War of the Worlds Broadcast

War of the Worlds Broadcast

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On October 30th, 1938, hysteria and sheer panic shortened the breath of millions that were tuned in to radio station WABC and the Columbia Broadcasting System's coast-to-coast network. Wells' fantasy, The War of the Worlds. His convincing and creative antics put fear into the hearts of the nation."They're bombing New Jersey!"

The broadcastIn one of the most infamous stunts in broadcasting history, Welles' demonstrated an ability to dupe audiences in huge numbers.Halloween Eve, between 8:15 p.m. and 9 p.m., proved to be an all-too-perfect time for Welles to target his loyal listeners. In adapting the book for a radio play, Welles made an important change: Under his direction, the play was written and performed so that it would sound like a news broadcast about an invasion from Mars — a technique that Orson convincingly utilized to heighten the dramatic effect.The following is quoted from an actor in the CBS studio, playing a newscaster in the field, persuasively describing the emergence of one of the aliens from its spacecraft:

"Good heavens, something's wriggling out of the shadow like a gray snake. Now it's another one, and another. They look like tentacles to me. There, I can see the thing's body. It's large as a bear and it glistens like wet leather. But that face. It... it's indescribable. I can hardly force myself to keep looking at it. The eyes are black and gleam like a serpent. The mouth is V-shaped with saliva dripping from its rimless lips that seem to quiver and pulsate.... The thing is rising up. The crowd falls back. They've seen enough. This is the most extraordinary experience. I can't find words. I'm pulling this microphone with me as I talk. I'll have to stop the description until I've taken a new position. Hold on, will you please, I'll be back in a minute."

A news bulletin followed that announced the impact of a meteor near Princeton, New Jersey, which "killed" 1,500 persons. Next, the broadcast chilled the air with a description of a "metal cylinder" containing strange creatures from Mars, armed with "death rays" to open hostilities against the earth's inhabitants.People scurried around in roads and parks, fled to roofs, hid in cellars, loaded guns, even wrapped their heads in wet handkerchiefs and towels for protection against Martian poison gas. Phone calls deluged the New York Times and New York Police Department all night.The scare goes nationwideAlthough most of the east coast's scare had subsided by the next day, thousands of uninformed citizens were still beside themselves. Newspaper offices, police and radio stations were besieged by calls from anxious relatives of New Jersey residents, and in some places apprehensive groups mulled the impending menace of a disastrous war.Most listeners who sought more information were confused about the reports they heard, and many became extremely upset when they learned that sheer fiction was the source of their alarm.San Francisco listeners apparently got the impression of an overwhelming force invading the United States from the air, cleaning out New York, and threatening to move westward. "My God," roared one inquirer into a telephone, "where can I volunteer my services? We've got to stop this awful thing."

The cause of terrorApparently, radio audiences either missed or failed to listen to the introduction, which announced: "The Columbia Broadcasting System and its affiliated stations present Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater on the Air in The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells." Audiences also failed to connect the program with the newspaper listing, displayed as "Today: 8:00 - 9:00 — Play: H.G. Wells 'War of the Worlds' — WABC."Three additional announcements emphasized its fictional content. If members of the audience missed the brief explanation at the beginning, the next one didn't surface until 40 minutes into the lurid play.For many, the announcements became irrelevant or perhaps blocked out because of current global issues. Tensions in Europe were rising, and it wasn't uncommon for radio broadcasts to be interrupted by reports of ill-fated events. In fact, many listeners who panicked later testified that they had assumed that the invasion was actually a cagey disguise for a German attack.Most people who "freaked-out" were middle-aged or older. Children were least affected by the horrifying "news" of an alien invasion. Most youngsters recognized Orson Welles' low, trademark voice of the radio series hero, The Shadow.

Martians attack South AmericaA similar dramatized broadcast of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds became mistaken for real events. Panic and chaos prompted by a radio station in Quito, Ecuador, spread quickly through Santiago, Chile. The citizens of Quinto became outraged at the misleading report; a gang of angry people attacked the radio station and burned it to the ground.

Orson WellesOrson Welles was born on May 6th, 1915, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. His father was a successful inventor, his mother, a concert pianist. With plenty of help from his imaginative parents, Welles started out early in life as a gifted magician, pianist and painter. He was eight when his mother died, which projected him into a life of world travel with his father. When his father died (Orson was 12), he became the ward of Dr. Maurice Bernstein of Chicago.In 1931 Welles graduated from the Todd School in Woodstock, Illinois; at which time he turned down numerous college offers in favor of a sketching tour of Ireland. Welles made unsuccessful attempts to enter the London and Broadway stages. He even gave bullfighting a try in Morocco and Spain.Welles' New York acting debut in 1934 was his role as Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet. In the same year he married, directed his first short film, and spoke on radio for the first time. He began to work with John Houseman, forming the Mercury Theater with him in 1937.Although remembered mostly for his production of The Mercury Theater on the Air, Orson Welles contributed several other examples of creative imagination.In spite of Welles' many failed projects as a filmmaker, he won numerous awards and prizes for his unique creativity and determination. He received the American Film Institute's Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 1984 the Directors Guild of America awarded him its highest honor, the D.W. Griffith Award. On October 10, 1985, Orson Welles died of a heart attack in Hollywood, California. He was 70 years old.

The novelMany people have confused the names H.G. Wells and Orson Welles. That they are one person is a common misconception that people have held since the release of the War of the Worlds broadcast.H.G. Wells was the author of the famous 1898 novel, The War of the Worlds. More than 100 years in print, Wells' novel has seen 158 uniquely designed covers by various artists. Creativity and detailed description saturate Wells' writing style. His skills and gifts put Wells at the top of his game.War of the Worlds was written in the light of several historical events. Most important was the militarization of Germany, which spawned a number of novels predicting war in Europe — beginning with George Chesney's The Battle of Dorking (1871). Most of those ideas were written in semi-documentary style, which Wells also utilized by tying his interplanetary war tale to locations in England that were familiar to his readers. The successful attempt at realism fiction became a reality for Orson Welles' 1938 broadcast.

Martian Landing Site Monument

The sight of Americans running around acting crazy and paranoid over something that isn't real. isn't new. It happened back on October 30, 1938, when people overheard an evening radio broadcast of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds -- the story of an invasion from Mars -- and thought that it was actually happening. According to subsequent newspaper reports, people cried, prayed, claimed they saw things that didn't exist, refused to believe they were mistaken, and clogged the roads either trying to flee the Martians or to get close enough to shoot them.

50th Anniversary poster.

The dramatization -- part of the Mercury Theatre on the Air radio series -- was staged by 23-year-old future Hollywood director Orson Welles. He told the New York Times the next day that he really hadn't wanted to broadcast the War of the Worlds story because he thought that people "might be bored or annoyed at hearing a tale so improbable."

What made it probable was the script by writer Howard Koch. He'd heard dramatic radio reports of the Hindenburg disaster the previous year, and decided to rewrite Wells' 1890s sci-fi yarn as a series of frantic 1930s on-air news bulletins, crashing the Martians, like the Hindenburg, into New Jersey. To find the exact spot, Koch took a road map, closed his eyes, and dropped a pencil point. It landed on Grovers Mill.

The Martians landed here.

"At the time, this was almost all farmland," said Paul Ligeti, head archivist of the Historical Society of West Windsor. "There were only a few trees. The view would've been more than a mile. All anyone had to do that night was to look out a window and see that nothing was going on." The citizens of Grovers Mill did that, but the people driving onto town to fight the Martians didn't.

Artist Thomas Jay Warren creating the plaque.

The most famous casualty of the invasion was the town's old wooden water tower, reportedly shot by nervous gunslingers who mistook it for a Martian. LIFE magazine even published a photo of local resident William Dock with a shotgun, allegedly protecting Grovers Mill from extraterrestrials -- even though the photo was taken in bright sunlight the following day, many hours after the invasion had been debunked. Rather than fighting Martians, Dock was probably fending off the hoards of reporters who'd swarmed into town.

Monument dedication, 1988.

For years Grovers Mill tried to forget its moment of unwanted fame -- but when 1988 arrived, the town knew it had to do something to mark the 50th anniversary. To its credit, the community didn't settle for a small plaque or a historical marker. It hired artist Thomas Jay Warren to sculpt a war monument worthy of a war that never happened, then unveiled it as part of a four-day celebration with posters, bumper stickers, t-shirts, a parade, and a "Martian Panic" bicycle race.

The Martian Landing Site Monument is a 7.5-foot-high slab of sculpted bronze. Its 3-D bas-relief depicts a impassioned Welles -- pipe in hand -- emoting into a studio microphone, while a family sits at home listening to their radio in terror. Above them, a sinister Martian looms in a tentacled fighting machine -- looking very much like a malevolent water tower. The monument was unlike any other in America at the time, and its strangeness still draws visitors today. "Stylistically, it fits," said Paul Ligeti. "It's big and bombastic, just like the supposed panic and terror that was sweeping the nation."

Water tower mistaken for a 1938 Martian.

The monument dedication drew a big crowd of fans, including New Jersey's governor. Orson Welles didn't attend -- he'd died in 1985 -- but an elderly Howard Koch did. He told a reporter that he was pleased when his pencil point landed on a town named Grovers Mill. "I liked the sound," he said.

