Perhaps you’ve heard the expression: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Cartoonist Walt Kelly’s famed possum, Pogo, first uttered that cry. In light of alien disaster movies like the recent sequel Independence Day: Resurgence and America’s disastrous wars of the 21st century, I’d like to suggest a slight change in that classic phrase: We have met the alien and he is us.
Allow me to explain. I grew up reading and watching science fiction with a fascination that bordered on passion. In my youth, I also felt great admiration for the high-tech, futuristic nature of the US military. When it came time for college, I majored in mechanical engineering and joined the US Air Force. On graduating, I would immediately be assigned to one of the more high-tech, sci-fi-like (not to say apocalyptic) military settings possible: Air Force Space Command’s Cheyenne Mountain.
For those of you who don’t remember the looming, end-of-everything atmosphere of the Cold War era, Cheyenne Mountain was a nuclear missile command center tunneled out of solid granite inside an actual mountain in Colorado. In those days, I saw myself as one of the good guys, protecting America from “alien” invasions and the potential nuclear obliteration of the country at the hands of godless communists from the Soviet Union. The year was 1985 and back then my idea of an “alien” invasion movie was Red Dawn, a film in which the Soviets and their Cuban allies invade the United States, only to be turned back by a group of wolverine-like all-American teen rebels. (Think: the Vietcong, American-style, since the Vietnam War was then just a decade past.)
Strange to say, though, as I progressed through the military, I found myself growing increasingly uneasy about my good-guy stature and about who exactly was doing what to whom. Why, for example, did we invade Iraq in 2003 when that country had nothing to do with the attacks of 9/11? Why were we so focused on dominating the Earth’s resources, especially its oil? Why, after declaring total victory over the “alien” commies in 1991 and putting the Cold War to bed for forever (or so it seemed then), did our military continue to strive for “global reach, global power” and what, with no sense of overreach or irony, it liked to call “full-spectrum dominance”?
Still, whatever was simmering away inside me, only when I retired from the Air Force in 2005 did I fully face what had been staring back at me all those years: I had met the alien, and he was me.