Are We the New Martians?

Heat rays don’t always carry the day. (I used to own this double album, narrated by the great Richard Burton)

W.J. Astore

A few years ago, I picked up H.G. Wells’s classic novel, “War of the Worlds,” and read it in full. I had seen the movies based on it and had also dipped into the book, but I finally read the whole thing, marveling at the suspense Wells created in his classic account of Martians invading our planet, stomping us with their superior technology, only to be overcome by microbes to which they had no resistance.

As I read the book, I asked myself: Are we Americans becoming the new Martians? Warlike ways, superior technology, a predilection to invade and dominate for resources, with no regard for the “primitives” we stomp on or push out of the way in our quest for full-spectrum dominance?

I’m not the only one with questions along these lines. At TomDispatch today, Tom Engelhardt recounts his own affection for “War of the Worlds,” which he avidly read as a boy, and which he recently turned to again in our era of dangerous microbes, incessant war, and a changing climate that is threatening life as we know it on this planet.

Wells, of course, intended his story partly as a critique of the British and Western imperialism of his day, which is why it remains relevant to our imperial world today.

Think about it. America’s leaders, and especially the military-industrial-congressional complex, are in many ways the new Martians. Their god seems to be Mars, the god of war, and the planet they’re remaking is increasingly red, barren, and inhospitable. They’re doing a fair job of emulating those Martians as well, leaving Planet America to attack other lands for their resources, banking on superior technology and “heat rays” (Hellfire missiles!) to win the day.

Yet, like those very same Martians in “War of the Worlds,” Planet America loses its wars to “inferior” peoples, betrayed by “primitive” and hostile environments (the sweltering jungles of Vietnam, the urban jungle and heat of Iraq, the rugged mountains and omnipresent dust of Afghanistan). But do America’s Martians ever quit? Of course not! They keep building new war machines, they keep “investing” in new technologies, they keep advocating dominance through invasion and killing, much like those desperate Martians in Wells’s book, who, faced with a dying planet, decided their only course of action was to invade a different planet and steal its resources for themselves.

In Wells’s book, the Martians reveled in war, shouting “Ulla! Ulla!” as they fired their death rays. Our leaders are doing something similar while many of us shout “USA! USA!” mindlessly.

Wells sought to teach us that war and technology and destruction are just as likely to lead to our demise as to our triumph. The more we make war on ourselves and our planet, the more likely it is that Earth will come to resemble Mars, an inhospitable place for a dying species. Yet, unlike the imaginary Martians of Wells’s book, there’s no other hospitable planet in the neighborhood for us to invade.

Bonus: Here’s an excerpt from Jeff Wayne’s musical version of “War of the Worlds,” featuring Justin Hayward on vocals and Richard Burton as narrator. “The massacre of mankind”: No one says it quite like Burton.

9 thoughts on “Are We the New Martians?

  1. The ‘we’ I have in mind regarding this post is we humans. It seems that all humans have a propensity to destroy their environments. I say a propensity because some have not, but these seem to be those societies that never achieved any technology such as the Eskimos, Amazonian Native Americans and Old World jungle people. Now that those people have acquired technology they are destroying their environments. The Eskimos are depleting the seals with high powered rifles equipped with scopes. They can kill several seals a day instead of waiting by a breathing hole with a harpoon for hours to maybe get lucky and kill one.

    It seems that when Homo sapiens diverged from the rest of the Homo species something changed in their attitude towards themselves and the natural world around them. They left the Garden of Eden and became ‘other’ to the rest of the natural world.

    I am not sure what the solution is to this problem with Homo sapiens. I keep hearing agent Smith in the Matrix saying to Morpheus: ‘There is one organism on Earth that is like humans, it’s called a virus. It destroys everything it infects.’

    Can we live responsibly with the Earth and all her children, all our relations?

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    1. nope… it’s time to go, and as many of us have exhorted, “good riddance” to us and our faeces-spurting sludge! the pluripotent virions ought to survive, however, b/c they, in concert w/ archaebacteria, mycoplasma, and cyanophytes, are the architects and engineers of the inexorable evolutionary processes that will help create neoteric species, ones that might replenish planet earth… i.e. supplant, replace, and compensate for the multitudes of habitats and critters our myopic species has so cavalierly destroyed.

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    1. When the Viking 1 lander touched down on the surface of Mars in 1976, the first pictures it sent back showed a barren, inhospitable wasteland. One person present at JPL on that historic occasion voiced the general attitude of disappointment. “There is no life on Mars,” he said. A guest at the proceedings, science fiction author Ray Bradbury, replied: “There is now.”

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  2. Justin Hayward…of the Moody Blues? They wrote many songs that were out of this world. I recall going to a concert of theirs in Phoenix in the early 70’s. What I recall about the show was not the music, but that the entire place was lit up with thousands of fans pulling on weed.

    Sorry, off topic.

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  3. “Remember that [H. G. Wells’] Martians finally went down, but not at the hands of humanity. They were taken out, “after all man’s devices had failed,” as the novelist expressed it then, “by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth.” The conquerors of those otherwise triumphant Martians were, he reported, “the putrefactive and disease bacteria against which their systems were unprepared.” — Tom Englehardt

    For those more inclined towards science than fiction — especially those unsupported iron-age hallucinations about The Great Metaphysical Canine (“DOG”) and its nowhere demonstrated “‘wisdom” — see: Using Microbes To Make Martian Rocket BioFuel on Mars, by Georgia Institute of Technology (November 1, 2021).

    Also, for a reasonably accurate technological tale of humanity setting out to explore the planet Mars, I would highly recommend “The Martian,” a novel by Andy Weir. The eponymous movie by Ridley Scott starring Matt Damon as a marooned astronaut does some Hollywood WOKE damage to the end of the story and skips some of the truly nail-biting situations that “the only human ever alone on a planet” overcomes with his determined resourcefulness, but otherwise makes for worthwhile viewing, in my opinion.

    Humanity has already brought increasingly capable machinery to Mars and so next come the microbes to turn sterile “regolith” into actual biological soil fit for farming and fuel for the return voyage home to planet earth. Interesting times, indeed, await the inquisitive, exploratory human consciousness restless at the natural “limits” of a single world.

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    1. Everything to do with exploring Mars and making it come alive for human purposes depends on a reliable source of power day or night, regardless of dust storms, etc. A small group of dedicated scientist/engineers designed, built, and tested just such a power source for space applications three years ago and could have placed a demonstration unit on the Moon by now (2021) for about $150 million. Naturally, Congress and the Pentagram absorbed all that funding and more to no purpose whatsoever.

      Anyway, for those interested in state-of-the-art engineering that could power an actual Mars exploration program, see: Dr. David Poston – Small Nuclear Reactors for Mars – 21st Annual Mars Society Convention (Sep 4, 2018).

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