The West Windsor Arts Council still celebrates the anniversary every year -- they even built an impressive Martian "Scoutship" sculpture in tribute -- and when the centennial rolls around in 2038, a time capsule buried next to the monument will be unearthed. A local coffee shop proudly displays War of the Worlds memorabilia and boosts caffeine alertness for any future space attack. The water tower is still standing, although it's now hidden by trees most of the year. Paul said that visitors who have difficulty seeing it can drive to the nearby Historical Society (50 Southfield Road), which has a similar water tower on its lawn.

"The odd thing," said Paul, "is that the farm where everyone thought the Martians had landed wasn't in Grovers Mill at all." It was about a half-mile north of town, across the Millstone River, in Plainsboro.

The War of the Worlds in Ecuador

In the second week of February 1949, 3 men were charged with provoking the death of over ten people in Ecuador. The method of their crime: creating a radio play based on H.G. Wells and then letting it loose on an unsuspecting public.

It was an incident far more sinister than the panics that followed the 1938 broadcast in America when Orson Welles had first dramatised H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds on radio. Not even the effect of a similar 1944 radio broadcast in Chile could compare when it came to the number of deaths and the level of devestation.

On the fateful night of February 12’th, writers for Associated Press and Reuters reported back to the US and Britain: «The mob attacked and burned the building of the newspaper, El Comercio, which housed the radio station and killed fifteen persons and injured 15 others.»

Fake news
The radio broadcast was the brain child of Leonardo Paez (top photo), director of art at Radio Quito and Eduardo Alcaraz, the station’s dramatic director. The two had become familiar with the 1938 incident in America and the 1944 incident in Chile, which both caused widespread panic, but which also exposed the power of radio.

In both those cases, it was announced ahead of schedule that the broadcast would be a fictional dramatisation. Leonardo Paez, a native of Quito, was not only a journalist, but also a singer, composer, poet and producer of radio. In an interview with El Dia, Alcaraz later said that he begged Paez to announce at the beginning of the broadcast that what followed was a dramatisation, but that Paez had dismissed him. Even so, someone had planted bogus UFO reports in the newspaper El Comercio in the weeks before the broadcast.

At 21.00 the night of February 12’th, the normal musical broadcast began. Halfway into a song, the news team interupted without warning stating that an attack on Ecuador was underway. Panic erupted in the streets and police were dispatched to the alleged location of a martian invasion, the town of Cotocollao. The imaginary invasion was gradually to proceed from the town of Latacunga, 20 miles south of the capital Quito, where a poisonous gas cloud was reported to kill everything in its path. Actors immitating well known authority figueres then appeared on radio confirming the crisis.

Appology not accepted
When the station realised that chaos was breaking out, they announced the hoax on radio. The crowd then gathered outside the radio station throwing stones and setting fire to the building. According to the Associated Press there were over a hundred people in the building. Some escaped through the back door. Others sought refuge in the top floors, where some of them jumped from the roof to escape the flames.

The army was then called in with teargas and tanks to disperse the crowd and allow the firemen to do their work. At the end of the evening, bodies lay silent in the street, and the injured were shipped off to hospital. The station managers protested their innocence saying they had been unaware of the planned hoax, and the minister of defense himself was called in to investigate the incidence.

Ten people were detained the night of the riot, and several were later charged, among these Leonardo Paez, Eduardo Alcaraz and the actor Eduardo Palace. Eduardo Alcaraz had fled Quito, but was arrested later in the town of Ambato. Paez, however, had escaped that night from the burning building. Seeing that his route of retreat was cut off by an angry mob and the police, he found a way of escaping via an old conservatory. A truck then took him a property near Ibarra, and he laid low until his legal difficulties were solved. 6 years later he left Ecuador and made his way to Venezuela.

Paez lost his girlfriend and his nephew to the chaos created by his own radioplay. They died in the riots. He would never return to Ecuador or be convicted of anything, but in 1982 he published his account of the radio play he broadcast on that Saturday evening in 1949. His book is called Los que siembran viento (Those who sow the wind).

How could it happen?
There has been much speculation about the causes of the panic that erupted after so many broadcasts of War of the Worlds, in the US, in Chile and in Ecuador. Just a year after the Welles broadcast the psychologist Hadley Cantril conducted a study of the effects of the radioshow in which he claimed that the cause of the confusion following the broadcast was the standards of judgment that people applied to the information they heard on radio. They simply trusted the new media of radio, and couldn’t believe that someone would deliberately lie to them.

Seing the effectiveness of the broadcast as perhaps being too calculated, the writer Daniel Hopsicker even speculated that the 1938 broadcast was a psychological experiment funded by The Rockefeller Foundation, a conspiracy theory which was dismissed by Orson Welles.


Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.

The Coming of the Martians Edit

The narrative opens by stating that as humans on Earth busied themselves with their own endeavours during the mid-1890s, aliens on Mars began plotting an invasion of Earth because their own resources are dwindling. The Narrator (who is unnamed throughout the novel) is invited to an astronomical observatory at Ottershaw where explosions are seen on the surface of the planet Mars, creating much interest in the scientific community. Months later, a so-called "meteor" lands on Horsell Common, near the Narrator's home in Woking, Surrey. He is among the first to discover that the object is an artificial cylinder that opens, disgorging Martians who are "big" and "greyish" with "oily brown skin", "the size, perhaps, of a bear", each with "two large dark-coloured eyes", and lipless "V-shaped mouths" which drip saliva and are surrounded by two "Gorgon groups of tentacles". The Narrator finds them "at once vital, intense, inhuman, crippled and monstrous". [8] They emerge briefly, but have difficulty in coping with the Earth's atmosphere and gravity, and so retreat rapidly into their cylinder.

A human deputation (which includes the astronomer Ogilvy) approaches the cylinder with a white flag, but the Martians incinerate them and others nearby with a heat-ray before beginning to assemble their machinery. Military forces arrive that night to surround the common, including Maxim guns. The population of Woking and the surrounding villages are reassured by the presence of the British Army. A tense day begins, with much anticipation by the Narrator of military action.

After heavy firing from the common and damage to the town from the heat-ray which suddenly erupts in the late afternoon, the Narrator takes his wife to safety in nearby Leatherhead, where his cousin lives, using a rented, two-wheeled horse cart he then returns to Woking to return the cart when in the early morning hours, a violent thunderstorm erupts. On the road during the height of the storm, he has his first terrifying sight of a fast-moving Martian fighting-machine in a panic, he crashes the horse cart, barely escaping detection. He discovers the Martians have assembled towering three-legged "fighting-machines" (tripods), each armed with a heat-ray and a chemical weapon: the poisonous "black smoke". These tripods have wiped out the army units positioned around the cylinder and attacked and destroyed most of Woking. Taking shelter in his house, the Narrator sees moving through his garden a fleeing artilleryman, who later tells the Narrator of his experiences and mentions that another cylinder has landed between Woking and Leatherhead, which means the Narrator is now cut off from his wife. The two try to escape via Byfleet just after dawn, but are separated at the Shepperton to Weybridge Ferry during a Martian afternoon attack on Shepperton.

One of the Martian fighting-machines is brought down in the River Thames by artillery as the Narrator and countless others try to cross the river into Middlesex, and the Martians retreat to their original crater. This gives the authorities precious hours to form a defence-line covering London. After the Martians' temporary repulse, the Narrator is able to float down the Thames in a boat toward London, stopping at Walton, where he first encounters the curate, his companion for the coming weeks.

Towards dusk, the Martians renew their offensive, breaking through the defence-line of siege guns and field artillery centred on Richmond Hill and Kingston Hill by a widespread bombardment of the black smoke an exodus of the population of London begins. This includes the Narrator's younger brother, a medical student (also unnamed), who flees to the Essex coast, after the sudden, panicked, pre-dawn order to evacuate London is given by the authorities, on a terrifying and harrowing journey of three days, amongst thousands of similar refugees streaming from London. The brother encounters Mrs. Elphinstone and her younger sister-in-law, just in time to help them fend off three men who are trying to rob them. Since Mrs. Elphinstone's husband is missing, the three continue on together.

After a terrifying struggle to cross a streaming mass of refugees on the road at Barnet, they head eastward. Two days later, at Chelmsford, their pony is confiscated for food by the local Committee of Public Supply. They press on to Tillingham and the sea. There, they manage to buy passage to Continental Europe on a small paddle steamer, part of a vast throng of shipping gathered off the Essex coast to evacuate refugees. The torpedo ram HMS Thunder Child destroys two attacking tripods before being destroyed by the Martians, though this allows the evacuation fleet to escape, including the ship carrying the Narrator's brother and his two travelling companions. Shortly thereafter, all organised resistance has collapsed, and the Martians roam the shattered landscape unhindered.

The Earth under the Martians Edit

At the beginning of Book Two, the Narrator and the curate are plundering houses in search of food. During this excursion, the men witness a Martian handling-machine enter Kew, seizing any person it finds and tossing them into a "great metallic carrier which projected behind him, much as a workman's basket hangs over his shoulder", [9] and the Narrator realises that the Martian invaders may have "a purpose other than destruction" for their victims. [9] At a house in Sheen, "a blinding glare of green light" and a loud concussion attend the arrival of the fifth Martian cylinder, [9] and both men are trapped beneath the ruins for two weeks.

