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Why on Earth Would Aliens Attack Us?


Gordon Rowlinson

A popular, over-used theme in science fiction literature and movies is aliens from another planet invading the earth and taking over human civilization. Sometimes there is a slightly different slant on this idea and the aliens don't take over our planet, but they do try to destroy the earth and wipe out the human race. This theme was first made popular by HG Wells in his 1898 novel “War of the Worlds”. Wells was not the first to describe an alien invasion, but he popularized the idea and now we are constantly bombarded by this theme of alien invasion in countless SciFi novels, short stories and movies. As our culture should reflect reality, I feel compelled to ask the question-where are all these aliens?

Since the 80s, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) has been searching the heavens for signs of transmissions from civilizations on other worlds. So far they have found no signs of alien civilizations much less civilizations that want to invade and take us over. Still, because it plays on our human fears, the SciFi world is full of stories of aliens with superior technology invading our planet. Is this realistic? It should be noted that in the story lines of the Star Trek TV series and movies, Kirk and Spock have saved the planet earth from destruction a total of 5 times. This is unrealistic and brings up the question of how, in the Star Trek world, did our planet managed to survive all these billions of years without Kirk and Spock?

Let's look at some of the weak justifications over the years that SciFi writers have given for the horde of alien invasions. There is an old justification that aliens might decide to use us as food. Damon Knight's 1950s short story “To Serve Man” is probably the first to use this idea. The story was later adapted into an unforgettable episode of The Twilight Zone. The original “V” television miniseries also used this justification. This justification is hardly likely. Wouldn't an alien race find the species on their own planet tastier and more nutritious? I find it hard to believe that human beings would be such a delicacy that aliens would travel millions of light years to earth to eat us. Think about it. If you were exploring Mars or Europa, and you found a strange looking lizard or insect creature crawling along the ground, would you feel an urge to pop the thing in your mouth and start chewing on it? I don't think so.

Another old invasion justification is that the human race has become capable of space travel and therefore somehow become a threat to the alien race. Examples of this SciFi idea are: Arthur C Clarke's 1946 short story “Loophole”, Orson Scott Card's 1991 novel “Ender's Game” and the 1951 classic movie “The Day the Earth Stood Still”. This justification doesn't make much sense ether. Any alien civilization is probably so far away that we represent no threat. Also how can an alien race with a superior technology and faster than light speed travel be threatened by the humans on earth who are just beginning space travel?

An interesting justification in SciFi culture is that the aliens might invade the earth for entertainment. This is seen in Robert Silverberg's 1967 novella “Nightwings”-where aliens invade the earth so they can use it for tourism and the 1987 movie “Predator” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger-where the alien comes to earth to do some big game hunting. This is ridiculous. As we have yet to identify any alien civilizations, the distance between alien planets and earth must be huge. Aliens who are going on a vacation would surely choose a closer place.

A more modern excuse in SciFi culture for aliens attacking us is our poor stewardship of our planet's environment. Examples of this are the 1987 movie “Star Trek: the Voyage Home”, The 2008 remake of “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, and Robin Cook's 1997 novel “Invasion”. Well let's think about it. If the aliens have the technology to travel light years to earth and destroy the human race, they would have the ability to talk to us and teach us how to better take care of our planet and protect all the diverse life on our world.

Lastly, it was suggested in the 1996 movie “Independence Day” that aliens would attack the earth in order to exploit our planet’s natural resources. This was an idea that was also used in reverse in the 2009 movie “Avatar”. Once again I have to be a kill-joy and destroy this absurd fantasy. Wouldn't it be more cost effective for an alien civilization find natural resources on a world that is closer to their home planet? It is a matter of logistics and economics. Also, wiping out the human race is an extra cost that would cut into profit margins. It's best to go to closer uninhabited planets to exploit natural resources.

