be recovering well. M'Benga informs Nurse Chapel that once Spock revives, she must do exactly as Spock tells her no matter how bizarre the request.

Once Kirk recovers, he asks Tyree about the "fire sticks" possessed by the villagers. Tyree says he saw the weapons for the first time about a year ago and believed the villagers were making them. He has not seen any strangers like the Klingons that Kirk talks about. Kirk asks Tyree if they will help him on a reconnaissance mission to the village under the cover of night.

Nona also tags along, trying to persuade Kirk to help Tyree become a more powerful leader. Kirk refuses, since he knows that Tyree holds to traditional pacifism and has even sworn an oath against killing people. Once in the enemy village, they locate a forge in which they find a chrome steel drill and some virtually carbon-free iron—evidence of the Klingons' involvement. Soon a Klingon appears, conversing with the village leader, Apella, and Kirk's group ducks to hide. Apella and the Klingon discuss the manufacture of improved weapons. Kirk and McCoy sneak up and overpower them, taking a flintlock weapon and escaping with Tyree's help.

Back aboard the Enterprise Spock finally wakes, but is only partially conscious. He requests Nurse Chapel to strike him repeatedly until he fully recovers, saying the pain helps him to consciousness. She hesitantly does what he asks, lightly at first, but then starts slapping him hard as he requests. Chief Engineer Scott happens to stop in and witnesses Chapel's beating of Spock and tries to stop her, however Dr. M'Benga arrives to explain that Spock's life is in danger and resumes the slapping. Spock finally comes out of his trance and thanks M'Benga and the bewildered Nurse Chapel for their assistance.

Back on the planet, Kirk shows the hill people how to shoot the flintlock weapon, but Tyree refuses to handle it. McCoy loudly protests, telling Kirk he is violating the Prime Directive and interfering with the natives' normal development. Kirk maintains that irreversible damage has already been caused by the Klingons, and if the two warring tribes are not on equal ground, one will slaughter the other. Kirk's interpretation of the Prime Directive compels him to arm Tyree's people with flintlocks as well, to maintain a balance of power on the planet. McCoy is horrified but he finds no alternative solution.

Thinking Tyree is too weak and hesitant to arm the people, Nona tries to seduce Kirk with her herbs, but Kirk resists and Tyree witnesses her treachery. He is angry enough to pick up the flintlock and take aim at his wife, but he is unable to kill her and puts the weapon down. Suddenly another Mugato attacks and Kirk vaporizes it with his phaser. Nona knocks Kirk out and grabs the phaser, which in her mind is a weapon that will give her ultimate power. She runs away seeking to cut a deal with her tribal enemies in exchange for the weapon. Kirk, once he recovers, gives chase with a small group to stop her and get back his phaser.

When Kirk, McCoy, and Tyree arrive, they find Nona being assaulted by the enemy villagers, who seem more interested in forcing themselves on her than learning about the weapon she is holding. Nona tries to defend herself, but she is unable to figure out how to fire the phaser. When the others arrive, tracking Nona, the enemy villagers believe she has led them into a trap, and kill her for it. The villagers are driven off, and McCoy retrieves the stolen phaser.

Tyree, now driven to kill, demands more "fire stick" weapons to avenge his wife's death. Kirk reluctantly orders Mr. Scott to manufacture and beam down a hundred flintlocks for the tribesmen. This would put them on an even footing with their enemy, which might satisfy the terms of the Prime Directive, but Kirk is ruefully aware of the arms race that will begin. Mr Scott questions the unusual order, not understanding its purpose. Kirk confirms it, this time saying he wants "serpents for the Garden of Eden." The episode ends with the Enterprise pulling out of orbit.


Don Ingalls' first draft of the script had specific references to the Vietnam War, such as Mongolian type clothes and a character described as a "Ho Chi Minh" type. Other early ideas included Kirk's friendship with Tyree developing completely during Kirk's second visit to the planet and a personal conflict between Kirk and Krell the Klingon.[2]


  1. Episode credit title shows as "Gumato" as this was creatures original name
  1. ^ A horned white-furred gorilla-like creature, pronounced "mu-GAT-u"


  1. ^ Solow, Herbert; Justman, Robert (June 1997). Inside Star Trek The Real Story. Simon & Schuster. p. 356. ISBN 0-671-00974-5. 
  2. ^ Allan Asherman (1989). The Star Trek Compendium. Titan Books. p. 90. ISBN 1-85286-221-1. 

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