The Narrator's relations with the curate deteriorate over time, and eventually he knocks him unconscious to silence his now loud ranting but the curate is overheard outside by a Martian, which eventually removes his unconscious body with one of its handling machine tentacles. The reader is then led to believe the Martians will perform a fatal transfusion of the curate's blood to nourish themselves, as they have done with other captured victims viewed by the Narrator through a small slot in the house's ruins. The Narrator just barely escapes detection from the returned foraging tentacle by hiding in the adjacent coal-cellar.

Eventually the Martians abandon the cylinder's crater, and the Narrator emerges from the collapsed house where he had observed the Martians up close during his ordeal he then approaches West London. Enroute, he finds the Martian red weed everywhere, a prickly vegetation spreading wherever there is abundant water but slowly dying due to bacterial infection. On Putney Heath, once again he encounters the artilleryman, who persuades him of a grandiose plan to rebuild civilisation by living underground but, after a few hours, the Narrator perceives the laziness of his companion and abandons him. Now in a deserted and silent London, slowly he begins to go mad from his accumulated trauma, finally attempting to end it all by openly approaching a stationary fighting-machine. To his surprise, he discovers that all the Martians have been killed by an onslaught of earthly pathogens, to which they had no immunity: "slain, after all man's devices had failed, by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth". [10]

The Narrator continues on, finally suffering a brief but complete nervous breakdown, which affects him for days he is nursed back to health by a kind family. Eventually, he is able to return by train to Woking via a patchwork of newly repaired tracks. At his home, he discovers that his beloved wife has, somewhat miraculously, survived. In the last chapter, the Narrator reflects on the significance of the Martian invasion and the "abiding sense of doubt and insecurity" it has left in his mind.

The War of the Worlds presents itself as a factual account of the Martian invasion. It is considered one of the first works to theorise the existence of a race intelligent enough to invade earth. The Narrator is a middle-class writer of philosophical papers, somewhat reminiscent of Doctor Kemp in The Invisible Man, with characteristics similar to author Wells at the time of writing. The reader learns very little about the background of the Narrator or indeed of anyone else in the novel characterisation is unimportant. In fact none of the principal characters are named, aside from the astronomer Ogilvy. [11]

Wells trained as a science teacher during the latter half of the 1880s. One of his teachers was Thomas Henry Huxley, famous as a major advocate of Darwinism. He later taught science, and his first book was a biology textbook. He joined the scientific journal Nature as a reviewer in 1894. [12] [13] Much of his work is notable for making contemporary ideas of science and technology easily understandable to readers. [14]

The scientific fascinations of the novel are established in the opening chapter where the Narrator views Mars through a telescope, and Wells offers the image of the superior Martians having observed human affairs, as though watching tiny organisms through a microscope. Ironically it is microscopic Earth lifeforms that finally prove deadly to the Martian invasion force. [15] In 1894 a French astronomer observed a 'strange light' on Mars, and published his findings in the scientific journal Nature on the second of August that year. Wells used this observation to open the novel, imagining these lights to be the launching of the Martian cylinders toward Earth.

American astronomer Percival Lowell published the book Mars in 1895 suggesting features of the planet's surface observed through telescopes might be canals. He speculated that these might be irrigation channels constructed by a sentient life form to support existence on an arid, dying world, similar to that which Wells suggests the Martians have left behind. [11] [16] The novel also presents ideas related to Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection, both in specific ideas discussed by the Narrator, and themes explored by the story.

Wells also wrote an essay titled 'Intelligence on Mars', published in 1896 in the Saturday Review, which sets out many of the ideas for the Martians and their planet that are used almost unchanged in The War of the Worlds. [11] In the essay he speculates about the nature of the Martian inhabitants and how their evolutionary progress might compare to humans. He also suggests that Mars, being an older world than the Earth, might have become frozen and desolate, conditions that might encourage the Martians to find another planet on which to settle. [17] Wells has also theorised how life could evolve in the conditions that are so hostile like those on Mars. The creatures have no digestive system, no hands- except - tentacles and put the blood of other beings in their veins to survive.

In 1895, Wells was an established writer and he married his second wife, Catherine Robbins, moving with her to the town of Woking in Surrey. There, he spent his mornings walking or cycling in the surrounding countryside, and his afternoons writing. The original idea for The War of the Worlds came from his brother during one of these walks, pondering on what it might be like if alien beings were suddenly to descend on the scene and start attacking its inhabitants. [18]

Much of The War of the Worlds takes place around Woking and the surrounding area. The initial landing site of the Martian invasion force, Horsell Common, was an open area close to Wells' home. In the preface to the Atlantic edition of the novel, he wrote of his pleasure in riding a bicycle around the area, imagining the destruction of cottages and houses he saw by the Martian heat-ray or their red weed. [11] While writing the novel, Wells enjoyed shocking his friends by revealing details of the story, and how it was bringing total destruction to parts of the South London landscape that were familiar to them. The characters of the artilleryman, the curate, and the brother medical student were also based on acquaintances in Woking and Surrey. [19]

Wells wrote in a letter to Elizabeth Healey about his choice of locations: "I'm doing the dearest little serial for Pearson's new magazine, in which I completely wreck and sack Woking – killing my neighbours in painful and eccentric ways – then proceed via Kingston and Richmond to London, which I sack, selecting South Kensington for feats of peculiar atrocity." [20]

A 7-metre (23 feet) high sculpture of a tripod fighting machine, entitled The Martian, based on descriptions in the novel stands in Crown Passage close to the local railway station in Woking, designed and constructed by artist Michael Condron. [21]

Wells' depiction of suburban late Victorian culture in the novel was an accurate representation of his own experiences at the time of writing. [22] In the late 19th century, the British Empire was the predominant colonial and naval power on the globe, making its domestic heart a poignant and terrifying starting point for an invasion by Martians with their own imperialist agenda. [23] He also drew upon a common fear which had emerged in the years approaching the turn of the century, known at the time as fin de siècle or 'end of the age', which anticipated apocalypse at midnight on the last day of 1899. [19]

In the late 1890s it was common for novels, prior to full volume publication, to be serialised in magazines or newspapers, with each part of the serialisation ending upon a cliffhanger to entice audiences to buy the next edition. This is a practice familiar from the first publication of Charles Dickens' novels earlier in the nineteenth century. The War of the Worlds was first published in serial form in Pearson's Magazine in April – December 1897. [24] Wells was paid £200 and Pearsons demanded to know the ending of the piece before committing to publish. [25]

The complete volume was published by William Heinemann in 1898 and has been in print ever since.

Two unauthorised serialisations of the novel were published in the United States prior to the publication of the novel. The first was published in the New York Evening Journal between December 1897 and January 1898. The story was published as Fighters from Mars or the War of the Worlds. It changed the location of the story to a New York setting. [26] The second version changed the story to have the Martians landing in the area near and around Boston, and was published by the Boston Post in 1898, which Wells protested against. It was called Fighters from Mars, or the War of the Worlds in and near Boston. [12]

Both pirated versions of the story were followed by Edison's Conquest of Mars by Garrett P. Serviss. Even though these versions are deemed as unauthorised serialisations of the novel, it is possible that H. G. Wells may have, without realising it, agreed to the serialisation in the New York Evening Journal. [27] Holt, Rinehart & Winston repressed the book in 2000, paired with The Time Machine, and commissioned Michael Koelsch to illustrate a new cover art. [28]

The War of the Worlds was generally received very favourably by both readers and critics upon its publication. There was, however, some criticism of the brutal nature of the events in the narrative. [29]

Between 1871 and 1914 over 60 works of fiction for adult readers describing invasions of Great Britain were published. The seminal work was The Battle of Dorking (1871) by George Tomkyns Chesney, an army officer. The book portrays a surprise German attack, with a landing on the south coast of England, made possible by the distraction of the Royal Navy in colonial patrols and the army in an Irish insurrection. The German army makes short work of English militia and rapidly marches to London. The story was published in Blackwood's Magazine in May 1871 and was so popular that it was reprinted a month later as a pamphlet which sold 80,000 copies. [30] [31]

The appearance of this literature reflected the increasing feeling of anxiety and insecurity as international tensions between European Imperial powers escalated towards the outbreak of the First World War. Across the decades the nationality of the invaders tended to vary, according to the most acutely perceived threat at the time. In the 1870s the Germans were the most common invaders. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, a period of strain on Anglo-French relations, and the signing of a treaty between France and Russia, caused the French to become the more common menace. [30] [31]

There are a number of plot similarities between Wells's book and The Battle of Dorking. In both books a ruthless enemy makes a devastating surprise attack, with the British armed forces helpless to stop its relentless advance, and both involve the destruction of the Home Counties of southern England. [31] However The War of the Worlds transcends the typical fascination of invasion literature with European politics, the suitability of contemporary military technology to deal with the armed forces of other nations, and international disputes, with its introduction of an alien adversary. [32]

Although much of invasion literature may have been less sophisticated and visionary than Wells's novel, it was a useful, familiar genre to support the publication success of the piece, attracting readers used to such tales. It may also have proved an important foundation for Wells's ideas as he had never seen or fought in a war. [33]

Mars Edit

Many novels focusing on life on other planets written close to 1900 echo scientific ideas of the time, including Pierre-Simon Laplace's nebular hypothesis, Charles Darwin's scientific theory of natural selection, and Gustav Kirchhoff's theory of spectroscopy. These scientific ideas combined to present the possibility that planets are alike in composition and conditions for the development of species, which would likely lead to the emergence of life at a suitable geological age in a planet's development. [34]

