James Cameron has said he used the Vietnam War as inspiration for his action sequel Aliens, but I can’t help seeing strong parallels between both his film and the original horror masterpiece Alien and an even earlier war — the French and Indian War. It could be because I love these films and would make any excuse to write about them, but I think it’s more than that.
Both the Alien movies and the French and Indian War feature violent battles with a powerful, mysterious enemy in a new frontier, and at their heart is a character whose brutal experience with the enemy makes them a hero. In the Alien films, that character is Ellen Ripley as played by Sigourney Weaver. In the French and Indian War that role belongs to young George Washington, whose encounter and return to the wild Forks of the Ohio (modern-day Pittsburgh) mirror Ripley’s journeys to the untamed planetoid LV-426.
|Planetoid LV-426 (left) where the Nostromo crew first encountered the alien, and Planetoid Pittsburgh, a strategic point in France and Britain’s battle for The Ohio Country.
George Washington is Ripley
Like Ripley aboard the Nostromo, Washington didn’t choose to be in charge. Though it took a xenomorph bursting through her fellow crew member’s chest and killing her superiors to put Ripley on top, Washington’s ascension to leadership was a little easier. His first in command simply never showed up, so it was up to him to take on the French. Which he totally, utterly botched.
It should probably be noted that Ripley was smart and methodical in fighting the alien, while Washington’s inexperience actually started the French and Indian War and caused thousands of deaths, but for the purpose of this comparison let’s say they’re exactly the same.
|This scientific recreation of George Washington proves they’re pretty much the same person.
Though Washington’s fellow Virginians considered him a hero for simply surviving his first big battle with the French (which he caused), the British army refused to reward his embarrassing loss and disbanded his Virginia regiment. He didn’t spend 57 years floating through space in hypersleep like Ripley did between sequels, but he did spend a couple years as a planter before the army came crawling back.
The greedy Weyland-Yutani Company offered Ripley her old job back if she agreed to return to LV-426 and lend her alien-fighting expertise to the Marines. Britain offered Washington the military respect he desired if he agreed to lend his expertise to an expedition to recapture Fort Duquesne at the forks of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers.
Both Ripley and Washington were returning to the scene of grave horrors they survived, and both would face more death and destruction than they had ever seen before.
Ash is Tanacharison, The Half-King
The Mingo leader Tanacharison, or the Half-King, was an Indian ally of Washington’s during his first mission to warn off the French from the Ohio Territory. Like the android Ash, he may also have been a homicidal maniac with his own agenda.
When Ripley threatened Ash’s secret mission to bring back the alien at the expense of the crew’s lives, Ash went ballistic and tried to kill her by shoving a rolled-up porno mag down her throat.
|The A/2s always were a bit twitchy.
Tanacharison had his own secret mission, it seemed, which was actually to destroy the French. His driving force was reportedly his intense hatred of the French stemming from the time they took him captive as a child and boiled and ate his father.
The Half-King found his opportunity for twitchy vengeance when he and Washington attacked a band of Canadians. A witness said he saw the Half-King yell in French, “Thou art not yet dead, my father!” as he tomahawked a wounded Canadian diplomat’s skull, washed his hands with his brains, and scalped him. I can’t say for sure that this eyewitness account of the Half-King is accurate, but I can say I’d hate to see what a Full-King would have done.
I know I mentioned the Half-King in my last blog, but this dude is so fascinating I may try to shoehorn him into any topic I can. “Was James K. Polk the Illegitimate Son of the Half-King?” I don’t know, I haven’t written it yet.
The point is, Ash and The Half-King both had their own plans and didn’t mind getting their hands a little messy to get the job done.
The Alien is the French-Canadians and Indians
I admit comparing Indians to a fictional extraterrestrial monster feels offensive and wrong, and I acknowledge that an even better argument could be made for the white man as the alien wiping out America’s indigenous population by facehugging them with empty promises before bursting through their chests with manifest destiny.
But from the point of view of young George Washington in 1754, the unconventional fighting tactics of his Indian enemies were as terrifying and effective as something from H. R. Giger’s dark imagination. Where the alien used air ducts to get around the Nostromo, the Indians used the dense woods. Their lack of stifling rules of engagement gave them a significant edge over the British enemy.
Just as great a threat to Washington were the Canadians, inhabitants of New France who did not fight like the regular French. These Canadians were the result of Frenchmen spending a couple generations in the cold wilderness, before they discovered hockey to focus their aggression. To Washington, who didn’t speak French and never traveled to Europe, they were very much alien.
|Commander Beaujeu poses in the wind.
