The Enterprise is on a mission to escort an ambassador to a solar system to establish peace in the region. Despite being warned to stay away, the ambassador is single-minded in his desire to complete his mission. Once in the system, the Enterprise is designated as destroyed and all of its crew killed. The trouble is that the crew has to report to the surface to actually be killed.
The war is between two planets in the system, one colonized by the other. It was decided long ago that their system of war was clean and efficient. Given that they were a savage species, war was inevitable. Given that total, all-out war would destroy buildings, a computerized simulation would cost less in terms of rebuilding.
Kirk has to point out that Humanity is just getting out of its savage period and still has a bit of it left, but we have to take it one day at a time and not kill each other today. I was a little disappointed that Kirk didn't use the Vulcans as a shining example of a savage species turned good. Ultimately, no war is clean. It doesn't matter how you serve it up; lives are still taken and it's not necessary.
There has to be an end. The episode reminds me a bit of The Next Generation's "Devil's Due" in that the Enterprise is caught up in another planet's contract. It's really the only similarity, though. The Enterprise manages to not only save the day, but an entire civilization. How does the Prime Directive apply to that?
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