By the time Wells wrote The War of the Worlds, there had been three centuries of observation of Mars through telescopes. Galileo observed the planet's phases in 1610 and in 1666 Giovanni Cassini identified the polar ice caps. [16] In 1878 Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli observed geological features which he called canali (Italian for "channels"). This was mistranslated into English as "canals" which, being artificial watercourses, fuelled the belief in intelligent extraterrestrial life on the planet. This further influenced American astronomer Percival Lowell. [35]

In 1895 Lowell published a book titled Mars, which speculated about an arid, dying landscape, whose inhabitants built canals to bring water from the polar caps to irrigate the remaining arable land. This formed the most advanced scientific ideas about the conditions on the red planet available to Wells at the time The War of the Worlds was written, but the concept was later proved erroneous by more accurate observation of the planet, and later landings by Russian and American probes such as the two Viking missions, that found a lifeless world too cold for water to exist in its liquid state. [16]

Space travel Edit

The Martians travel to the Earth in cylinders, apparently fired from a huge space gun on the surface of Mars. This was a common representation of space travel in the nineteenth century, and had also been used by Jules Verne in From the Earth to the Moon. Modern scientific understanding renders this idea impractical, as it would be difficult to control the trajectory of the gun precisely, and the force of the explosion necessary to propel the cylinder from the Martian surface to the Earth would likely kill the occupants. [36]

However, the 16-year-old Robert H. Goddard was inspired by the story and spent much of his life building rockets. [6] [7] The research into rockets begun by Goddard eventually culminated in the Apollo program's manned landing on the Moon, and the landing of robotic probes on Mars.

Total war Edit

The Martian invasion's principal weapons are the Heat-Ray and the poisonous Black Smoke. Their strategy includes the destruction of infrastructure such as armament stores, railways, and telegraph lines it appears to be intended to cause maximum casualties, leaving humans without any will to resist. These tactics became more common as the twentieth century progressed, particularly during the 1930s with the development of mobile weapons and technology capable of surgical strikes on key military and civilian targets. [37]

Wells's vision of a war bringing total destruction without moral limitations in The War of the Worlds was not taken seriously by readers at the time of publication. He later expanded these ideas in the novels When the Sleeper Wakes (1899), The War in the Air (1908), and The World Set Free (1914). This kind of total war did not become fully realised until the Second World War. [38]

As noted by Howard Black: "In concrete details the Martian Fighting Machines as depicted by Wells have nothing in common with tanks or dive bombers, but the tactical and strategic use made of them is strikingly reminiscent of Blitzkrieg as it would be developed by the German armed forces four decades later. The description of the Martians advancing inexorably, at lightning speed, towards London the British Army completely unable to put up an effective resistance the British government disintegrating and evacuating the capital the mass of terrified refugees clogging the roads, all were to be precisely enacted in real life at 1940 France." Ironically this 1898 prediction came far closer to the actual land fighting of World War II than Wells did much later, much closer to the actual war, in the 1934 The Shape of Things to Come. [39]

Weapons and armour Edit

Wells's description of chemical weapons – the Black Smoke used by the Martian fighting machines to kill human beings in great numbers – became a reality in World War I. [24] The comparison between lasers and the Heat-Ray was made as early as the later half of the 1950s when lasers were still in development. Prototypes of mobile laser weapons have been developed and are being researched and tested as a possible future weapon in space. [37]

Military theorists of the era, including those of the Royal Navy prior to the First World War, had speculated about building a "fighting-machine" or a "land dreadnought". Wells later further explored the ideas of an armoured fighting vehicle in his short story "The Land Ironclads". [40] There is a high level of science fiction abstraction in Wells's description of Martian automotive technology he stresses how Martian machinery is devoid of wheels, using the "muscle-like" contractions of metal discs along an axis to produce movement. Electroactive polymers currently being developed for use in sensors and robotic actuators are a close match for Wells's description. [ original research? ]

Natural selection Edit

H. G. Wells was a student of Thomas Henry Huxley, a proponent of the theory of natural selection. [41] In the novel, the conflict between mankind and the Martians is portrayed as a survival of the fittest, with the Martians whose longer period of successful evolution on the older Mars has led to them developing a superior intelligence, able to create weapons far in advance of humans on the younger planet Earth, who have not had the opportunity to develop sufficient intelligence to construct similar weapons. [41]

Human evolution Edit

The novel also suggests a potential future for human evolution and perhaps a warning against overvaluing intelligence against more human qualities. The Narrator describes the Martians as having evolved an overdeveloped brain, which has left them with cumbersome bodies, with increased intelligence, but a diminished ability to use their emotions, something Wells attributes to bodily function.

The Narrator refers to an 1893 publication suggesting that the evolution of the human brain might outstrip the development of the body, and organs such as the stomach, nose, teeth, and hair would wither, leaving humans as thinking machines, needing mechanical devices much like the Tripod fighting machines, to be able to interact with their environment. This publication is probably Wells's own "The Man of the Year Million", first published in the Pall Mall Gazette on 6 November 1893, which suggests similar ideas. [42] [43]

Colonialism and imperialism Edit

At the time of the novel's publication the British Empire had conquered and colonised dozens of territories in Africa, Australia, North and South America, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, and the Atlantic and Pacific islands.

While Invasion Literature had provided an imaginative foundation for the idea of the heart of the British Empire being conquered by foreign forces, it was not until The War of the Worlds that the reading public was presented with an adversary completely superior to themselves. [44] A significant motivating force behind the success of the British Empire was its use of sophisticated technology the Martians, also attempting to establish an empire on Earth, have technology superior to their British adversaries. [45] In The War of the Worlds, Wells depicted an imperial power as the victim of imperial aggression, and thus perhaps encouraging the reader to consider imperialism itself. [44]

Wells suggests this idea in the following passage:

And before we judge them [the Martians] too harshly, we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanished Bison and the Dodo, but upon its own inferior races. The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years. Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit?

Social Darwinism Edit

The novel also dramatises the ideas of race presented in Social Darwinism, in that the Martians exercise over humans their 'rights' as a superior race, more advanced in evolution. [46]

Social Darwinism suggested that the success of these different ethnic groups in world affairs, and social classes in a society, were the result of evolutionary struggle in which the group or class more fit to succeed did so i.e., the ability of an ethnic group to dominate other ethnic groups or the chance to succeed or rise to the top of society was determined by genetic superiority. In more modern times it is typically seen as dubious and unscientific for its apparent use of Darwin's ideas to justify the position of the rich and powerful, or dominant ethnic groups. [47]

Wells himself matured in a society wherein the merit of an individual was not considered as important as their social class of origin. His father was a professional sportsman, which was seen as inferior to 'gentle' status whereas his mother had been a domestic servant, and Wells himself was, prior to his writing career, apprenticed to a draper. Trained as a scientist, he was able to relate his experiences of struggle to Darwin's idea of a world of struggle but perceived science as a rational system, which extended beyond traditional ideas of race, class and religious notions, and in fiction challenged the use of science to explain political and social norms of the day. [48]

Religion and science Edit

Good and evil appear relative in The War of the Worlds, and the defeat of the Martians has an entirely material cause: the action of microscopic bacteria. An insane clergyman is important in the novel, but his attempts to relate the invasion to Armageddon seem examples of his mental derangement. [43] His death, as a result of his evangelical outbursts and ravings attracting the attention of the Martians, appears an indictment of his obsolete religious attitudes [49] but the Narrator twice prays to God, and suggests that bacteria may have been divinely allowed to exist on Earth for a reason such as this, suggesting a more nuanced critique.

Mars and Martians Edit

The novel originated several enduring Martian tropes in science fiction writing. These include Mars being an ancient world, nearing the end of its life, being the home of a superior civilisation capable of advanced feats of science and engineering, and also being a source of invasion forces, keen to conquer the Earth. The first two tropes were prominent in Edgar Rice Burroughs's "Barsoom" series beginning with A Princess of Mars in 1912. [16]

Influential scientist Freeman Dyson, a key figure in the search for extraterrestrial life, also acknowledges his debt to reading H. G. Wells's fictions as a child. [50]

The publication and reception of The War of the Worlds also established the vernacular term of 'martian' as a description for something offworldly or unknown. [51]

Aliens and alien invasion Edit

Antecedents Edit

Wells is credited with establishing several extraterrestrial themes which were later greatly expanded by science fiction writers in the 20th century, including first contact and war between planets and their differing species. There were, however, stories of aliens and alien invasion prior to publication of The War of the Worlds. [52]

In 1727 Jonathan Swift published Gulliver's Travels. The tale included a people who are obsessed with mathematics and more advanced than Europeans scientifically. They populate a floating island fortress called Laputa, 4½ miles in diameter, which uses its shadow to prevent sun and rain from reaching earthly nations over which it travels, ensuring they will pay tribute to the Laputians. [53]

Voltaire's Micromégas (1752) includes two beings from Saturn and Sirius who, though human in appearance, are of immense size and visit the Earth out of curiosity. At first the difference in scale between them and the peoples of Earth makes them think the planet is uninhabited. When they discover the haughty Earth-centric views of Earth philosophers, they are greatly amused by how important Earth beings think they are compared to greater beings in the universe such as themselves. [54]

