Remember Ozymandias’ plan in Watchmen? Solve Earth’s problems by faking an alien attack (Dr. Manhattan in the movie). The world’s nations will set aside their differences and unite to battle the alien threat, eliminating the risk of nuclear war and massive military overspending to stay even with each other.
This has a long history in SF. The earliest I’m aware of is Theodore Sturgeon’s short story “Unite and Conquer”; later we had an Outer Limits episode, “The Architects of Fear.” And Watchmen (in the movies they switched the unifying threat to Dr. Manhattan). And a plot in Roy Thomas’s All-Star Squadron. There’s also a British TV series, Object Z, in which the US, USSR and the UK must unite to stop a looming asteroid that turns out to be a fake.
It’s also an element in my Atoms for Peace story collection. After repeated attacks (the War of the Worlds Martians, the Living Colossus, the Growing Men, the rogue weather-control computer “General Winter”) they realize it’s no longer capitalism vs Marxism, it’s human vs. ET. After launching Sputnik early, using repurposed alien tech, the USSR offers to share the tech with the U.S. Eisenhower says “sure!” The potential for going into space, eventually fighting back against the ETs wins over our distrust (this is mostly behind-the-scenes stuff). By the time of “Not in Our Stars But In Ourselves,” we’re prepping to send a joint US/Soviet team of cosmonauts o make the first moon landing. If I ever write the sequel novel, set in 1959, Gagarin One will be a flourishing lunar colony, and we’ll have an orbiting space station further out.
I was surprised to see the completely unnecessary and uninteresting sequel INDEPENDENCE DAY: Resurgence (2016) invoke the same idea. In the aftermath of the all-out alien attack from the first film, the world has united in peace, remaining vigilant against future threats. Thanks to the alien technology we scavenged, we have cooler weapons and a moonbase (I don’t recall any sign of peaceful uses of the technology). Twenty years after the first invasion, the aliens’ hive mother shows up to finish destroying us — can the old guard (Pullman, Goldblum, Hirsh and Spiner all return from the first film) working with some punk kids save the day?
I’m not a huge fan of the first film, but second time was not the charm. This has some of the same sexism as its predecessor (despite female fighter pilots and Sela Ward as the president), too many characters and plot threads, and some really silly bits, like having the Queen chase after a convenient school bus full of helpless kids (we’re all going to die, why should she care?). But from my perspective studying the genre, the optimism about peace made it worthwhile watching. It’s unusual for the movies: 1959’s Invisible Invaders (review coming soon) concludes with a reminder that the world can come together, but no guarantees it’ll take.
I think this is just as unrealistic as alien-immigrant films assuming the arrival of ETS would erase regular racism. Enemies can unite against a common foe, as happened in World War II. It doesn’t last. The US and the USSR were at each other’s throats in the Cold War almost as soon as WW II ended. Contrary to Ozymandias, there’s not going to be a peace dividend when we’re spending to prepare for/hunt for evil alien invaders (Fritz Leiber made that point in his short story “Peacemonger.”).
I get into some of this in Atoms for Peace. There’s a Soviet hardline group in one story that’s convinced the USSR will survive fine if the USA goes under. The John Birch Society in the US is just as opposed to the alliance. The novel will show that even among the allied nations, there’s a far amount of jockeying for power and dominance. Object Z has a schemer trying to exploit the crisis.
This is not a dealbreaker for me with Resurgence (0r for that matter Watchmen). It’s not a particularly good film (and the lackluster box office killed plans for a sequel) but I didn’t go into it expecting well developed sociopolitical analysis. Which is probably just as well.
#SFWApro. Watchmen cover by Dave Gibbons, all rights remain with current holder. Atoms for Peace by Zakaria Nada, all rights are mine.