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When Balok threatens to destroy the Enterprise, Captain Kirk tries to bluff his way out by saying the Enterprise contains Corbomite, a protective substance that automatically destroys any attacker.

I am not going to spoil what happens next in The Corbomite Maneuver episode, but you can say Kirk and crew survive.

An alien ship could defeat the alleged Corbomite in several ways. It can just zap the Enterprise and then warp away before the Corbomite could wreak havoc. It could fire missile from a safe distance. It can use a smaller ship to destroy the Enterprise. (A smaller ship does separate from the main ship in the episode, and despite its small size, it is very capable of handling the Enterprise.) It could perhaps use transporters to beam anti-matter or some other explosive material inside the Enterprise hull where the Corbomite-enabled hull will not reflect the attack back against the Fesarius.

Furthermore, it won't work against aliens on a suicide mission.

If I was the commander of the Fesarius, I would have called Kirk a liar and say he deserves to die for being stupid enough to think anybody would fall for such a obvious bluff. For a bluff to work, it has to be credible.

Why would Kirk even try a bluff like that?

Furthermore, Kirk tries the same bluff again in the episode, The Deadly Years, and the Romulans fall for it. This time, Kirk says that Corbomite will destroy the Enterprise and any ship within a 200,000 kilometer diameter. Providing a limit on the alleged device weakens the bluff because it tells the Romulans they can withdraw back 200,000 Km and then fire on the Enterprise.

Maybe this is another example of bad script writing.

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    I think it's okay to include "spoilers" for episodes that came out when Lincoln was in office. But as for your question, Kirk was obviously trying to fool the other commander. Could his ploy fail? Of course, but in Star Trek unless you're a Q, there's no guarantee that you will succeed. Kirk found himself facing a particularly stubborn and unmovable ship, so he decided to gamble. And he won. – Ham Sandwich Apr 9 '17 at 3:47
  • @T-1000'sSon Yes, he gambled and won but only because the script writers wanted him to win. (And the commander of the Fesarius was benign.) But it just seems too obvious (to me) to be a good bluff. – RichS Apr 9 '17 at 3:56
  • Risk is his business – NKCampbell Apr 9 '17 at 4:02
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    In the latter case, 200,000km is presumably outside of the range of the Romulan's weapons systems. – Harry Johnston Apr 10 '17 at 1:36
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    @HarryJohnston Ah, but the Romulans have warp-capable plasma weapons. The Enterprise tries to escape one in the show, The Balance of Terror. – RichS Apr 10 '17 at 15:15
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Kirk bluffed because he had no other option. His (real) weapons had been disabled by a dramatically more advanced opponent. He'd attempted to make peaceful contact with them and had been rebuffed. His only choices were to surrender (to an enemy who already has them defenceless and has issued no demands other than that they die) or to go on the verbal offensive. His conversation with McCoy convinced him to try a bluff.

“Assuming we get out of this, Captain, I intend to challenge your action in my medical records. I’ll state I warned you about his condition. And that’s no bluff.”

“Any time you can bluff me, Doctor-“

At once Kirk was aware that he himself had cracked a bit under the suspense and strain, and conscious too that his raised voice had made him an object of surprised dismay by the bridge personnel. He had increased fear instead of allaying it. Well, there was nothing to do about it. He’d just have to trust to their experience of him.

Star Trek 12 - James Blish

When it came down to it, we learn that Balok's threats were also a bluff.

Captain. In your culture, he would be Mr. Hyde to my Jekyll. You must admit he’s effective. You would never have been frightened by me. I also thought my distress signal quite clever.” And with another seiaphic smile, Balok added, “It was a pleasure testing you.” Eyeing the manikin, Kirk said, “I see.” Balok spoke earnestly. “I had to discover your real intentions, you see.”

“But you probed our memory banks…”

“Your records could have been a deception on your part.” As Balok spoke, he poured more tranya into his cup, offering to pour more for Kirk who declined. Mc-Coy, however, accepted more drink, asking, “And your crew, Commander?”

Balok giggled. “Crew? I have no crew, Doctor. Just Mr. Hyde and me. I run everything from this small ship.” The heavy voice became unexpectedly plaintive, the chubby face wistful. “But I miss company, conversation. Even an alien would be a welcome companion. Perhaps one of your men… for some period of time… an exchange of information, cultures…”

Star Trek 12 - James Blish

  • Question seems to ask why he tried that stupid bluff - not why he bluffed, or why it worked. – Z. Cochrane Apr 9 '17 at 13:54
  • @zabeus - Because he'd tried everything else. The person claimed to have read their records so the only option was to make something up that was completely outrageous. – Valorum Apr 9 '17 at 13:58
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    @Valorum Zabeus is right. I am not asking about why it worked or whether he had no other options. In hindsight, we know the Enterprise was in no danger because Balok was benign. As for why he bluffed, well that is obvious. If you are about to die, you can dare to do anything because you have nothing left to lose. A non-stupid bluff would have worked just as well. Kirk even tries the exact same bluff in another episode, The Deadly Years, where the Romulans fall for it. I am just as incredulous about the Romulans falling for the Corbomite bluff. – RichS Apr 9 '17 at 16:27
  • @Valorum I edited the question to clarify my intent. – RichS Apr 9 '17 at 19:02
  • "I don't believe in the no-win scenario." (Kirk, ST2:TWOK) – Gaultheria Apr 10 '17 at 4:09
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Kirk didn't have much else he could do - and is willing to take risks.

It's much like the Kobayashi Maru scenario. Kirk won by reprogramming the computer, something no one else would have considered trying, and if they did, would have been scared of the reprimand they would likely receive. Kirk has always been the kind of person who would take risks that could easily end in disaster, and in that position, a bluff was likely one of the best options. Remember, he thought it was a life or death situation. As to why he didn't think of a better bluff and why he uses it again a second time, he's many things, but logical reasoning isn't one of his best qualities.

  • "logical reasoning isn't one of his best qualities" Ah, but Spock has complimented Kirk on using logic several times. Most notably in the episode "The Changeling" where Kirk uses logic to trap a machine in a version of the Liar's Paradox. – RichS Apr 12 '17 at 6:08

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