In 1892 Robert Potter, an Australian clergyman, published The Germ Growers in London. It describes a covert invasion by aliens who take on the appearance of human beings and attempt to develop a virulent disease to assist in their plans for global conquest. It was not widely read, and consequently Wells's vastly more successful novel is generally credited as the seminal alien invasion story. [52]

The first science fiction to be set on Mars may be Across the Zodiac: The Story of a Wrecked Record (1880) by Percy Greg. It was a long-winded book concerned with a civil war on Mars. Another Mars novel, this time dealing with benevolent Martians coming to Earth to give humankind the benefit of their advanced knowledge, was published in 1897 by Kurd Lasswitz – Two Planets (Auf Zwei Planeten). It was not translated until 1971, and thus may not have influenced Wells, although it did depict a Mars influenced by the ideas of Percival Lowell. [55]

Other examples are Mr. Stranger's Sealed Packet (1889), which took place on Mars, Gustavus W. Pope's Journey to Mars (1894), and Ellsworth Douglas's Pharaoh's Broker, in which the protagonist encounters an Egyptian civilisation on Mars which, while parallel to that of the Earth, has evolved somehow independently. [56]

Early examples of influence on science fiction Edit

Wells had already proposed another outcome for the alien invasion story in The War of the Worlds. When the Narrator meets the artilleryman the second time, the artilleryman imagines a future where humanity, hiding underground in sewers and tunnels, conducts a guerrilla war, fighting against the Martians for generations to come, and eventually, after learning how to duplicate Martian weapon technology, destroys the invaders and takes back the Earth. [49]

Six weeks after publication of the novel, the Boston Post newspaper published another alien invasion story, an unauthorised sequel to The War of the Worlds, which turned the tables on the invaders. Edison's Conquest of Mars was written by Garrett P. Serviss, a now little remembered writer, who described the famous inventor Thomas Edison leading a counterattack against the invaders on their home soil. [24] Though this is actually a sequel to 'Fighters from Mars', a revised and unauthorised reprint of The War of the Worlds, they both were first printed in the Boston Post in 1898. [57] Lazar Lagin published Major Well Andyou in USSR in 1962, an alternative view of events in The War of the Worlds from the viewpoint of a traitor.

The War of the Worlds was reprinted in the United States in 1927, before the Golden Age of science fiction, by Hugo Gernsback in Amazing Stories. John W. Campbell, another key science fiction editor of the era, and periodic short story writer, published several alien invasion stories in the 1930s. Many well known science fiction writers were to follow, including Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Clifford Simak and Robert A. Heinlein with The Puppet Masters and John Wyndham with The Kraken Wakes. [26]

Later examples Edit

The theme of alien invasion has remained popular to the present day and is frequently used in the plots of all forms of popular entertainment including movies, television, novels, comics and video games.

Alan Moore's graphic novel, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume II, retells the events in The War of the Worlds. In the end of the first issue of Marvel Zombies 5, it is revealed that the main characters will visit a world called "Martian Protectorate" where the events of The War of the Worlds are occurring. [ citation needed ]

Tripods Edit

The Tripods trilogy of books features a central theme of invasion by alien-controlled tripods.

The War of the Worlds has inspired seven films, as well as various radio dramas, comic-book adaptations, video games, a number of television series, and sequels or parallel stories by other authors. Most are actually not set in either the location and/or era of the original novel.

The most famous, or infamous, adaptation is the 1938 radio broadcast that was narrated and directed by Orson Welles. The first two-thirds of the 60-minute broadcast were presented as a series of news bulletins, often described as having led to outrage and panic by listeners who believed the events described in the program to be real. [58] In some versions of the event, up to a million people ran outside in terror. [59] Later critics, however, point out that the supposed panic was exaggerated by newspapers of the time, seeking to discredit radio as a source of news and information [60] or exploit racial stereotypes. [59] According to research by A. Brad Schwartz, fewer than 50 Americans seem to have fled outside in the wake of the broadcast, and it is not clear how many of them heard the broadcast directly. [59] [61]

In 1953 came the first theatrical film of The War of the Worlds, produced by George Pal, directed by Byron Haskin, and starring Gene Barry.

In 1978 a best selling musical album of the story was produced by Jeff Wayne, with the voices of Richard Burton and David Essex. Two later, somewhat different live concert musical versions, based on the original album, have since been mounted by Wayne and tour annually throughout the UK and Europe. These feature a performing image in 3D of Liam Neeson, alongside live guest performers. Both versions of this stage production have utilised live music, narration, lavish projected computer animation and graphics, pyrotechnics, and a large Martian fighting machine that appears on stage and lights up and fires its Heat-Ray.

On 30 October 1988, a slightly updated version of the script by Howard Koch, adapted and directed by David Ossman, was presented by WGBH Radio, Boston and broadcast on National Public Radio for the 50th Anniversary of the original Orson Welles broadcast. [62] The cast included Jason Robards in Welles' role of 'Professor Pierson', Steve Allen, Douglas Edwards, Hector Elizondo and Rene Auberjonois.

A Halloween-based special episode of Hey Arnold! was aired to parody The War of the Worlds the costumes that the main characters wore referenced a species from Star Trek.

An animated series of Justice League, broadcast in 2001, begins with a three-part saga called "Secret Origins" and features tripod machines invading and attacking the city.

Steven Spielberg directed a 2005 film adaptation starring Tom Cruise, which received generally positive reviews. [63] [64]

The Great Martian War 1913–1917 is a 2013 made-for-television science fiction film docudrama that adapts The War of the Worlds and unfolds in the style of a documentary broadcast on The History Channel. The film is an alternative history of World War I in which Europe and its allies, including America, fight the Martian invaders instead of Germany and its allies. The docudrama includes both new and digitally altered film footage shot during the War to End All Wars to establish the scope of the interplanetary conflict. The film's original 2013 UK broadcast was during the first year of the First World War centennial the first US cable TV broadcast came in 2014, almost 10 months later.

In the spring of 2017, the BBC announced that in 2018 it would be producing an Edwardian period, three-episode mini-series adaptation of the Wells novel. The show debuted in the UK on 17 November 2019. [65] Also in 2019, Fox debuted an adaptation set in present-day Europe starring Gabriel Byrne & Elizabeth McGovern.

Colin Morgan (Merlin, Humans) stars in The Coming of the Martians, [66] a faithful audio dramatisation of Wells's classic 1897 story, adapted by Nick Scovell, directed by Lisa Bowerman and produced in native 5.1 surround sound. It was released in July 2018 by Sherwood Sound Studios in download format and as a 2-Disc CD, a Limited Edition DVD, and a Collector's USB Edition.

There is also a novel adaptation, set in Victorian Britain of 1898 about HMS Thunder Child, called The Last Days of Thunder Child and written by C. A. Powell. [67]

The Original ‘Fake News’: Orson Welles’ ‘War of the Worlds’ Turns 80

It’s mentioned as every Halloween approaches: Before moving on to the medium of film and making his masterpiece Citizen Kane, Orson Welles created a radio broadcast that fooled many Americans into believing aliens were invading Grover’s Mill, New Jersey. It was an ingenious performance, whether you found it genuinely convincing or were just charmed by a creative team having the wit to decide that aliens would pick New Jersey to make contact. It happened so long ago—way back on October 30, 1938, before the World Wide Web, before cell phones, before the ubiquity of TV even—that for many decades it was easy to hear about it and think, “How simple people were then.” (What the heck was a radio play anyhow?)

Then on Election Day 2016 the Internet was abuzz with reports that World War III was days away and an FBI agent linked to Hillary Clinton’s email had killed his wife before shooting himself and one presidential candidate even tweeted there were voting machine problems “across entire country.” All of these things were untrue but widely shared. (The last of these came from Donald Trump’s Twitter account—he had observed a news item about one county with voting machine problems.) And, come to think of it, radio itself had entered a new golden age (albeit with a new name and distribution method: podcasting).

Which makes it a fine time to revisit what Orson Welles did with the H.G. Wells classic. Here’s how it happened, how it’s misunderstood, and why it is ominously prescient.

A Big Step for the Boy Wonder

Orson Welles was born on May 6, 1915 in Kenosha, Wisconsin. His father was a wealthy inventor who created a carbide lamp for bicycles his mother a concert pianist. But his parents separated and his mother and then father died. He was orphaned while a teen.

Welles did not necessarily have an easy adulthood either. He died basically broke on October 10, 1985. Virtually every film after Kane required an epic struggle to get made and even then they didn’t necessarily reach completion. An example: He began filming The Other Side of the Wind (starring John Huston) in 1970. He finally stopped filming it in 1977. Yet it was still unfinished at the time of his death and was only screened in 2018. It received generally positive reviews from critics: You can judge for yourself when Netflix starts streaming it on November 2.

With making his own movies such a struggle, Welles tended to rely on his voice to pay the bills. With the result he spent much of his time, for instance, plugging frozen peas. To his credit, he took the work seriously. Indeed, he sometimes took the work weirdly seriously, as the recording below shows. He is difficult and insulting and strangely passionate about getting the voiceover right: “Every July, peas grow there.” [Breaks character.] “Do you really mean that?”

