The 1938 War of the World radio broadcast: The blueprints of a future?
By Marcus Kaller

It was a chilly October 30, 1938, the night before Halloween. By night's end, much of the populace in America was filled with fear and paranoia. Their reason was that the heard on the radio that the country was being invaded by extra-terrestrials from the planet Mars. What they were really hearing was a radio play performed by the Mercury Theater on the Air, directed by Orson Welles, on CBS. It was a radio adaptation of the science fiction novel The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. The effects of this dramatization showed many things. First, how powerful and influential the electronic media can be. Second, how current conditions in society can foster this type of hysteria. And finally, how these events could present future events in elaborate speculative.

The construction of a legend

The idea of this radio play came from Welles. The task for writing the radio adaptation to War of the Worlds was left to Howard Koch. It was specifically stated that the play should be in the form of news bulletins for the first 45 minutes, and the last part of it the diary entries of it's main character, Professor Pierson. The novel was set in Britain, so Koch adapted the play to take place in the eastern U.S. and slowly spread across the nation. Koch included actual American places such as Princeton, Newark, Grovers Mill, the Watchung Mountains, etc. He also added fictitious American people, including Prof. Pierson, and institutions both real (the New Jersey state militia, the Red Cross), and fictitious (Intercontinental Radio News). This play was distinctly different from the original novella, in which the traits the two shared was the concept of a Martian invasion of the Earth. Here's an except from the book "The Panic Broadcast" that was written by Koch on his account of this famous media event as he wrote the adaption:

"Once the Martians had landed, I deployed the opposing forces over an ever-widening area, made moves and countermoves between the invaders and the defenders; eventually I found myself enjoying the destruction I was wreaking like a drunken general. Finally, after demolishing the Columbia Broadcasting Building, perhaps a subconscious wish fulfillment, I ended the holocaust with one lonely ham radio voice on the air, "Isn't there anyone on the air? Isn't there anyone."

After the broadcast on that night of Hallowe'en eve, there was an unexpected panic across many parts of this country. In rural areas, especially within vicinity of New Jersey and New York, some people either fled from their homes and crowded the streets, or stayed there hide themselves and prayed that no harm befalls on them, sometimes trying to call their loved ones or their local radio stations for more news about "the Martians." Others knew that this was just an elaborate hoax. In the aftermath, public outcry went against Welles and the Mercury Theater on the Air. Welles apologized for what the broadcast generated (at the end of the play, Welles did alert the audience that there was no Martian invasion, only "a holiday offering."). There were talks of legislation to prohibit this fraudulent radio broadcasting, but it never materialized because of the implications related the First Amendment. But the Mercury Theatre on the Air was disbanded. However thebroadcast proved fruitful for those involved in it. Welles of coursewent on to star and direct numerous films, the first being the 1941 classic "Citizen Kane." And Koch became a hot writing commodity for Warner Bros. Among the films he wrote was another classic, "Casablanca," which he attributed the radio broadcast towards his script for the film. And the town of Grovers Mill became a tourist attraction in subsequent years, touting themselves as "the landing site of the Martian invasion."

Why did the panic occur?

Radio back in the 1930's was the dominant medium of the time, just as television and more recently the Internet is right now. People listened to it intently for news and entertainment, becoming dependent on radio. This is to point out that the presentation of the War of the World radio-play was very good and quite convincing that an invasion was taking place before the ears of listeners across the nation, within the time span of 45 minutes. There was a study on the effects of radio released in 1940 by Hadley Cantril, a professor of psychology at Harvard.

Coincidentally, this study was done over a stretch of several years including the time of War of the World broadcast. The results of this study were published in the book The Invasion from Mars. Here are some of the findings that Cantril discovered:

In a CBS poll taken a week after the broadcast, forty-two percent of people polled who claimed to have heard the broadcast said they tuned well within it. Because of that, most people assumed it was a news report, not a play. Of course, 12 percent said they heard the broadcast from the beginning and thought they were hearing a news report as well. Some people simply weren't paying attention to the broadcast announcements early on.

Another factor was educational and socio-economic status of people. In that same CBS poll, 46 percent of those who thought the broadcast was a news report had a grammar school education, while 28 percent had a college-level education. At the same time, 49 percent had a lower economic level, while 35 and 37 percent had high and average economic levels. It was interpreted from further questioning that those with higher education tended to check successfully to see if the broadcast was real or not, than those with a lower education.

