The Great Martian War

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The other day I was flipping channels and stumbled on BBC-America. The title of the program on next immediately grabbed my attention-The Great Martian War.

I still remember as a kid watching the 1953 movie, War of the Worlds with my dad and my dad explaining to me that the concept was based on a 1930’s radio program which in turn was based on H.G. Wells’ classic The War of the Worlds. Later I obtained the Classics Illustrated comic book titled War of the Worlds and read it until it almost fell apart (I still have it.)

I even watched the 2005 version of War of the Worlds starring Tom Cruise (it was okay).

Classics Illustrated-War of the Worlds

Classics Illustrated-War of the Worlds

So when The Great Martian War popped up I immediately knew the BBC was tinkering with a classic story. I spent the next two hours watching the special.

The Great Martian War is an alternate history. The war starts one year before the Great War started (1913) and ends one year before the Great War historically ended (1917).

The twist on the Great War is immediate because the Martians land in Germany destroying a significant part of the Kaiser’s Army. The Germans call for help as the Martians begin to spread out. The result is a type of League of Nations alliance uniting (rather than fighting each other as they historically did) to destroy the Martians.

The Great Martian War is cleverly put together. The producers took period film from the Great War and spliced Martian war machines into it creating a newsreel effect that was convincing.

Still from The Great Martian War featuring the Martian war machines.

Still from The Great Martian War featuring the Martian war machines.

The other device they used to give the alternate history an air of authenticity was the use of interviews. The producers had regular people who had survived the war tell their stories at various times during the special. Two modern-day historians are added to the mix to give their interpretations of  the war. They do not agree.

Most of the regular people are soldiers from Britain, Germany, Canada and the US. At least one is a civilian-an elderly woman who was a ten-year-old girl at the time of the invasion. All the actors did a fine job but her remembrances were particularly striking especially as she describes her emotions as she witnessed the destruction of a Martian war machine and the crowd’s vengeful attitude toward the wounded Martian pilot.

The Martian War machines are virtually indestructible and come in two sizes. One is the massive tripod called a Heron. Herons are piloted by a Martian and might be compared to a modern tank except for their great towering height. Herons are protected by a force field and are armed with blasters (the heat guns of War of the Worlds). Herons are supported by “Spiders” smaller bipeds with blasters and nasty tentacles the impale people. Spiders are the infantry of the Martians.

Against these war machines the allies marshal the typical equipment of the First World War-heavy artillery, early tanks, massed infantry and bi-planes.

The tactic of "going over-the-top" was used in The Great Martian War just as it was in the Great War with the same results-huge casualty rates with little to nothing to gain.

The tactic of “going over-the-top” was used in The Great Martian War just as it was in the Great War with the same results-huge casualty rates with little to nothing to gain.

The war breaks down into a type of trench warfare with the allies using the tactics of massed infantry attacks to destroy the Martians. The casualties are horrendous thus reflecting the Great War’s butcher bill very well.

The Martians win every time but seem contented with small advances. The US in neutral under President Wilson but is heavily criticized by former President Teddy Roosevelt who recognizes the danger of sitting on the sidelines.

The US is finally pushed into war when the Martians (and some say the British) sink three American ships that were supplying the war effort.

America entered WW1 in April, 1917. In The Great Martian War America also enters the war late but this time under the leadership of President Teddy Roosevelt who takes over after Wilson resigns.

America entered WW1 in April, 1917. In The Great Martian War America also enters the war late but this time under the leadership of President Teddy Roosevelt who takes over after Wilson resigns.

Wilson resigns and Teddy takes over and declares war on the Martians this giving the allies a new source of man power.

It was an interesting segment in the special. The allies are desperate for America’s involvement but Wilson keeps the US out. The three ships are lost with all hands and everyone assumes the Martians did it except for a few that guess maybe the British did it to force the US to declare war.

Another interesting story involves the great-granddaughter of a Canadian-Iroquois soldier who eventually decipher the Martian language.

The allies get a break when they accidentally bring down a Heron with a massive under ground explosion. Seven Spiders surrender in the aftermath and the allies discover the Spiders do not have pilots but are controlled by the Heron pilots. The allies start to understand some of the technology used against them and begin to turn it against the Martians.

