“Is it them?! Is it THEM?!” the little girl shrieks as explosions rock her hiding place in one of many moments of danger in Steven Spielberg’s version of The War of the Worlds. Now, if you’re like most of the viewers of this film, you probably believe that the “them” the little girl is terrified of are mass murdering aliens from Mars. After all, that’s what H. G. Wells made “them” out to be in his 1898 book, the original story. “Them” were Martians in Orson Welles’ notorious Halloween broadcast in 1938 and again in the 1953 classic film version of the story. It’s even what “them” are suggested to be in the advertising for Spielberg’s film. But, as screenwriter David Koepp explained in an interview, “Them” aren’t Martians – they’re the American military.
The War of the Worlds has always had a political dimension. H. G. Wells was an advocate of radical social change who spent far more time writing about how the world could be better run than he did about Martians destroying it. It has been argued that Wells intended his Martians to be seen as conquering colonizers in the same vein as the European powers of the 19th century, smashing more primitive peoples into submission. Wells actually advocated something similar to colonial rule. He believed the world should have a single government, which would be run by a “capable elite” of technocrats, who would solve social problems with science. Such a state parallels a colonial government, in which a small number of educated colonizers with superior technology make decisions for the less educated colonized with inferior technology.
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In 1938, Orson Welles and his radio program, the Mercury Theatre of the Air, sought to knock down their time slot rival, a variety show that featured ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his wisecracking dummy Charlie McCarthy, with a Halloween trick broadcast of The War of the Worlds. Fake news bulletins would interrupt phony entertainment programs. Actors pretending to be reporters or eyewitnesses would tell the story of an alien invasion that starts in rural New Jersey and ends in New York City. The result was shockingly effective, with terrified listeners fleeing imaginary Martian war machines they believed where spewing poison gas and firing beams of flame. There was a political element in the panic. Hitler was making territorial demands in Europe and the real news was filled with war talk. It was common knowledge that a new war would involve novel and strange technologies. Consequently, some of those who panicked were certain that the Martians were actually Germans using the ruse of an alien invasion to hide a secret attack.
Hollywood took its first shot at The War of the Worlds in the 1950s, when Byron Haskin followed Orson Welles’ example, setting his version in modern times. Haskin’s Martians invaded rural Southern California. The local rustics plan to turn their spacecraft into a roadside attraction like an alligator farm before it suddenly hatches out a humming alien warcraft. After the Martians withstand an atomic bomb, the movie climaxes with the evacuation and near-destruction of Los Angeles. In a turn that would have irked the irreligious Wells, the film credits God with creating the microbes that destroy the Martians. In his book, a curate goes insane with fear, and his cowardice nearly gets the hero killed. In Haskin’s movie, the clergy are heroic, risking death to peacefully resolve the conflict, then courageously offering solace to their congregations.
Haskin’s The War of the Worlds has been widely described by film critics as playing upon excessive Cold War fears of mass destruction and Communist subversion. The critics seem to forget that these fears were well founded with an atomic Soviet Russia scheming to destroy the West.
This brings us to the Steven Spielberg’s production of The War of the Worlds. The commonplace political commentary on this film is that it reflects America’s post-9/11 fears of inexplicable mass destruction. There are many scenes in the film that evoke that day: people caught in the middle of ordinary routines suddenly sent running for their lives, photos of missing family members posted on a wall, and sheets of paper (emblematic of ordinary lives disrupted) fluttering through the air as buildings fall. The film’s special effects supervisor studied news footage in order to capture the feel of that terrible day. Spielberg has addressed the connections to 9/11 in interviews. To a reporter for DarkHorizons.com, he said, “There are all sorts of metaphors you can derive from this story, and I tried to make a film that was as open to those interpretations as possible. I wanted to make it suggestive enough so that everybody could have their own opinion.” It was a fairly straight-forward comment and typical of the publicity campaign for The War of the Worlds. But that’s not all that the makers of the film said.
