The Cold War in The War of the Worlds

Although written before the Cold War, HG Well’s The War of the Worlds is almost clairvoyant in the way it echoes the foundations of the tense conflict that took the earth to the brink of nuclear annihilation. The Cold War brought with it the same suspense that the Brits endured in War of the Worlds, only the world was threatened to be destroyed at the hands of men wielding nuclear power as oppose to a Martian invasion. One of the most interesting comparisons between the factual and fictional conflicts is the importance of information, and misinformation.

Partly what made the Cold War such a terrifying experience for the majority of civilians, was the harrowing silence. On both sides, the USA and the USSR, a silence descended as the iron curtain was drawn closed. In retaliation to this silence, both sides prepared for the worst. War. In The War of the Worlds, a similar silence creates an equally frightening experience. The intensity that is created while the inhabitants of Woking wait for their extra-terrestrial cylinder to open is nail-biting.  At the moment the cylinder opens, “The little group of black specks with the flag of white had been swept out of existence” (page 27). Marking the swift incineration of peaceful civilians. It was a similar real fear for the people living through the political instability of the cold war. The fear that out of the silence would emerge a nuclear heat that would to sweep them from existence.

Sight plays an important part in the narrative, with the harrowing opening “this world was being watched” (page 1).  Wells writes, “intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this Earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us”. Although written about the Martians, you can almost imagine both the Russian and the American governments of the time secretly drawing up their own schemes for ideological domination. Both the USA and USSR employed espionage tactics by using spies to uncover secrets and information, silently observing their enemy. The idea of being watched continues throughout the narrative when the Martians are concealed in their pit “the Martians did not show an inch of themselves…apparently they were busy getting ready for a struggle” (page 40). This continues the idea of not being able to see your opponent, but being aware that they are plotting against you.

Furthermore, newspapers are a fundamental part of the novel, representing the importance of communication and information in a modern society. As the novel moves forward, the mention of newspapers shrinks drastically. You can measure this using the Voyant tool. This is the result of the Martians invading British information, and sabotaging their main forms of communication. By limiting what information the humans could convey to one another, the Martians were able to come so close to global domination. This highlight the importance of information in fighting modern day wars. They are more effectively won through collapsing the others infrastructure than storming the gates.

The similarities are numerous, despite Well’s novel pre-existing the cold war. Perhaps this is due to humans sharing with the Martians an innate desire to conquer other civilizations. After all, Wells highlights at the beginning of the novel the dark history that shrouds British imperialism. I don’t know what is scarier, heat rays wielded by Martians, or nuclear weapons in the hands of men.



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