In Steven Spielberg’s film War of the Worlds there is a scene which is often missed by audiences, but it captures the fragmentation of the Western world (and with it the decline of Western influence) which is a major theme of Niall Ferguson’s book. Rushing back to his home in Brooklyn, Tom Cruise bundles his children into his car. The Martian tripods can be seen zapping everything in their wake. In Wells’s novel, the frightened priest asks: ‘Why are these things permitted? … What are these Martians?’ Cruise’s son asks his father the same question. ‘What are they, dad? Terrorists?’ ‘No son, far worse.’ ‘You mean they are from Europe?’
In Wells’s novel the Martians are so alien that they are quite beyond us. Malevolence has nothing to do with it. All they can do for human beings, apart from exterminating them, is to provide a pause for humanity to consider what makes it human.