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Saturday, 22 October 2016

What If: The 1938 War of the Worlds Actually Happened?

The Martian Tripods
Continuing 2016's 'Month of Horror' we're going to look at an alternate history scenario which I've been planning to do since the very first 'Month of Horror' in 2014. Released in 1898 H.G. Wells's novel The War of the Worlds became a momentous landmark in the history of science-fiction. It also made people scared: an alien force landing on Earth wiping out everything in their path. In 1938 while working with The Mercury Theater on Air Orson Welles on October 30, 1938 aired an adaption of the novel. He changed the setting from Victorian England to contemporary America, and spliced news of a Martian invasion through regular broadcasts. Reports later came back that people believed that Earth had been invaded by Mars causing instances of mass hysteria. Although the mass hysteria has been over-exaggerated, only 27% of people writing to the Theater believed it to be real, the idea of an alien invasion terrified people. For that reason the alternate history scenario for 2016's 'Month of Horror' will be if Martians actually did invade in 1938. First though, we have to see what the world was like on 30 October, 1938.

The World in 1938
In 1938 the United States had been slowly recovering from the Great Depression which had ravaged the world economy over the previous nine years. Under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, (FDR), the economy of the United States had slowly started to recover thanks to his New Deal program. These were a series of acts and presidential executive orders which had the aim to reduce unemployment, provide relief for those in poverty, recover the economy, and reform the economy and banking system to avoid another Great Depression. These reforms had mixed success. By 1938 the economy had not recovered but, bar the 1937 recession, the economy had steadily started to improve. In 1932, the year before FDR was sworn is as president, unemployment was at 23.6% while in 1938 it had dropped to 19%. Today FDR is regarded as one of the greatest presidents as a result of his actions. However, race relations were appalling in the 1930s. Although membership of the Ku Klux Klan plummeted during the 1930s this was more to do with economic downturn rather than better race relations. Jim Crow laws barred African-Americans, Native Americans and Asians in various states caused widespread discrimination, and in states with no Jim Crow laws ethnic minorities were forced into ghettos. Lynching was perfectly legal. Although FDR was sympathetic to the plight of African-Americans he was forced not to pass legislation to help them due to the fact that he would have lost the support of racists in the Senate who he needed to pass his New Deal bills.

Other areas of the world the situation was grim. World exports dropped rapidly which decimated Chile's economy, 80% of the economy was reliant on foreign exports. In the UK the industrial North, Wales, and Scotland saw widespread unemployment causing several hunger marches, in Thailand (then called Siam), a revolution ousted the king, the Peruvian economy was destroyed, and in France riots broke out. China started to crumble thanks to civil war and foreign invasion. The Soviet Union was hardly hit by the Depression but Stalin's forced industrialization caused widespread famine where in Ukraine up to 7.5 million starved to death in what has been described as a genocide. Around the world militarism and far-right politics took root. In the early 1930s Japan invaded northern China forming a puppet government there, and following the assassination of the prime minister Japan started becoming extremely ultra-nationalist. In 1937 this escalated into the Sino-Japanese war. Across Europe the democracies which survived the 1920s, (not a booming decade for them), started to fall. Both Britain and France avoided falling to far-left or far-right politics but both countries faced challenges from these parties; in Britain Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists obtained large amounts of votes. In 1936 the weak Spanish Republic descended into civil war as right wing authoritarianism in the military tried to oust the government, succeeding in 1939. 1936 also saw Mussolini's Italy annex Ethiopia in a particularly bloody war which ended one of the last independent African countries. In 1933 German democracy permanently fell as Adolf Hitler became chancellor. In the September of 1938 Hitler almost plunged Europe into war over his attempts to annex the steel rich 'Sudetenland' of Czechoslovakia which his faltering economy desperately needed, (using the pretext of defending 'Germans' who lived in the region). The world was expecting a war. This scenario they will get a war but not the one they expected.