The use of actual American-named places, and the experts and leaders, ranging from Prof. Pierson to the Secretary of the Interior captured the attention of the audience. Which brings us to the next reason for this hysteria. The Secretary of the Interior spoke in a manner similar to then President Franklin Roosevelt. People were impressionable and were willing to accept what experts and leaders had to say without ever questioning their intelligence and authority. It was Koch that said it best, "We are ready to believe almost anything if it comes from a recognized authority."

Finally there was the synchronicity of the radio broadcast with real-world events. This was the decade of the Great Depression, or as Welles referred it in the broadcast as "The Great Disillusionment." People were still suffering the events of the economic downturn, although by 1938 conditions improved slightly, but not up to pre-1929 levels. But also, it was at a time of the uprising of Hitler and the Nazis in Germany and its incursions outside its borders, starting with the Sudetenland area in Czechoslovakia, as part of the Munich Pact with Britain and France signed a month earlier. Also the Japanese were in the process of taking over China. These news raised fears that the U.S. would be drawn into another war, in much the same way as in World War One. Around this time people were listening to the radio for news on the increasing crisis in Europe more intensely. In fact, several nationally syndicated columnists such as Dorothy Thompson, Hugh Johnson, and Heywood Brown, said that the hysteria experience was more constructive in preparing Americans for the event of an invasion, not by Martians, but by the Nazi Germans and Japanese.

Recipe for a Hostile Takeover

It's a hot July 1947. Another hysteria stirs in the United States. Again it revolves around extra-terrestrial intelligence. Only this time, it's not a radio play, but an actual news report about a spacecraft that crash-landed in Roswell, New Mexico. That, along with a previous sighting of flying disks in Washington, made people think that our planet was being visited by alien intelligence. Conditions were similar to those back in 1939. The war that American were afraid to get involved again, end with the U.S. and it's allies the winners. But at the same time, the relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union were destabilizing. The U.S. was the only country with nuclear arms, although the Soviets were developing them at the time. Not only were people fearful of a war with the U.S.S.R., but also the infiltration of Soviet communism into the U.S. to subvert the nation, especially by some American who sympathize with the Soviets, caused by the Alger Hiss case.

A couple of days later, the U.S. Air Force announced that the wreckage was not an alien spacecraft, but a weather balloon made on Earth. And yet, after this event, reports of UFOs sightings, unusual occurrences such as cattle mutilations and crop circles, and alleged contact between the aliens and humans being made, ranging from friendly exchange to medical examination and experimentation. Koch talked about the UFO phenomena, and the USAF's reluctance to investigate them in his book:

"The United States Air Force has been at great pains to deny the existence of these flying objects. When under public pressure they conducted or sponsored investigations, their research seemed to proceed from an predetermined premise that the objects did not exist and to disregard a great weight of evidence on the affirmative side. No doubt the air force has its own reasons to play down the sightings. Possibly mindful of the panic caused by our Martian broadcast, they wanted to avoid a repetition."

Extrapolating on Koch's remarks, some people hypothesize that the government (our own or a "shadow" equivalent) involved in some form with extraterrestrials as part of a plan to bring about a tyrannical world government, from using their technology to some sort of treaty.

Now let's do some extravagant speculation. One has to wonder if the "War of the World" radio broadcast was some sort of "experiment" to gauge what would happen if an alien armada invaded Earth. I find the coincidence that the Cantril study on the effect of radio during the time of the broadcast to be peculiar. However, the play's writer Howard Koch never gave the impression that the play was an "experiment." But as I said earlier, the idea of the radio play came from Orson Welles. But Koch also gave no such insinuation that Welles' intent was to deceive . Now, I don't want to project myself as a conspiracy theorist. All I'm doing is simply asking a question about something I am curious about. I do want to say that this does seem unlikely to be a social experiment.

