During the Munich Crisis of September 1938, as Hitler rallied his forces and the world slid inexorably toward war, more radios were sold than in any previous month. In this atmosphere of tension, Orson Welles and his staff prepared for their weekly Mercury Theater radio play. Auspiciously, on the night before Halloween, listeners found themselves listening to the innocent sounds of “Ramon Raquello and his orchestra”, only for the music to be interrupted by the first of a series of increasingly alarming news stories.
First came reports of several explosions of “incandescent gas” observed on the planet Mars, then after a brief interlude of more music came a hook-up to Princeton Observatory professor Richard Pierson (played by Welles) who assures the listeners that there is nothing to be alarmed at. Then there are reports of a meteor impact in an unassuming place called Grover’s Mill. Even today Grover’s Mill is a sleepy little hamlet…, but that night it was going to become the centre of the universe as the beachhead for a Martian invasion advancing on New York City, brushing aside American defenders and destroying dozens of familiar place names along the way. An emergency government announcement gave credence to the story, and huddled about their radios, panicked listeners (all over the USA) began to bombard local police stations with calls. From Trenton comes the account.
“We were petrified. We just looked at each other, scared out of our wits. Someone was banging on our front door. It was our neighbour across the street. She had packed her seven kids in their car and she kept yelling, come on, lets get out of here.”
Henry Sears, then just 13 years old, was doing his homework when he heard the first news flash of the invasion. Taking the radio down into the tavern below which his mother owned, he and a dozen or so patrons listened with mounting fear to the broadcast, until the men jumped up and announced they were going to get their guns and join in the defence at Grover’s Mill. People packed the roads, hid in cellars, loaded guns, even wrapped their heads in wet towels as protection from Martian poison gas. In an attempt to defend themselves against aliens, listeners were oblivious to the fact that they were acting out the role of the panic-stricken public that actually belonged in the radio play.
People were stuck in a kind of virtual world in which fiction was confused for fact. H.G. Wells wrote War of the Worlds in 1898, in response to the unification and militarization of Germany. The reaction to the dramatic retelling of Wells’ story, shows that what we believe can affect how we behave. The truth transforms us. One reason Wells was so popular, is because his book was based indirectly on fact. We are indeed at war. But I don’t mean against the so-called “Axis of Evil” made up of Syria, Iran and North Korea, which our politicians tell us is the cause of the terrorism and threats to our democratic peace loving values. The ultimate ‘War of the Worlds’, behind which every other war is merely a skirmish, is described in Ephesians 6.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12).