In an interview in the Canadian horror magazine Rue Morgue, screenwriter David Koepp declared, “And now, as we see American adventure abroad, in my mind it’s [The War of the Worlds] certainly back to its original meaning, which is that the Martians in our movie represent American military forces invading the Iraqis, and the futility of the occupation of a faraway land is again the subtext.” In a USA Weekend interview, he expanded, “You can read our movie several ways. It could be straight 9/11 paranoia. Or it could be about how U.S. military interventionism abroad is doomed by insurgency, just the way an alien invasion might be.”
Welles certainly wasn’t writing about the American military. We were a distant nation, back then, with a very modest army. Our navy was growing but it was a bathtub fleet next to Britain’s Royal Navy, which “ruled the waves.” As for the futility of occupying “faraway” lands, history is full of examples of exactly the opposite. The Normans still occupy England. American soldiers have garrisoned bases in Europe, Japan, and South Korea for half a century, helping those regions to become prosperous and democratic. The Arabic armies that spread Islam by the sword left that religion in control of vast swathes of North Africa, the Middle East, and Far East. Occupations are difficult and strain national resolve but they aren’t preordained by the great screenwriter in the sky to fail.
Koepp’s assertion of “9/11 paranoia” is even more absurd. The 9/11 attacks killed more Americans than any military attack since the great slaughterhouse battles of the Civil War. It is incredibly foolish to not be fearful of what Islamist terror is capable of doing. Koepp’s use of the term “insurgency” betrays a politically correct view of the War on Terror that values parsing words to avoid offence as more important than accuracy. The terrorists in Iraq aren’t insurgents. Few are even Iraqis. Most are foreigners who kill far more Iraqis than infidels. Consider a couple of recent “insurgent” attacks.
On July 13, some American soldiers were passing out chocolates to a large group of children in Baghdad. A terrorist drove a car loaded with explosives near and detonated it. One U.S. soldier was killed and three were injured; 32 Iraqi children were murdered and dozens more injured. On July 16, Iraqi police managed to arrest another terrorist human bomb before he could detonate himself. His target? A gathering of mourners for the children killed by the earlier bomb. This kind of nasty, vicious terror isn’t accidental. The terrorists were sending a message that they were unrelenting in their antagonism and wouldn’t be swayed by the ordinary human feeling that, perhaps, the families of the dead children had suffered enough. It was proof that the original target, innocent children happily grabbing candy, was deliberately chosen. The mainstream media paid little attention to the attack, generally treating it as just more evidence that the U.S. military had failed to make Iraq safe.
An earlier terrorist attack received even less media attention. On June 2, Pfc. Stephen Tschiderer, a medic with the 156th Infantry Regiment, was on a routine patrol in west Baghdad when a terrorist sniper shot him. The event was recorded by a buddy of the sniper with a video camera. Videos of attacks upon Americans are eagerly posted on the internet by the insurgents for propaganda purposes. Tschiderer was knocked down, but his body armor stopped the bullet. The video, which was captured, shows him jumping to his feet, and taking cover. He alerted his fellow soldiers of the sniper’s position. The video ends there. That’s because Pfc. Tschiderer’s comrades shot the sniper. He and his pal were captured. Tschiderer didn’t hesitate when he came upon his bloody, would-be killer. He didn’t pull out a knife and slice his head off. He treated the sniper’s injuries.
These incidents are informative. We see a vivid contrast between the enemy and the U.S. military that only the most rabid of anti-American observers can ignore. We also see the media ignoring a story of a GI conducting himself well. If not for the terrorist’s video, which circulated on the internet for weeks without drawing remark from the mainstream media, it probably wouldn’t have been given any attention beyond the medic’s hometown newspaper. The footage, however, pushed the story onto the networks. Images, today, infuse the news with power.
Cinematic events are constructed visual fictions meant to entertain and make money while scoring rhetorical points. Spielberg and Koepp didn’t accidentally put together their film. So, when Koepp says the Martians in his screenplay are meant to represent the American military in Iraq, we should take his work as he intended. He sees the American military as murderous mass killers and their enemy as valorous “insurgents.” Less blind observers more accurately connect mass murder to the terrorists who killed thousands on 9/11 and continue to kill more in Iraq, London, Egypt, Bali, Lebanon, Israel, and all around the world.