I'd love to write some more on this absurd, over-worked SciFi idea, but a huge Martian cylinder has just landed in my backyard. There are some odd creatures coming out of the cylinder and they are now erecting a tall, tripod-walking war machine. They have a very sinister-looking death ray mounted on the top of the war machine. Umm, forget about all the stuff I just wrote. I think I better sign off now. I think it's gonna be a really bad day.

2011-11-22 00:15:40
Ironspider - Ignoring 'Independence Day' (oh how I wish I could, but my psyche is permanently scarred) and instead focussing on a better example, such as the BBC's 'Invasion: Earth' mini-series, the idea of a rapacious, travelling alien civilisation stripping worlds of their resources, is one of the few invasion ideas that seem plausible. It's a broadly similar theme in 'War of the Worlds', but the aliens are only required to relocate to another, nearby planet rather then go a-wandering. Taken in that context, mankind are just a source of protein, rather than a race that specifically needs wiping-out. Good article.

2011-11-05 07:37:37
Michael B: Interesting article and needless to say not every reason for aliens invading Earth are covered. One that I can think of is that if an advanced civilisation (the West) invades another country it is now duty bound to try and help clear the mess up (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya). In addition, humans seem to be moving to a world where war between states is becoming inconceivable. Perhaps by the time we reach Alpha Centauri war will become a thing of the past. A good thing too if you ask me. Think what sort of space program we would run using just a fraction of what we spend on defence.

2011-11-03 20:16:36
Sidewinder4 - Great article. Invading and subduing a whole planet would require a staggering outlay of treasure and manpower, lizard-power, or duck-power [lest we forget Howard the Duck]. That really only leaves two unreasonable reasons: Power-lust and Religion. And therein lies a tale. Sidewinder 4

2011-11-02 09:59:56
Let us not forget the Vogons, who cleared the earth out of the way for an interstellar-by-pass. The aliens visiting us because they lack food/resources would be more believable if they were portrayed as wandering nomads without a permanent home. Sort of like a reverse Battlestar Galactica. Though with Galactica they were returning home from the far reaches of the human colonies. Perhaps one day we will be at the end of the expansion of another race. Well no matter how it gets sliced, good article. Definitely thought out and explored.

2011-11-02 07:33:38
Another old movie and SF buff weighing in here. The short answer to all your questions is: The aliens R us. A long answer might reference all the genocidal colonialism of the age of exploration; the decimation of native cultures to feed the land and metal hunger of invading conquerors; empire building in general as practiced by the Asian hordes, the Romans and Greeks, and the Europeans bent on world domination, not to mention the ages old practices of slavery and subjugation and human trafficking in general, all of which bestial behavior is completely human. We don't even need to recap the treatment of the Irish, Scots or Welsh, nor to mention the natives of the Americas and what they suffered from invasions, nor to mention the things they did to one another both before and after. This is not an all-inclusive list mind you, and doesn't take into account the divisive elements in modern cultures stemming from economic or educational inequalities or hunger. In short, cruelty is a common thread throughout human history, as is conflict. What these stories are intended to illustrate, to my mind at any rate, is not so much the ridiculous notion that anything outside of ourselves could be any worse for us that what we do TO ourselves, but to illustrate and show that sometimes we are capable of great courage as opposed to great cruelty and barbarity; that sometimes conflict can have a good outcome, and finally, that everyone on every side of any conflict has a valid viewpoint but sometimes these viewpoints and needs cannont be reconciled. Of course, the age-old notion of all peoples uniting to fight off the "aliens" is the other theme, a very unrealistic notion in itself! Though I am pretty mch a non-believer in the goodness of government generally, I strongly believe that without government/religion/etc. to restrain us we can be a pretty nasty bunch with regard to "others"; and we can ALL be defined as "others". That is what the "Alien Invasion" theme is all about... The moral of the story is, good versus evil is pretty much in the mind of the historian...and history as we know is written by the victors for the most part.

2011-11-01 06:21:38
kerochan - Gordon -- that was funny as hell. Thanks! (Jeromy)

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