Give Me a Soldier….

Another thing about science-fiction films–no film genre did more to glorify the military. In countless films the military joined hands with science to vanquish all sorts of threats–aliens, zombies, revived dinosaurs–and this pattern was set early. In “The Thing from Another World” the science establishment was split. The good scientists were all for supporting the military, while the misguided scientists wanted to communicate with what they regarded as a superior intellect. “The Thing” bears a closer look in that, for much of it, the Army personnel, the more sensible civilians and a minority of the scientists clearly regard the activity of Dr. Carrington and his followers as misguided at best and at worst dangerous. They are several times compared to kids drooling over a new toy even though “this toy is liable to bite them.” This bracing adversarial relationship would not become the norm however. The emerging pattern was for the military to use conventional  methods, find them inadequate, then run to the scientists to concoct a last-minute “Buck Rogers” solution. In several of these later films “science” often took the form of a comely lady scientist, thus allowing for a bit of romance  for some beleaguered officer, and perhaps convincing some of the boys in the audience that, barring an officer’s uniform, careers in physics or ichthyology might beat out becoming a fireman. But my personal favorite scientist is Cal Meacham from “This Island Earth.” He’s in so tight with the military that they’ve given him his own jet fighter the better to commute to Washington meetings from his Los Angeles lab. More often cooperative scientists just get invited to front-row seats at various displays of American firepower–even the dropping of an A-bomb on a nest of nasty Martians–the subsequent failures spurring the scientists to feats of creativity.

This linkage of science and firepower is a feature of American science-fiction. In England science is looked upon with a more suspicion. In the Hammer Film “These Are the Damned” the scientists are themselves the menace, breeding a race of radioactive children so that British values can survive the nuclear holocaust that the scientists see looming. In another Hammer Film, “X–the Unknown,” a senior atomic scientist is denounced as a murderer and told that he should be locked up. Wow–no one ever said that to good old Cal. I wonder whether this constant preaching to American teenagers and pre-teens that science and the Army could solve every problem didn’t lead to our fatally miscalculating what exactly could be accomplished through force-plus-technology alone.  Of course this can’t be blamed on science-fiction films alone. T.V. programs like “The Twentieth Century” and “Victory at Sea,” by constantly parading our nation’s triumphs before our eyes, may have made us incapable of conceiving that any situation, especially a mere popular insurrection could stymie us. Perhaps if “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne or Lord Cornwallis had been available for interviews, they may have enlightened us as to what a popular insurrection could accomplish.

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