Beyond this, Welles grew quite obese. Did people make fun of him? Well, he appears in the 1967 version of Casino Royale and the trailer describes him as the “heaviest heavy of SMERSH.” (Get it? Because he’s a bad guy—a heavy—and he’s fat.)

Welles himself could address his girth with good humor, quipping, “My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four. Unless there are three other people.”

But between an often cruel childhood and the struggles of his later years, there was a magical stretch. We can actually pinpoint when it began and ended. From October 31, 1931 to March 16, 1942, Orson Welles led a uniquely charmed existence. Ironically, the golden period started on a Halloween when Welles received an opening night standing ovation for his performance in Jew Suss at the Gate Theatre in Dublin. Only 16, it was his first professional production. Indeed, the boy from the Midwest hadn’t even set off for Ireland looking for roles—he was essentially a tourist and stumbled into the opportunity.

While still in his teens, Welles made his Broadway debut as Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet. He showed he was more than just a performer too. He directed an all-black cast in a version of Macbeth and then formed the Mercury Theatre with the director John Houseman. This led to a weekly radio program The Mercury Theatre on the Air on CBS. It would provide the platform for his interpretation (using an adaptation by Howard Koch) of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds when he was just 23.

But there were still more mediums to conquer. Welles soon signed a $225,000 contract with RKO to write, direct, and produce two films. He also received a percentage of the profits and had total creative control—it remains a remarkable deal for a filmmaker barely into his 20s. One who had only directed one full-length effort, a version of a stage farce called Too Much Johnson. Made with little if any budget, it went unreleased and was presumed lost until a print was discovered in 2008.

His second film (and first official effort) was Citizen Kane. This one was released. The New York Daily News gave it a rave on May 2, 1941, days before his 26 th birthday: “The most talked about picture of the year, Orson Welles’ production of ‘Citizen Kane,’ finally had its New York premiere at the Palace theatre last night, where an eager first night audience enthusiastically applauded the young theatrical man’s latest achievement.” The specific praise was both flattering—“Only Charles Chaplin has equalled the Welles achievement on a major Hollywood production”—and borderline inane: “…he has done away with the long list of credits that clutter up the beginning of a film, and for this, he has earned our heartfelt gratitude.”

(The Daily News also noted that “legal advisers of William Randolph Hearst” had attended: “The latter evidently imagined that the central character of the picture, one Charles Foster Kane, bore an uncomfortably close resemblance of the great California publisher.”)

Citizen Kane was nominated for Best Picture and Welles earned individual nods for Best Actor, Best Director and Best Screenplay. It was this last category that brought Welles an Oscar, shared with Herman J. Mankiewicz. Welles had finished shooting his second movie, The Magnificent Ambersons, and even begun editing it before hurrying off to Brazil to film the Rio Carnival as part of the wartime “Good Neighbor” propaganda effort at the request of the U.S. government.

But while the Irish give, they also take away. Welles had begun his magnificent run in Dublin, but it screeched to a halt on St. Patrick’s Day 1942. The studio deemed a screening of The Magnificent Ambersons sufficiently disappointing, so they broke their deal with Welles and reedited it, greatly cutting the runtime. The film was still, like Kane, a financial failure. His next idea didn’t even get to fail. Welles had figured out how to incorporate his filming in Brazil into what he envisioned as his third film, titled It’s All True. This project was rejected by the studio and unfinished.

Welles would not be credited as a director on a feature film again until 1946’s The Stranger, starring Edward G. Robinson, Loretta Young and Welles himself. He would never again manage to complete projects at such a breakneck pace. The ones he did finish were largely ignored by contemporaries. Though he received an Honorary Award in 1971, Welles would never again be nominated for an Oscar in any category.

Fairly or unfairly, Welles in the popular mind was forever linked to a film about Charles Foster Kane and a brilliant radio stunt.

A stunt that was downright mythic, to the point the legend began to overshadow the actual broadcast.

What ‘War of the Worlds’ Actually Made Happen

In 1938, radio was still a relatively new medium. Radio programming had only begun in 1920 with the KDKA station in Pittsburgh. Yet for making an immediate connection with an audience beyond a theater or an auditorium, it was the only game in town. The first regularly scheduled U.S. television broadcast didn’t happen until 1939, with the transmission of President Franklin Roosevelt’s World’s Fair inaugural address.

Radio had been around long enough to be established as a trusted source of information, yet was new enough that people didn’t grasp it could be utilized in unreliable ways.

So when the War of the Worlds broadcast came along, the American public never knew what hit them. No wonder the New York Times reported the next day: “A wave of mass hysteria seized thousands of radio listeners. At least a score of adults required treatment for shock and hysteria.”

In recent years, the impact of The War of the Worlds has been reexamined, with attempts to quantify the exact size of its audience and how it affected them. Radiolab reported a massive impact. They noted there were 12 million listeners and that “about 1 in every 12” thought it was true, meaning a million people bought in completely. This was a particularly impressive number considering the U.S. population was still under 130 million. (We have since reached 328 million and counting.)

Others felt both the audience and the frenzy were exaggerated. Massively exaggerated. Slate has argued the program had virtually no impact and offered data for their assertion: “The night the program aired, the C.E. Hooper ratings service telephoned 5,000 households for its national ratings survey. ‘To what program are you listening?’ the service asked respondents. Only 2 percent answered a radio ‘play’ or ‘the Orson Welles program,’ or something similar indicating CBS. None said a ‘news broadcast,’ according to a summary published in Broadcasting. In other words, 98 percent of those surveyed were listening to something else, or nothing at all, on Oct. 30, 1938. This miniscule rating is not surprising. Welles’ program was scheduled against one of the most popular national programs at the time—ventriloquist Edgar Bergen’s Chase and Sanborn Hour, a comedy-variety show.” (Note: Yes, it is surreal that a ventriloquist proved so popular in a medium where no one could see him.)

Radiolab has since conceded they may have overstated things: “In this program, we referred twice to the fact that 12 million people heard the ‘The War of the Worlds’ broadcast when it was first aired in 1938. However, no one knows for sure how many people were listening.”

This leads to the question: If there is no data to confirm the scale of the hysteria (and there is information suggesting it was all an exaggeration), why were there all those reports of a panic?

Slate has an answer here too: “Blame America’s newspapers. Radio had siphoned off advertising revenue from print during the Depression, badly damaging the newspaper industry. So the papers seized the opportunity presented by Welles’ program to discredit radio as a source of news.”

Which was fine with Welles. After all, he wasn’t a newsman. He was a showman who just wanted to draw some listeners to his latest effort to ensure the popularity of his next project. As that photo of the journalists surrounding him indicates, he succeeded.

Actually Listening to ‘War of the Worlds’

We have entered an era when we are again willing to listen, not look. Wired credits the first podcast as Christopher Lydon’s Open Source in 2003. These were recorded at Harvard’s Berkman Center and called “audio blog posts.” Lydon served as the host and said the software developer David Winer told him: “What the world needs is an MP3 that can be syndicated.” Early efforts often focused on the New Hampshire presidential primaries.

Quickly, however, podcasting moved well beyond New England. If there’s a topic that strikes your fancy, you better believe someone’s podcasting about it. Apple states there are currently more than 525,000 active shows on iTunes. Hits like the true crime podcast Serial report over one million downloads of an episode in just a day.

How does Welles’ effort hold up in this era? To begin, it should be noted it’s easy to read about his production and conclude he was determined to fool his audience at all costs. This ignores the fact there are plenty of “clues” it was not an actual news report.

-The program begins with an introduction noting it is a version of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. First serialized in 1897 and published as a novel in 1898, this was a celebrated work by a famed author, whose other works include The Time Machine and The Island of Dr. Moreau. Indeed, the very title should have tipped off sci-fi fans everywhere.

-The broadcast includes a lengthy section where Welles discusses the aftermath of the invasion. Leading to the obvious question: If this were an actual news report about aliens attacking, why does he know how it turned out already?

-At the end of the show Welles speaks as himself and explicitly states that it is October 30 and this should be regarded as a Halloween prank, not as coverage of an alien attack. He describes it as his company’s version of “dressing up in a sheet and jumping out of a bush and saying ‘Boo!’”

Considering the entire program lasted under 60 minutes, it would require a pretty selective listen to be convinced of extraterrestrial assault.

That noted, sections are quite convincing. In particular, early on the program presents itself as merely being a broadcast of the “music of Ramon Raquello and his Orchestra” as they play in New York… only the songs keep getting interrupted by updates about the strange things being observed by observatories around the nation. While it would require a listener to tune in late enough to miss the intro and abandon the program quickly enough they didn’t get that final disclaimer, it’s easy to see how it could prove oddly persuasive.

Quite simply, both H.G. Wells and Orson Welles knew how to play on our anxieties and that is something humanity has yet to—and likely never will—outgrow.

Timeless Terrors

Bob Woodward titled his book on the Trump administration Fear. Which is reasonable: Trump generates a great deal of anxiety in his opponents. Nobel Prize in Economics winner and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has tweeted he believes the Trump administration’s campaign against “voter fraud” will be used to deny Democrats control of the House, regardless of whether they win the vote: “Republicans will claim that the election was stolen, and deny the majority’s legitimacy.”

Then again, Trump is generally nervous about something or another himself. One recent concern is oddly reminiscent of Orson Welles. Trump offered this October 22 tweet: “Sadly, it looks like Mexico’s Police and Military are unable to stop the Caravan heading to the Southern Border of the United States. Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in. I have alerted Border Patrol and Military that this is a National Emergy [sic]. Must change laws!”

