It is probably the most infamous radio broadcast of all time: Orson Welles’ Halloween 1938 dramatisation of H.G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds”.
Welles transplanted the story from England to Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, and told it as a series of news reports, keeping the tension and hysteria of it all steadily rising. It terrified audiences at the time – like a hell of a lot of Welles’ work it is arguably a great work of art, and an enormous prank at once.
Whether or not there was panic during the broadcast, there was considerable outrage afterwards – how that has to do with the alleged ‘cruelty’ of it, and how much with people just hating to be fooled is an open question.
In the wake of the fall of France to the Nazi advance and the desperate evacuation of British forces from Dunkirk, Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, rose in the House of Commons to reassure the nation (and its allies). The speech he made that day is now routinely considered one of the greatest orations of the Twentieth Century.
The whole speech is worthy of your attention, but only these last three paragraphs are reproduced here:
What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us.
Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.
Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’