The Invasion
The Martians Invade
For the purpose of this scenario the Martian invasion will carry out in the same way as the radio drama broadcasted it. On October 30 1938 regular radio broadcasting is interrupted by a newsflash saying that strange explosions have happened on Mars. Shortly afterwards something lands in Grover's Mill, New Jersey which transpires to be a metallic cylinder. The cylinder opens revealing a tentacled being who then proceeds to incinerates the crowd at the scene with a heat ray. The New Jersey National Guard is sent to fight the Martian only to be met with a giant tripod constructed by the Martian. The tripod then manages to wipe out the National Guard. A state of emergency is declared by the state, and reports emerge that other cylinders have landed in New Jersey, Buffalo, Chicago, and St Louis. More and more tripods rise from their craters and the United States army proves to be ineffectual against the invaders. As they go they destroy bridges, railroads, roads, and power stations. The only time the army succeeds in damaging one of the tripods it releases a toxic black cloud which kills all life which it touches. The New Jersey tripods march through Newark and with ease cross the Hudson to invade New York City. Manhattan bears the brunt of the attack with the black smoke descending on the island in accompaniment to the tripod heat rays. As they move through city after city they capture humans in order for them to harvest their blood.

Just as all hope is lost the tripods start collapsing. One by one they fall until none are left. It is quickly learnt that common human diseases proved fatal for the Martians. Within a few hours humanity learnt they were not alone in the universe, was invaded by another lifeform, and survived only thanks to microorganisms.

Despite victory over the Martians the country is not celebrating. Millions would have been killed as the Martians across the land. Chicago, St Louis, Buffalo, Newark, and New York City are either destroyed or are partially destroyed. Manhattan is no longer in existence. The radio drama focuses largely on the New Jersey Martians but we can estimate the direction which the other Martians went in. The Chicago Martians would have headed to the nearest large city which would likely be Naperville, while the St Louis Martians would have headed to Springfield, Illinois. Meanwhile, the Buffalo Martians would be the only ones to cross international boundaries by crossing the Niagara Falls and into Canada. From there their devastation would take them to Hamilton, and then to Toronto. Each city would either be utterly destroyed or would be partially destroyed. Rural areas would also be devastated thanks to the Martian black smoke. Both Canada and the United States would be plunged into crisis. There would be a refugee crisis thanks to the millions of people displaced thanks to the Martians. In 1940 New York City had a population of just over 7 million people. If even three-quarters of this population was killed by the Martians there would be over one million people displaced.

The economies of the United States and Canada would go into rapid decline. The New York Stock Exchange was located in Manhattan, an area destroyed by the Martians. Thousands more would still die through starvation, illness, and exposure. Thanks to Illinois being attacked meat production drops in the United States, and the use of the black smoke along the Mississippi would poison a huge chunk of the river for months. Agriculture along the Mississippi would be decimated as the black smoke's poison is inadvertently used to water crops. Just as seriously thousands would drink the water and grow ill with many dying as a result. Although filtration is quickly adjusted to prevent poisoning the damage is still done. For farmers the 1920s was a decade of depression, and FDR did try to help them. The Martian invasion virtually destroys mid-western farming so much that to actually feed itself the USA has to mass import food from abroad. Those displaced are hardest hit. Thanks to the Martians tearing up bridges, roads and railroads it is increasingly difficult to get aid to refugee camps, (named 'Martianvilles'), and with a food shortage this exacerbates an already perilous situation. In the first days all aid has to be airlifted in. During the broadcast it was reported that opportunistic militiamen were planning to use Martian technology to dominate the region. Following the invasion these militiamen become local warlords, (although due to the sheer advancement of Martian technology they cannot use the weapons), and often confiscate aid for themselves. Quickly aid has to be distributed with army aid.
In the United States at least there is a quick government response to the crisis. FDR was known for involving himself with the public, and would personally try and get to areas devastated by the Martians. A 'Third New Deal' would be put into place with the express aims of dealing with the refugee crisis, defending the United States from another attack, and rebuilding the destroyed cities. His quick implementation of bills to take unemployed laborers, or displaced laborers, to rebuild the cities, and quick actions to deal with the farming crisis would keep some people supporting him. However, his popularity would soon drop. The sheer size of the crisis and the over reliance on foreign imports means that the country remains extremely weak. Race riots would break out in mid-western refugee camps, and quite likely northern refugee camps, as prejudices boil over. A fear of anything unknown is amplified and immigrants get heavily discriminated against. Only thanks to policies to prevent further poisoning on the Mississippi, and the gradual repopulation of the cities does FDR retain any popularity. Emigration could even be encouraged with Americans and Canadians being encouraged to return to their ancestors homes of the UK, Ireland and France to alleviate some of the population pressure. Likewise, the UK and France would likely be the biggest contributors of aid to the United States and Canada, as well as possibly the USSR. Far-left and far-right politics would rage in the United States which the USSR would eagerly capitalize on, Hitler viewed the USA and Canada with disdain in contrast. Philadelphia and San Francisco now becomes the main centers of commerce.