The big break occurs when a Heron breaks through the lines and makes it way to London crossing the Channel in the process. Three fighter planes bring the Heron down using the captured technology and the Martian pilot is wounded. The crowd wants to tear the Martian to pieces but the Martian is “saved” by British police mounted on horses.

Spoiler alert here.

The police take the Martian to a nearby hospital in an effort to learn about the enemy but the Martian quickly dies. The autopsy reveals the Martian did not die from its wounds but from a virus carried by the policemen’s horses!

The allies quickly realize that the Martians are vulnerable and mass produce the virus and infect every horse they can find with it. They launch one last ground offensive designed to get the Martians close to the massed horses and the horses do the rest. The Martians are killed by bio warfare in a similar fashion to H.G. Well’s classic except in that it was the common cold that brings the Martians down.

The downside of the horse born virus is that it morphs and kills millions of people just as the post World War One Spanish Flu did (50 million world-wide).

The Canadian Iroquois soldier decipher the Martian language and when it’s uncovered many years later it is discovered that the war is not over yet. And it that lies the message, although a bit ambiguous, it was ominous.

I enjoyed the special. I thought it faithful to The War of the Worlds conceptually and the use of a documentary format made it an interesting alternative history.

The obvious themes were the great nations uniting in the face of a common threat, the blessings and cursings of technology and the not-so-subtle suggestion that humans and Martians are all infected with a parasitical virus at the root of all wars.

The War of the Worlds and it’s spin-offs have always intrigued me. I know that H.G. Wells was a visionary of sorts and his fiction was meant to be thought-provoking as well as entertaining and by and large it is. I also know that Wells was a Darwinian Socialist and that he rejected orthodox Christianity. To what extent his shifting religious views influenced his fiction I am not sure. To what extent the world views of the producers of The Great Martian War and the War of the Worlds movies influenced them I am also not sure.

I guess my biggest take-away from The Great Martian War besides the entertainment value is the notion that mankind is capable of some kind of unity if the threat is substantial enough. We’ve seen this historically on more than one occasion. We’ve also seen that the unity achieved during the threat abates rather quickly when the threat is dissipated and the allies, once friends, now become bitter enemies.

A Darwinian like Wells might think long and hard as to why that is and ponder what the perfect World-State would look like but he would never arrive at the central problem.

As the great scholar Pogo once remarked, “we have met the enemy and it is us”  and the truth is we are the problem. We are the problem because we carry the stain of sin, a virus we cannot get rid of because it is embedded in our spiritual DNA. What we can do is look to the Creator and his solution to the sin problem-a Savior, Jesus Christ who came to earth to redeem and restore a paradise lost. Whatever else might be said about The War of the Worlds it can certainly be connected to the war within us all if take the time to look.

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A Heron attacks London and destroys Big Ben before being brought down in The Great Martian War.

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“Buy a Sword” said Jesus

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In Rick Atkinson’s excellent work on the American Army titled An Army at Dawn-The War in North Africa, 1942-1943 he recounts how the newly arrived American soldiers had trouble hating their German and Italian enemies and thus shooting at them.

The American Army's baptism of fire in the North African Campaign began in February, 1943 when Rommel attacked at Kasserine Pass. The inexperienced Americans were routed but soon found out how to fight back. Here American soldiers inspect a knocked out German Pz. III tank.

The American Army’s baptism of fire in the North African Campaign began in February, 1943 when Rommel attacked at Kasserine Pass. The inexperienced Americans were routed but soon found out how to fight back. Here American soldiers inspect a knocked out German Pz. III tank.

The American soldiers collective attitude seemed to be one of “what did those guys ever do to me” along with the aversion to taking a life in general. Since the vast bulk of our soldiers came from a Christianized background they also would have been exposed to the commandment “thou shalt not kill” thus wondering how killing in a war could be reconciled with the apparent absoluteness of the commandment.

After the Americans began to take fire and suffer casualties their aversion to killing began to disappear as war became suddenly very personal and “kill or be killed” became the new normal.

Theologically speaking, men, all men, are natural-born sinners, but that does not mean all men are natural-born killers. Most of us have to have an obvious reason to kill. Self-defense and self-preservation quickly rise to the top of pretty good reasons.

I was reminded of the tension some soldiers might feel this morning as I read a column by Dennis Prager of Townhall.com.

In the column Prager makes reference to an opinion piece in the Washington Post by a former Marine Captain who titled the opinion piece “I killed people in Afghanistan. Was I right or wrong.”