Could another alien hysteria happen again in our time in the same manner as was in 1939? Well I think it can. In 1994 there was a made-for-TV movie on CBS called "Without Warning." It was a movie simulating a TV newscast about asteroidal impacts on the Earth. The asteroids turned out to be alien spaceships disguised as asteroids (a most clever way to fly through space without being detected by more backward civilizations) who wanted to visit the Earth after intercepting one of the Voyager space probes. But the humans shot down an asteroid, filled with aliens, to prevent another impact, after three small impacts. The humans never figured that the asteroids were spaceships, until it was too late. The aliens considered this an act of war and thus sent their "ships" plummeting to the Earth targeting the major cities. Throughout the movie messages were made stating that the movie was make-believe. Despite this, there were thousands of calls made to CBS affiliates to check if the movie was a real news telecast. The movie was done as a tribute to the War of the World radio play.

Two years ago, although much more subtle was the movie "Independence Day" another movie about and alien invasion on Earth. This movie was very successful. There was no doubt because people buying into the hype that 20th Century Fox and film makers Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich were pushing to get people to buy a ticket to see the movie.

In our day and age, people are more cynical about government and political leaders, but at the same time have become more apathetic to politics, especially when life is at least good. They become lazy, ignorant. But some people I think might still want to put faith in the government, especially if times become hard. Plus our education system hasn't done enough to make people wiser by not emphasizing critical ability and objectivity. I also want to add that even though the Internet is a very useful tool in finding information on just about anything and provide checks for people to find, there is always the chance that some of that information may be incorrect and/or is disinformation, giving false information , perhaps as a way to keep pesky conspiracy theorists out of their way. And again, if the user doesn't have critical ability and objectivity then he or she falls prey to the disinformer. These conditions are ripe for a "new world order" to come into play.

Dr. Norio Hayakawa theorized that the Federal Government have been developing highly advanced technology to fuel the UFO hysteria. Then, sometime in the near future, perhaps in a few years, the government will simulate an alien invasion. Their plan is to get people to become fearful of this fraudulent invasion to give away their freedoms to the government to that they will protect them from this "threat". If this is true, then the government are using the experience from the War of the Worlds panic of 1938.

If you think this is all unlikely consider this details from the War of the Worlds broadcast:

1) After the Martians attacked the onlookers at Grovers Mill, Brigadier General Montgomery Smith, the commander of the New Jersey State Militia said he was given power by the governor of New Jersey to place Mercer and Middlesex counties under martial law. Now, if the government can simulate an alien invasion, then they can use this as a justification to place the nation under martial law, thus suspending, perhaps permanently, the U.S. Constitution, and all of our freedoms with it.

2) The CBS vice president of operations Harry McDonald announced that the network was turning over their facilities to the state militia, at their request, saying "radio has a definite responsibility to serve the public at all times." What this suggests that this could be interpreted as the government taking control of the media and thus supplying any information the government thinks we are ought to have rather than what is fact and truth. And they expect the populace to accept what the government deem as "news" as truth, but supplying a cover story.

3) The Secretary of the Interior implies that the government's role was to protect the lives and properties of its citizens, and asked that the citizens should "place our faith in the military forces" to stop the Martians, and "continue the performance of our duties" to do the same. Now we could interpret this as the government to support their efforts to confront the Martians "with a nation united, courageous and consecrated to the preservation of human supremacy on this earth." His speech suggests blind faith in the powers that be to protect them, but never question their actions. The type of people that can support and follow any and all government imperatives.

Consider these situations and apply them to the present. Do you see a pattern here?? Of course I maybe wrong, and I don't want to alarm those who are reading this article. This is to educate you to many possibilities that exist today.

The Bottom Line

The late astronomer Carl Sagan said that the discovery of extra-terrestrial life would serve as a unifying force to bring the human race together. But it was former Nixon foreign advisor Henry Kissinger that said it better when he said if there was a outside threat that would endanger the human race, that would also united the world as one to combat this threat. Intentional or not, the War of the Worlds radio drama may serve as a lesson. The shadow government, if it really exists, would use this as a way to gain tyrannical power over nations and peoples. But for people, this can also be a kind of morality play for us. We can interpret this as a warning of what might happen when our senses and reason can be deceived by those who want us to believe what we are sensing. We must always be skeptical of people say and see and do. We must, as the saying goes, question authority and the facts they deliver to us. We must check the facts at all angles and views and not buy in to all the mumble jumbo that we heard everyday by the "mainstream." We must, for our own survival, learn to live at Ground Zero.

Suggested Readings:
The Invasion from Mars, by Hadley Cantril
The Panic Broadcast, by Howard Koch


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