After 9/11, “Why do they hate us?” became a common question. Hollywood decided it was because the West had treated Islamic peoples with disrespect. They recommend understanding and deference. We must reach out to our enemies, who will (Hollywood leftists assure us) welcome our pacific attentions and respond in kind. The true villains aren’t the terrorists, they say, but the leaders of the West, especially Bush, who refuses to understand the terrorists’ justifiable hatred and insists on using crude violence to defeat terrorism. Violence only begets more violence, they declare, ignoring that the terrorists don’t seem to worry much about creating enemies with their violence.
The reaching-out response to terrorism slathers saintliness upon its adherents. Isn’t it good to compromise and to make friends? To cite the Koran, “Kindness to the guilty is cruelty to the innocent.” Should the Allies have compromised with Hitler, letting him keep half of Europe or murder 3 million Jews instead of 6 million? We should try peaceful solutions when useful but, when confronted with uncompromising evil, appeasement just encourages more evil.
Some Hollywood left-wingers truly believe they are doing the right thing by blaming America first. Their righteous but wrong attitude could be excused if it didn’t endanger others. But, while many individual stars donate lots of money and time to good works, it’s hard to take Hollywood’s virtuous proclamations as sincere. Perhaps it is just the extension of conspicuous consumption. Hollywood celebrities have money and fame; all that is left to acquire is adulation for their supposedly superior sanctity.
There’s also peer pressure. Hollywood is full of more conformity than the average junior high school cheerleader squad. Few dare to risk their careers by expressing an opinion that differs in the slightest from the accepted left-wing viewpoint.
One also suspects that there is a degree of timidity in Hollywood’s sympathy for terrorists. Condemnation of America may, they hope, deflect danger. It’s a vain hope as Hollywood, with its lax sexual morés, disdain of religion, drug and alcohol use, and universal excess, is one of the major reasons for Islamist hatred of America. While they despise Israel and want to supplant the sheikdoms that rule the oil fields, Western pop culture isn’t much farther down the terrorists’ to-do list of things to destroy.
The War on Terror, which is a defense of the freedoms that permit Hollywood to exist, will probably dominate world events for a generation. Despite this, it has received scant attention from Hollywood. A pair of French brothers who were making a documentary about New York firefighters were on hand to record the events in the Twin Towers on 9/11. Their haunting effort, showing the faces of firefighters about to die, reacting in horror as they hear the thump of victims driven by flames to leap to their deaths from one of the tallest buildings in the world, was broadcast on television. Hollywood took little note. There was a television docudrama recounting the president’s reaction to the attacks and another about Mayor Guiliani’s actions on 9/11. Both received lukewarm attention. Hollywood’s more favored answer to 9/11 was Michael Moore’s smear film, Fahrenheit 911.
Moore’s initial reaction to the 9/11 attacks was to complain that the terrorists had killed people who hadn’t voted for President Bush. Presumably, if they’d killed red-staters, that would have been fine with him. Fahrenheit 911 was filled with so much hatred, distortion, and empty-headed declamation that even Moore’s friends on the Left called it propaganda, but, because it attacked Bush, it was embraced by Hollywood and the Democratic Party. Moore piled up awards, gave well-paid lectures, and sat by Jimmy Carter at the Democratic Convention.
Conservatives have wondered when an alternative to the Left’s version of 9/11 would be produced. Years have passed and one of the most dramatic stories in modern history has gone largely untold. Instead, we just get snide slams that compare the American military to monsters from beyond. But, wait! If the rumors are correct, a big budget film about 9/11 is finally in the works in Hollywood. It will tell the story of a couple of guys caught up in the destruction of the World Trade Center. The director? Oliver Stone. Remember him? He’s the guy who glamorized serial killers, spun fantasy conspiracy stories about John Kennedy’s murder, and called Fidel Castro “one of the Earth’s wisest people.”
Save him a seat by Jimmy for the next convention.