3 October 2014|
As everyone remembers, after the Martial cylinder fell on Horsell Common, the population came out to gawk at it, Wells among them, having seen the impact site from his office window. The Martians unscrewed the tip of their shell and struggled out under what to them must have been hellish gravity. As we later found out, they began to assemble the equipment they had brought in a knocked-down state. By the time a delegation of local worthies, led by Ogilvy the astronomer, approached under a white flag, the Martians were equipped enough to sweep a beam weapon around their landing site, incinerating the ambassadors, various bystanders, trees, and Woking.
It was sweeping round swiftly and steadily, this flaming death, this invisible, inevitable sword of heat. I perceived it coming towards me by the flashing bushes it touched, and was too astounded and stupefied to stir. I heard the crackle of fire in the sand pits and the sudden squeal of a horse that was as suddenly stilled. Then it was as if an invisible yet intensely heated finger were drawn through the heather between me and the Martians, and all along a curving line beyond the sand pits the dark ground smoked and crackled. Something fell with a crash far away to the left where the road from Woking station opens out on the common.
I've always been startled at the unthinking brutality of this act, but of course, the "me" that was astonished was the nine-year-old who read The War Of The Worlds for the first time. My 'pod happened to play "The Eve of the War" today, and I realized that it actually made a deal of sense – it was an act of carefully thought out brutality.
The Martians, after all, had not come in peace. They had in fact come to not only colonize Earth, but to turn us all into juice boxes. (Wells later, from hiding, watches an indignant banker drained of blood as a Martian lunch, astonished to the end that they didn't appreciate how important he was.) They were in fact, just after landing, as vulnerable as they ever would be; clumsy in the gravity, out of their vehicles, and with their equipment still stowed. They were, in the cynical violence of the exploiter, simply securing their beachhead. Not only did they dispose of the group approaching them, but the crowd – those who did not get flame-broiled – fled, leaving clear secured space. Further, no one was going to approach soon, giving the invaders space to finish their preparations.
For that matter, for all they knew, there were military in the area. They had regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drawing their plans against us, but they had done it from at least 60 million miles away. They didn't know what unit patches the British army might be wearing; they wouldn't know the precise state of arms that might come against them. (Though a spectral analysis of the atmosphere would give them a rough idea of technological level – what sort of waste products were and were not present?)
So – older, better read, and much more used to the calculus of violence, I now see the perfectly good (if not very neighborly) reasons the Martians would secure their landing site and buy themselves time to set up their equipment with the lives of natives they were just going to kill anyway, either to destroy resistance or, later, when they got peckish.