A groundswell of anti-war sentiment, in fact, is exactly the danger Kirk and Spock must pursue McCoy into 1936 in order to avert. The alternate history McCoy unknowingly precipitates follows from his rescue of a social worker from certain death in a car accident — by snatching her out of the path of an oncoming Model-T Ford (just another subtle reference to a classic example of American innovation), McCoy ensures that the woman will live to pilot a pacifist movement which delays the United States’ entry into World War II. Kirk and Spock learn that Germany ultimately wins the war “because all this,” the delay, “lets them develop the A-bomb first.”
Again, progress and technology is shown to play a major role in global events; even more important, however, is the public’s traditional loyalty to “God and Country,” an attitude fast eroding in the late-1960s and 1970s. The storyline of “The City on the Edge of Forever” — and, within the story, the fate of nations — pivots on the anti-war sentiment of a single woman, a plot device only serving to emphasize the exponentially greater danger of a growing public outcry against the war. As disunity benefited the Axis powers in the story, the writers and producers suggest that contemporary fractiousness could work to the advantage of the enemy in Vietnam.
Essentially, the two central questions of the 1960s anti-war movement — Why aren’t we winning? And who is really the enemy? — “The City on the Edge of Forever” answers with a single word: You.
In Star Trek’s fictional America, a man who has “dropped out” of reality sets in motion a chain of events that lead finally to a pacifist 1930s Counterculture derailing American history’s archetypal battle of good and evil. Facing a future in which Victory Culture values of confidence in, progress for, and loyalty to the United States have been abandoned, Kirk (whose technologically advanced ship, consequently, has vanished as well) laments that “Earth’s not there, at least not the earth we know. We’re totally alone,” a short speech which suggests the sentiment of Star Trek writers and producers shaken by the period’s divergence from the America they knew.
Accordingly, when the timeline has ultimately been set right, Kirk responds to the Guardian’s offer to be a gateway into “many such possible journeys” with an utter rejection of both alternative histories and alternative lifestyles: “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
This is a slightly retooled version of a paper I wrote for an American Studies class this semester: It had pretentious subtitle and far fewer parenthetical comments. The only quotes are from the episode dialogue itself. But remember kids, if you’re going to use any of my research, make lots of citations—they’re fun! And if you don’t, you could go to jail for a long time because plagiarism, my friends, is a felony*
*That’s a lie, but the world “plagiarism” does come from the Latin “plagiarus,” which means “a kidnapper.” That’s actually kind of cool. Not the kidnapping part—the etymology.