Leave aside the completely evidence-free assertion about “Middle Easterners.” The basic facts: The majority of these people are refugees fleeing Honduras. They travel on foot and include women and children. (U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused the “group of putting women and children in front of the caravan to use as shields as they make their way through.”) At the time of Trump’s tweet, they had only reached the southern border of Mexico. They still had over 1,000 miles to travel before they reach the southern tip of Texas. Walking 20 miles per day—an amount likely unsustainable without rest for all but the fittest members of the group—it would still take 50 days to reach the U.S. border.

Meaning—if we operate under the assumption they are a legitimate threat—the most powerful military on Earth will have nearly two months to prepare for their arrival. (And since they walk in a large group that draws heavy media coverage, they are remarkably easy to track.)

When he recorded The War of the Worlds, Orson Welles felt there was a real threat to America. But he believed it was in Europe, not outer space. Indeed, he even set a production of Julius Caesar in Fascist Italy. Yet Europe seemed very distant to most Americans and an alien attack (for some, at least) seemed genuinely worrying.

Likewise, America faces very real problems right now. To cite just one, up to 45 million of us regularly drink water from a potentially unsafe source. Yet outside Flint this isn’t a particular concern, while an attack by a faraway “caravan” has made the most powerful man on Earth positively anxiety ridden.

And both these responses make a surprising amount of sense when you reflect on how fear actually works and why the threat of invasion connects so deeply with our psyches.

Why We Worry

Dr. Kenneth J. Doka has published dozens of books on trauma and grief. I first connected with him while working on an article about why we react so strongly to atrocities that, statistically speaking, pose virtually zero risk to us. (Example: Someone living in the United States is 18 times more likely to be killed by a wild animal than a terrorist.) So why do these events traumatize us all the same? Doka explained it this way: “I think the issue is that, whenever there’s a traumatic event that we grieve, there’s sometimes the sense of what we once thought was safe is not safe, that the world is not benevolent.”

What’s more scarring to our sense of safety than hearing word of a possible invasion? It’s easy (if illogical) to be terrified by the possibility of attack, whether by illegal aliens or actual aliens. This is why Doka champions “realistic optimism.” By discussing and learning about your concerns, it’s possible to recognize when they’re exaggerated or downright misguided.

Or you can use the Internet to reinforce them. Quite simply, if you’re inclined to seek information that confirms your worst fears or greatest biases, you will find it online—and then some. And you can share it with all your friends. Which is why Orson Welles’ The War of the Worlds might prove even more effective today. Below is a teaser for another one of Welles’ projects about “trickery.” Even decades after fooling many Americans—or not—he still loved a good con.

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75 Years Ago, 'War Of The Worlds' Started A Panic. Or Did It?

Invader? No, it's a man dressed as one in 1988. He was in Grovers Mill, N.J., at a 50th anniversary celebration of The War of the Worlds broadcast.

We interrupt this blog to bring you a special bulletin:

Martians have invaded New Jersey!

OK, as far as we know that hasn't happened.

But we wanted to issue that faux alert because 75 years ago tonight, as our friend Korva Coleman pointed out on the NPR Newscast, Orson Welles and his troupe of radio actors interrupted the Columbia Broadcasting System's programming to "report" that our planet had been invaded.

Ever since then, it's been accepted as fact that the broadcast scared the dickens out of many Americans.

Morning Edition, for instance, reported in 2005 that "listeners panicked, thinking the story was real." Many supposedly jumped in their cars to flee the area of the "invasion."

Just this past weekend, our colleagues at Radiolab devoted their very first live hour to a "deep dive into one of the most controversial moments in broadcasting history: Orson Welles' 1938 radio play about Martians invading New Jersey."

According to Radiolab, about 12 million people were listening when Welles' broadcast came on the air and "about 1 in every 12 . thought it was true and . some percentage of that 1 million people ran out of their homes."

"That constitutes a major freakout," Radiolab says.

Orson Welles delivering a radio broadcast in 1938, the same year he aired his War of the Worlds fake news program. /AP hide caption

Orson Welles delivering a radio broadcast in 1938, the same year he aired his War of the Worlds fake news program.

Well, Slate has a different opinion. "The supposed panic was so tiny as to be practically immeasurable on the night of the broadcast," it concludes. According to Slate:

"Far fewer people heard the broadcast — and fewer still panicked — than most people believe today. How do we know? The night the program aired, the C.E. Hooper ratings service telephoned 5,000 households for its national ratings survey. 'To what program are you listening?' the service asked respondents. Only 2 percent answered a radio 'play' or 'the Orson Welles program,' or something similar indicating CBS. None said a 'news broadcast,' according to a summary published in Broadcasting. In other words, 98 percent of those surveyed were listening to something else, or nothing at all, on Oct. 30, 1938. This miniscule rating is not surprising. Welles' program was scheduled against one of the most popular national programs at the time — ventriloquist Edgar Bergen's Chase and Sanborn Hour, a comedy-variety show."

Slate also argues that there's no data to support the idea that many radio listeners heard about the broadcast and tuned in during it. And it points out that "several important CBS affiliates (including Boston's WEEI) pre-empted Welles' broadcast in favor of local commercial programming, further shrinking its audience."

So how did the story of the "panic" grow over the years? Slate blames newspapers, which allegedly "seized the opportunity presented by Welles' program to discredit radio as a source of news. The newspaper industry sensationalized the panic to prove to advertisers, and regulators, that radio management was irresponsible and not to be trusted."

Radiolab isn't the only news outlet marking the 75th anniversary, of course. There's also this report from PBS-TV's American Experience, which says that "although most listeners understood that the program was a radio drama, the next day's headlines reported that thousands of others plunged into panic, convinced that America was under a deadly Martian attack."

So which was it, mass panic or hyped-up hysteria? Something in between? This blogger recalls his father saying the broadcast went mostly unnoticed in the quiet hills of Western New York State.

Any other first- or second-hand memories are welcome in the comments thread.

Orson Welles’ Halloween Prank – The War of the Worlds on Radio

In the summer of 1938, the CBS Radio Network began broadcasting the hourly anthology series Mercury Theatre On the Air, a creation of the brilliant 22 year-old writer-actor-director Orson Welles. Despite its often clever innovations, the program in the following months drew only a small audience, very few sponsors, and was apparently doomed to obscurity. Instead, Mercury Theater is remembered today for one of the most noted programs in radio history, an adaptation of H. G. Wells’ tale of a Martian invasion.

The War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast

Although Welles updated the original story and location from Victorian England to the 1930s’ U.S., he kept many features of the story – meteor-like spaceships, leathery aliens, fighting tripods, deadly heat rays, and poisonous gas. He also chose to tell the first half of the story through a clever series of “news bulletins” that interrupted “regularly scheduled” programming.

This “breaking news” technique proved so realistic that an unknown number of Americans honestly believed that New Jersey and New York City were under Martian attack. “Eyewitnesses” claimed that they could see fire on the New Jersey skyline from their homes in New York or mysterious aircraft crossing the Hudson River or, poison gas creeping along the ground.

By the next morning, some newspapers, particularly those along the Eastern seaboard, were running accounts of people fleeing for safety, some seriously injured in the panicky crowds. Others reported attempted suicides, people rushing to buy guns and ammunition, or that mass hysteria had swept the country. Eventually over the years almost all of these reports would prove to be unfounded.

The Aftermath of the Broadcast

Radio in the 1930s had become a threat to print journalism as a source of news and more importantly, was draining advertising dollars from papers, a condition that was worrisome to newspaper publishers across the country. Thus, The War of the Worlds broadcast gave newspapers an opportunity to bash the relatively new medium.

After reporting their many anecdotal accounts of what the broadcast had allegedly caused, newspaper editorials spent the following days heavily criticizing radio, and particularly CBS, for allowing hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Americans, to fall victims to a “hoax.”

Just as the “old media” of today (print and broadcast journalism) often attacks the “new media” of Internet journalism and bloggers for unreliability, so did the newspapers of 1938 attack radio on the same grounds. Radio, the editorialists wrote, were incapable of separating fact from fiction. And, when they did report actual news they lacked the resources to verify their stories.

This journalistic argument was ironic since most newspapers had themselves initially failed to verify the reports that they were hearing. The broadcast was late on a Sunday evening, a time when most papers were operating with skeleton crews. Rather than do any investigative reporting of their own, papers relied on wire services such as the Associated Press for their stories, most of which were based on rumor.

The next day a contrite Orson Welles apologized to those who were frightened by his “Halloween treat,” but, overall, did not suffer from the aftermath. Instead, he may have actually benefited from it. He became a “known” name and soon went to Hollywood where he starred in and often directed such movie classics as Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, A Touch of Evil, and The Third Man.

Looking Back From Today

For many years, a legend grew around the “widespread panic” caused by The War of the Worlds. However, in recent years, social historians, such as W. Joseph Campbell in his book Getting It Wrong: Ten of the Greatest Misreported Stories in American Journalism (2010), have debunked most of the legend.

Yes, many people, hundreds or perhaps even thousands did overreact. Due to the rapidly deteriorating political situation in Europe that would lead to war in less than a year, an economic crisis at home, and other factors, many Americans were apprehensive and it took little to capitalize on their fears. But, the number was nowhere near the hundreds of thousands or even millions as reported.

