It all made perfect sense at the time.
If Mars – farther from the Sun and therefore colder and more barren than Earth –
Had life (and Lowell’s elegant maps criss-crossed by canals
Suggested strongly that it did) then it was only common sense
To believe its people would envy us our sopping-wet world,
And plot and scheme to take it from us.
If roles were reversed, if it was us gazing longingly through telescopes
At a lush, living planet while our own died a lingering death
Wouldn’t we have built mighty war machines
And cannons to hurl them across the gulf of space
To invade our less-deserving neighbour?
If our oceans had dried; if our rivers and streams had been reduced
To troughs of dusty rocks, surely we would have drawn up plans
To save our children from dying on the frozen sands
And stop our species from being erased?
No wonder Wells’ epic tale struck such a chord.
After all, we had done it ourselves before,
Sweeping across Africa like a plague,
Filling the blood- and shit-stained holds of ships
With rows of shackled slaves dragged sobbing
From their families and homes;
Didn’t we “settle” the New World with flashing swords
And booming guns, running the ‘savages’ out of their lands
Without any hint of mercy or pang of guilt?
Hadn’t we rolled across Australia like a tidal wave,
In a tsunami of cold, cruel civilisation?
Why wouldn’t martians do the same?
Why shouldn’t they?
Don’t they say “All’s fair in love and war”?
And isn’t every war a War between Worlds?
© Stuart Atkinson 2018