War of the Worlds:
Why Do We Fear Martians?

In any of the adaptations of The War of the Worlds -- from the original novel to "Independence Day" -- the aliens are scary creatures indeed.
Their military strength far surpasses ours. They land on our planet and simply start destroying. Finally, despite their obvious technological superiority, they never make an attempt to communicate with us.
What do you do in such an implacably hostile relationship? Some advocate military intervention without any attempt to communicate. Others desire communication first, in the hopes that the aliens will prove to be friendly and the war of the worlds can be called off as a misunderstanding.
Perhaps this second position is the most hopeful stance toward alien life -- when we find them, they will look at least something like us, and they will respect us for who we are, as a race. However, The War of the Worlds presents us with alien life that simply do not care about the fate of humanity. The aliens want our world; they want us, humanity, dead and gone. These are deadly aliens, not fluffy-cuddly ones, and they come awful close to wiping us out nearly every time.
However, whether we respond to aliens as benevolent space gods or unstoppable destroyers, we are projecting our own hopes and fears onto the unknown, wrapping what we see in what we want to see.
The alien as political creature
In writing the story which launched the view of the alien as enemy, H.G. Wells presented us with the pessimistic view of our relationships to creatures unlike ourselves -- human or alien. But what was Wells commenting on? To see behind the alien mask into the Other of Wells' novel and its adaptations, it helps to place each version into some kind of historical framework. What one generation fears in one time, another may enjoy, or not even find worthy of consideration.
In 1898, when Wells wrote The War of the Worlds, the sun was still shining across the reaches of a dominant British Empire. Significantly, only a decade after the European powers divided Africa among themselves, Wells, Martians applied the same colonial mentality to Earth itself.
Members of an older, more advanced civilization, the Martians landed on Earth and decided unilaterally how they will reshape the planet, without any input from the natives. Just as the Africans did not stand a chance militarily against the European colonization, the people of Earth were helpless before the invading Martians. Forty years later, Orson Welles shifted the time and location of the Martian invasion to New Jersey, and the face of the alien shifted as well.
At the time, Germany was marshaling its strength and preparing for wars within its own borders and without. Kristallnacht, the attack on Jews throughout Germany, happened only ten days after Welles, broadcast, and the invasion of Poland was less than a year away.
Questions of defense and preparation
Lurking behind Welles' Martians, then, is the question of military preparedness. Would the U.S. military prove as ineffective against a real German invasion as it had against a fictional Martian one?
Ironically enough, Orson Welles was on the air once again in 1941, when the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor forced him to interrupt his broadcast with news of an attack of monstrous proportions. Many listeners initially refused to believe his news, citing the radio drama The War of the Worlds as evidence.
After Welles, the War of the Worlds came to film in August, 1953, scant weeks after the settlement of the Korean conflict. While the cinematic version kept the basic theme of humans versus the aliens intact, careful -- or nervous -- viewers could also have seen the proceedings as relating to a possible conflict with the implacable powers of Communism.
In this version of the story, not insignificantly, the decisive strike from Earth is the atomic bomb. However, while the nuclear defense fails amid concerns about human safety, the aliens are once again destroyed by bacteria.
It was not until 1996 that humans took the reins of their own interplanetary destiny away from the bacteria. In "Independence Day", for the first time, human agency repels the alien invasion after the nuclear option, considered as a last resort, fails once more.
Instead, the Other of the turn of the millennium is conquered when humans adapt to technology, planting a computer virus into the aliens' systems. Considering the electronic medium in which you are reading this, it's a small but subtle point -- have we become the Martians in order to defeat them?
Were the Europeans reading The War of the Worlds a century ago the Martians in disguise, or did the mask face the other way around?