The World
The world would look on in horror at what happened in the USA and Canada. Canada would easily get aid from the UK due to it being a member of the Commonwealth, but due to the fact that the UK was facing its own problems aid would be limited. Most of the food aid would be taken from India in turn causing food shortages there, and increasing tension between the British and Indians. However, for the first time the world would feel somewhat united. Throughout history people have been united by foreign invasion, (such as how Italian and German nationalism grew following Napoleon's invasion). Quite likely governments would work more closely together in fear that the next Martian invasion would be of their lands. This would not be a true unity though. Nations would still heavily distrust each other despite the fact that there is a chance of a second invasion. During the Second World War when the Nazis invaded Yugoslavia different ethnic groups allied with the Nazis to massacre other groups, and Winston Churchill even made plans to go to war against the USSR as they were fighting the Nazis. Governments rearming to defend themselves were not only preparing to war against Martians. Quite possibly wars start with the pretext to defend themselves against the Martians. Despite initial economic growth by 1939 Hitler had caused unfettered inflation thanks to rearmament which was crippling the economy, so he had to go to war to solve this. Hitler could either threaten war with Poland or invade with the pretext of securing land to protect Germany during an invasion. Likewise Japan could argue its continued occupation of China was to secure Chinese political stability and resources to protect themselves from invasion. If a Second World War does break out the USA would not take part; still crippled from invasion it would be too weak to even consider taking part.

A big issue would be Martian technology. Two nations would actively adapt Martian technology salvaged from the tripods: the USA and the UK. The USA has two reasons for this: a possible answer for the black smoke and to use Martian technology against them. Meanwhile, the UK would simply want to use it in case war with Germany occurs. Quite likely spies from France, Germany, the USSR, and possibly Japan would also find these blueprints to make their own weapons. Canada, and later other Commonwealth countries, would receive Martian technology after complaints.

The Second War
The Next Wave
A second invasion would be inevitable. After improving their technology, including flying machines, and defending themselves from illness the Martians launch a full scale invasion. In 55 and 54 BCE Julius Caesar invaded Britain with a small force but a century later Rome would properly invade Britain and conquer it. The first wave was Caesar's invasion, the second would be a full scale invasion. The Martians land all across the world near heavily populated areas: London, Paris, Philadelphia, Berlin, Munich, Moscow, Tokyo, Beijing, Hong Kong etc. Still crippled since the last invasion the USA struggles to fight the war. How humanity does it is hard to imagine, but now it becomes a true war of the worlds.

Thank you for reading and the sources I have used are as follows:
-Give Me Liberty!: An American History by Eric Foner
-The Penguin History of the United States by Hugh Brogan
-Europe: 1880-1945 by John Roberts
-A History of Japan by R.H.P. Mason and J.G. Caiger

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