A War of the Worlds

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"Mars Show Signs of Having Flowing Water, Possible Niches for Life, NASA, Says" was the headline (NYT, 9/29/15) On October 30, l938, Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre on the Air presented an adaptation of H.G. Welles' The War of the Worlds. It was a Halloween Hoax in the form of a series of fabricated news alerts warning that the Martians were coming. Welles apparently was so successful in willingly suspending the disbelief of his audience that he caused panic in the streets. You may remember a movie directed by Elia Kazan entitled Panic in the Streets and starring Richard Widmark and Paul Douglas as a public health official and police captain trying to avert an epidemic. The latest announcement from NASA created little panic. There was some concern expressed in a subsequent Times editorial ("A Catch-22 for Mars," NYT, 9/29/15) about the prospect of contamination. But the generalized glee over the finding barely concealed its imperialist motivations. If Mars is suitable to life, it's a prime piece of nearby celestial real estate. A previous Times story "Two Promising Places to Live, 1200 Light-Years From Earth," (NYT 4/18/13) described a pair of planets orbiting a star, Kepler 62, "in the 'Goldilocks' zone of lukewarm temperatures suitable for liquid water, the crucial ingredient for Life as We Know It." But Mars is a helluva a lot closer and within the the realm of our capacity to reach. No wormholes are required to get there. In fact, the Soyuz capsule which just brought astronaut Scott Kelly and two Russian cosmonauts, Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka, to the International Space Station, where they will set a record by remaining for a year, anticipates conditions that astronauts will have to face on a long voyage to Mars. However, it's remarkable, that in spite of the Copernican revolution we still are so earth centered that we're only concerned about what we could do to the planet either from a destructive (contamination) or constructive (condos) point of view. Couldn't water be a sign that there are superior beings on Mars, a race of wraiths who have simply left their water running? "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street" was a famous Twilight Zone that showed the paranoia deriving from the power of suggestion. Could we be taking a lackadaisical attitude to the discovery of water? What if these invisible Martians have their own space program with one of its objects being the subjugation of the earth. There was another famous Twilight Zone where the aliens possess a seemingly benign manifesto, "To Serve Man", which turns out to be a cookbook. What if these invisible Martians become the ISIS of tomorrow? What in fact if they're a branch of ISIS? Imagine ISM, the Islamic State on Mars, conquering the planet. In fact, isn't a war of the worlds, what the current conflict with Islamic militants is all about?

{This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture}