One century ago, war raged across Europe. They called it the Great War then. The year 2018 will mark a hundred years since the ending of that massive conflict. Today I thought we’d examine an alternate history scenario. How might WW I have been different if H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds had really occurred in 1901? My recently launched book, “After the Martians,” explores this scenario.
First, some background. In 1815, the Congress of Vienna created a sustainable peace across Europe. Half a century later, that peace had frayed. Five nations then dominated the mainland continent and vied with each other for supremacy—Austria, Denmark, France, Russia, and Germany (under Prussian leadership).
Enter Otto von Bismarck, Chancellor of Germany, who combined the ‘balance of power’ concept with a pragmatic or ‘realpolitik’ approach to foreign policy. He ensured Germany maintained a changing web of alliances with two of the other powers, while engineering a series of short wars designed to unite and strengthen the German states while weakening enemies. After each war, he’d shift the alliances, always maintaining three on his side against two on the other.
This strategy sustained a workable balance until Bismarck’s resignation in 1890, after which he predicted, “One day the great European War will come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans.”
After that time, the European powers armed themselves against each other and tensions increased—the so-called “powder keg.” Without any minor wars to relieve this tension, the strain increased such that even a small event could trigger a major war. That’s what Bismarck had foreseen.
So far, that’s an interpretation of how things actually happened. Let’s insert a fictional twist. Assume the attack of The War of the Worlds really occurred, in 1901. In H.G. Wells’ novel, the Martians only invaded Great Britain, but it makes no sense for a superior alien race to restrict their assault to just one country, so we’ll suppose the Martians spread their forces more widely across the globe.
In time, the Earth’s bacteria sickened and killed the alien aggressors, but only after they’d wiped out a significant portion of the world’s population. Human weaponry of 1901 had been almost useless against the Martians, so our war machines lay in ruin. However, the aliens had left behind their tripod fighting machines, heat rays, “black smoke” poison gas, and some flying machines.
The nations of Europe, then, would have faced two choices. Stunned by the devastation of the Martian War and fearful of another attack from that planet, they could have joined forces and combined their energies to prepare for another assault by a common enemy. Or they could have examined the advanced Martian military technology and used it to refill the powder keg.
After the Martians assumes, as backstory, that the latter occurred. I postulate that the same triggering event—the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand—lit the fuse and set off the Great War.
Using the weaponry of Mars, WW I would have gone quite differently. Trenches would be useless against one hundred foot tall walking tripods with heat rays. Each side would have gone underground, using the Martian “assembly machines” to construct huge subterranean bunkers with hidden surface entrances.
Moreover, the heat rays and black smoke would have killed off the plant and animal life on every battlefield. There would have been vast areas of bare dirt. The combatants would have spared only the mountainous zones, since it would have been difficult to maneuver the tall three-legged fighting machines on sloped ground.
This is the (alternate) reality faced by my character Johnny Branch in my new book. As you mark the centennial of the real WW I, consider reading “After the Martians,” by—