And, yes, some highways and switchboards did become jammed, but as Campbell points out, most of it was caused by curiosity seekers as opposed to panicked citizens. More cars went into Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, the “site” of the Martian landing, then were fleeing from it, and most of the calls to newspapers and law enforcement agencies were to find out simply if there was any truth to the crazy rumors that they were hearing.

Most of the little actual panic that was caused was due to people hearing second and third hand stories. Contrary to contemporary accounts, most in the small listening audience, estimated to be less than a million, knew that the program was fiction. An announcement at the beginning of the program and at the forty minute mark stated it as such.

Even those who missed the initial announcement were not fooled. Too many events were simply happening in too short a time span to be plausible. Others quickly discovered that the “invasion” was not being reported on other networks.

Instead, most of the problem was initially caused by people practicing what was then called “dialitis,” comparable to channel surfing today. As such, some people were only hearing bits and pieces of the story. Others were informed of the “unfolding events” by relatives, friends, or neighbors who were only repeating what they had heard, in turn, from other relatives, friends, or neighbors.

‘War of the Worlds’ Panicked America – Or Did It?

Orson Welles’ 1938 CBS radio drama based on H. G. Wells’ science fiction classic War of the Worlds lives large in public memory. Panicked listeners fled into the streets. Some people committed suicide rather than face the Martian invasion. Millions of Americans were terrified out of their wits.

The recent television docudrama “War of the Worlds” that aired on the PBS series American Experience (October 30, 2013) is the latest look at “the night that panicked America” (the title of an Emmy-winning 1975 TV movie about the event). It draws upon newspaper reports, books and of course the original broadcast. Unique among programs about this radio drama, the American Experience program tapped letters written to Welles by listeners, and used actors and actresses filmed in black and white to portray the letter-writers as if they were being interviewed on-camera. The producers acknowledge they adapted the letters’ content to work better as spoken words. That blurs the line between fact and fiction.

The American Experience program brought out critics saying that recent research on the 1938 broadcast has debunked the notion that Americans fled screaming into the streets in large numbers. The nationwide panic was purely a myth created by newspapers to attack radio, the medium with which they competed for advertising dollars, and to sell papers.

In some cases, however, the critics of the PBS broadcast have their own books to hawk. That’s not surprising: if they’ve researched and written about the Welles broadcast and the panic it inspired (or didn’t inspire), then they have information to share that they say contradicts the popular story of a terror-stricken America. However, it also raises the question, are they are doing the very thing they accuse “the media” of doing—taking advantage of an event (the PBS broadcast) to promote their product. In some cases, links to cited sources go directly to a book on, rather than to a supporting article.

Below are links to the website for the American Experience: War of the Worlds broadcast and to a couple of the articles that have accused its producers of ignoring or downplaying recent research. You can find others by Googling “War of the Worlds did not cause panic.” Judge for yourself how much actual panic spread through the country in 1938 and how much of that supposed panic was a media-hyped myth that endures to this day.

The Myth of the War of the Worlds Panic, by Jefferson Pooley and Michael Socolow

Gerald D. Swick experienced his own “Is this for real?” moment in the 1980s when he tuned in a TV movie already in progress and saw what appeared to be breaking newscasts about Warsaw Pact tanks rolling through the Fulda Gap into West Germany. He did not run screaming into the streets and denies any media reports to the contrary.

Newspapers vs. Radio

In 1938, with the world on the brink of World War II, audiences were already on razor's edge. The format used in War of the Worlds,with its shrill news bulletins and breathless commentary, echoed the way in which radio had covered the "Munich crisis"—a meeting of European powers that became the prelude to World War II—a month before.

"Welles and his company managed to closely duplicate the style and the feel of those broadcasts in their own program," said Elizabeth McLeod, a journalist and broadcast historian in Rockland, Maine, who specializes in 1930s radio. "Some [listeners] heard only that 'shells were falling' and assumed they were coming from Hitler."

It was also the time during which science fiction developed as a popular genre. "We were on the brink of scientific discoveries about space," Hilmes said. "Dangers lurked abroad—why not in outer space?"

Panicked listeners packed roads, hid in cellars, and loaded their guns. In one block of Newark, New Jersey, 20 families rushed out of their houses with wet towels over their faces as protection from Martian poison gas, according to a front-page article in the New York Times the next day.

But historians also claim that newspaper accounts over the following week greatly exaggerated the hysteria. There are estimates that about 20 percent of those listening believed it was real. That translates to less than a million people.

At the time, newspapers considered radio an upstart rival. Some in the print press, resentful of the superior radio coverage during the Munich crisis, may have sought to prove a point about the irresponsibility of the radio broadcast.

"The exaggeration of the War of the Worlds story can be interpreted as the print media's revenge for being badly scooped during the previous month," McLeod said.

25 Surprising Facts About the War of the Worlds Broadcast

Oct. 30 marks the 80th anniversary of “The War of the Worlds” broadcast, the most famous, or infamous, program in radio history. Listeners who tuned in to the program late and did not hear the disclaimer that it was a radio play panicked thinking Martians had landed on Earth.

The ensuing furor made a celebrity of 23-year-old Orson Welles, who helmed the Mercury Theatre on the Air’s radio adaptation of the celebrated science fiction novel written by H.G. Wells. But the broadcast also raised concerns about Americans’ susceptibility to believe what has become known as “fake news” as well as issues about the responsibility of the media.

To mark the anniversary of the broadcast, 24/7 Wall St. has compiled a list of the 25 facts you need to know about “The War of the Worlds” broadcast. We created our list based on resource materials, audio clips from the broadcast as well as from other radio programs, podcasts, newspaper accounts of the program, and books on the subject.

On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles (1915-1985) and the Mercury Theatre on the Air broadcast a radio dramatization of H. G. Wells's War of the Worlds on the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) coast-to-coast network. The story of invading Martians is presented realistically, but disclaimers stating that the presentation is entirely fictional are aired four times during the hour-long show. Nevertheless, a nationwide panic ensues that reaches as far as the Pacific Northwest.

The radio play originated live at 8:00 p.m. in New York over station WABC and was fed to CBS affiliates across the nation. The show appeared to be a regular radio program with break-ins from an announcer telling of a meteor that crashed near Princeton, New Jersey, killing 1,500 persons. Following that, listeners were treated to "live reports" of Martians with death rays spreading throughout the countryside, killing every human in their path in what appeared to be the conquest of planet Earth.

But It's on the Radio!

Many people were so caught up in the believability of the drama that they didn't heed the disclaimers played during commercial breaks -- let alone noticing that a broadcast of Armageddon would even have commercial breaks. To them, this was a real news show and men from Mars were on the attack. Some listeners ran from their homes to alert mankind.

Since the "attack" began in New Jersey, much of the national panic occurred on the East Coast by those fearing that they were next. Telephone lines were jammed as people tried to verify reports, and this breakdown of communication turned many skeptics into believers. From there, the hysteria spread like wildfire.

In Brooklyn, one man refused to believe a policeman's denial by telling him, "What do you mean it's just a play? We can hear the firing all the way here and I want a gas mask. I'm a taxpayer." In Indianapolis, a church service was interrupted when a woman dashed in screaming, "New York is destroyed! Go home to die with your loved ones. I heard it on the radio." In San Francisco, one man pleaded with an unsympathetic newspaperman, "If you don't believe it, listen to it yourself!"

Concrete Evidence?

Even here in the Pacific Northwest, far from ground zero of the Martian invasion, CBS affiliate radio stations KIRO and KVI were flooded with phone calls. Switchboards at The Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer were likewise jammed, as persons throughout the state called the largest news outlets they could find for facts and updates on what they thought was the end of the world. Policemen at practically every stationhouse in the state calmed callers as best they could.

Probably the most terrified listeners were in the town of Concrete, located in Skagit County, 60 miles northeast of Seattle. By sheer coincidence, during the midpoint of the broadcast a power failure plunged almost the entire town of 1,000 into darkness. Some listeners fainted while others grabbed their families to head up into the mountains. Some of the men grabbed their guns, planning to blow away any bug-eyed monster or spaceship that got in their way.

War of the Words

By morning, public officials and news outlets had convinced most of the nation that the "catastrophe" was fictitious. Some who panicked the night before felt relief and some were embarrassed, but many were angry. More than a few who had been duped contacted their congresspersons, demanding that tighter controls be placed on radio broadcasts so that events like this would never happen again. Others saw this as censorship, and nothing much came of it.

CBS issued a statement expressing regret, but pointed out that "it was neither Columbia's nor the Mercury Theatre's intention to mislead any one, and when it became evident that a part of the audience had been disturbed by the performance five announcements were read over the network later in the evening to reassure those listeners."

Orson Welles was as surprised at the reaction to the broadcast as anyone. He told the press, "It was our thought that perhaps people might be bored or annoyed at hearing a tale so improbable." When questioned about other projects he had in the works, Welles replied, "I don't think we will choose anything like this again."

Orson Welles broadcasting live on CBS, 1938

A New Jersey farmer readies himself to fight off invading Martians, October 30, 1938

Courtesy Life magazine

Pulp reprint of H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds , 1939

Watch the video: The Broadcast That Terrified A Nation - Inside A Mind (May 2022).


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