Prager notes that the Marine Captain, now a student at New York University is morally confused having difficulty reconciling the notion that “killing is always wrong” but the exception seems to be “this is war, so it’s okay.” The Marine Captain concludes that he was wrong to kill in the Afghan War.

As a pastoral counselor I am keenly aware of the variety of factors that can influence a person’s thinking and contribute to their belief system.

For example, one of the best known examples is the idea that a child that who has a poor example of a father generally has a hard time relating to God the Father. The influence of what Scripture has to say about God the Father can change that but the transition can be difficult because the child carries baggage from his or her experiences with an earthly father.

The Marine Captain now firmly ensconced in the leftist university system is being influenced by a leftist, pacifistic mindset and agenda that is quite good at guilt manipulation just as it is fundamentally anti-military. One has to only think back to the sixties and seventies when it was quite common for our military to be branded as baby killers and murderers as they returned from the Vietnam War. The same people who hurled epithets like that then now control the bulk of our universities.

Prager points out, rightly in my opinion, that the Marine Captain’s thinking is counter-intuitive. Like our soldiers in WW2 who really did not want to kill they quickly learned there was a righteous self-defense aspect to fighting the Germans and Italians in North Africa as well as understanding that fascism had to be stopped and people would die to stop it.

Most children and their parents intuitively understand this and have to work hard to dismiss the notion that when you are attacked you must defend yourself (or die, or get beat up, or robbed.) Most also intuitively understand or understood there is a way of life worth defending and sometimes that means taking on modern-day Islamic-Fascists who blow themselves and others in suicide bombings up, maim women and children and in general behave in the most barbarous ways imaginable.

For the Christian we have to be more concerned with what the Scripture says about these things rather than what the leftist universities say. For example, I believe that Jesus supports the idea of self-defense in the following passage:

He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.” (Luke 22:36-38 ESV)

There is a spiritualized interpretation of the passage that turns the sword into a metaphorical sword to emphasize the spiritual warfare the disciples will be engaged in. Those that hold to this view cite the fact that when Jesus was arrested he told Peter to sheath his sword (after he loped off the ear of a guy named Malchus, John 18:10).

Others, including myself argue that the sword is as literal as the moneybag and knapsack and that when Jesus told Peter to put up his sword it was because the Scripture needed to be fulfilled and not because Jesus did not believe in self-defense. I mean really, if Jesus was against swords then why he didn’t tell the disciples to not even have one strapped on”

I am not certain if the Marine Captain was or is even aware of the passage or its correct interpretation. Prager though does believe that Marine Captain was aware of the above mentioned commandment (Ex. 20:13), “Thou shalt not kill.”

What the Marine Captain certainly does not know is that “thou shalt not kill” should have been rendered “thou shalt not commit murder.” Prager notes that in Hebrew there are two primary words for homicide, kill and murder. The translators of the King James Bible simply chose kill over murder. More modern translations such as English Standard Version render the verse like this:

“You shall not murder. (Exodus 20:13 ESV)

The former Marine Captain, now a student and product of the leftist American University system may very well be typical of many soldiers. When a person goes to war against a monstrous enemy such as the Taliban it does require a certain recalibration of one’s moral values and if one does not have something solid like a sound theology to recalibrate upon one is at the mercy of other agenda driven influences.

Prager concludes that Marine Corps should explain to Marines (especially Marine officers) that the Bible does not prohibit the killing of Taliban monsters and that in fact it is a moral good to do so.

I have no idea what Marine Corps training consists of but can tell you that way back in 1971 during my brief stay in the Army I never once heard any reference to the Bible and the moral justification for war or self-defense. Back then it was probably assumed that like in WW2 American soldiers had something of a background that would suggest it is necessary to defend oneself and defeat the enemies of one’s country who were trying to kill you.

That the Marine Corps would have a need to state what was once so obvious is another indication of our far we have slid into moral confusion as a nation.

Now Secretary of Defense John Kerry in a picture with Jane Fonda. Kerry was and is among those who would characterize the American military as baby killers. Ironic given the left;s abortion at any time advocacy.

Now Secretary of Defense John Kerry in a picture with Jane Fonda. Kerry was and is among those who would characterize the American military as baby killers. Ironic given the left’s abortion at any time advocacy.

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