In his sequel, James Cameron introduced a new terrifying member of the Alien family: the Queen. Bigger, badder and bitchier, the queen laid hundreds of eggs. Similarly, Canadian Commander Daniel Hyacinthe Lienard de Beaujeu had nine children.
What truly earns him Queen status is his badass look and the cunning way he led the Indians to battle against a British force that far outnumbered them. As impressive as the sight of the alien Queen when Ripley first encountered her, so must have been the sight of Beaujeu on the battlefield, adorned in war paint and regalia to inspire his Indian forces.
The comparison ends there, though. While it took multiple climaxes to kill the Queen, Beaujeu was shot dead in the opening moments of the Battle of Monongahela. His leadership and training inspired his men – French, Indian, and Canadian – to fight on to victory.
Burke is General Braddock
It’s tempting to compare the real-life General Braddock to Colonel Apone from Aliens because they both led doomed missions. The thing is, Apone was trying to do the right thing whereas Braddock was pretty much a dick. For this reason, General Braddock has more in common with the sleazy Burke, as played to perfection by Paul Reiser.
It was Burke who lured Ripley into returning to LV-426, and it was Braddock who offered Washington a chance to join the British army if he lent him his expertise.
|General Braddock: I will secure you a procurement agreeable to your wishes. If you go.
Burke: You can have your old job back, kiddo. If you go.
Burke’s singleminded goal of getting the alien for The Company at all costs mirrors Braddock’s insistence of doing things the British way. Where Burke’s actions led to the loss of the entire human colony on LV-426 and most of the Marine rescue mission, Braddock’s inflexibility ultimately led to the bloodiest day in the history of the British empire up to that point.
British engineers had made a nice smooth road through the woods, which made it easy to travel and even easier to get ambushed. Just after Braddock’s men crossed the Monongahela River, shots rang out from the dark woods all around the road.
The scene was probably as chaotic and terrifying as the alien ambush in the atmosphere processing station in Aliens. As the British army advanced along the narrow path, they found the scalps of their comrades nailed to trees and terrifying whoops coming from all sides in the woods. Their own musket fire filled the air with smoke. As the British and American troops retreated during the confusion, many were killed by friendly fire.
Braddock led 1300 men into battle. 456 were killed and 422 were wounded.
|Maybe you haven’t been keeping up on current events, but we just got our asses kicked!
Washington urged Braddock to change tactics and order his troops to enter the woods where each man could fight for himself, but Braddock refused to break formation. Once Braddock himself was shot (likely by one of his own men), Washington was able to lead the survivors to safety. He had joined this mission as a volunteer aide but once again, circumstances made him a leader.
Like Burke, Braddock was fatally wounded in the battle. And like Burke, he sealed his own fate. The Aliens special edition makes it clear that Burke ordered the colony on LV-426 to investigate the derelict spaceship full of alien eggs, which makes him responsible for a whole lot of death and destruction.
General Braddock sealed his fate by not listening to George Washington about the one thing that could have prevented a massacre: Indian allies.
Bishop is The Local Indian Scout Washington Wanted But Never Got
Where is Bishop, the solid trustworthy counterpart to the violent Ash and Half-King? He should have been there. Washington knew that having a significant number of Indian allies on the mission to recapture Fort Duquesne would make all the difference scouts who could stealthily check to see if the enemy might be hiding up ahead to take them out. But Braddock didn’t see any need to recruit local Indian scouts and left with only a handful. His insistence cost him and most of his men their lives
An Indian ally, a trustworthy “other” like Bishop, could have saved the British army and perhaps even change perceptions of Native Americans. He might have been a hero, or he might have gone unhailed in the history books with Braddock instead taking credit had the mission been successful.
But we’ll never know because Braddock was a dick.
Newt is Daniel Boone
- Fact: Scrappy young Newt survived the horrific battle with the aliens on LV-426.
- Fact: Young frontiersman Daniel Boone was present during and survived TheBattle of the Monongahela.
I rest my case.
Exceptions to this Comparison
Clearly, Alien perfectly reflects the battles of Jumonville Glen and Fort Necessity, and its sequel Aliens corresponds exactly to the bloody Battle of the Monongahela. With the following exceptions:
- George Washington never blew anything out of an airlock. While he managed to survive numerous close calls, he never obliterated the enemy or even won a significant battle during the French and Indian War.
- Ellen Ripley was a reluctant hero. She went back to LV-426 to stop her nightmares and get her old job back. George Washington was more than willing to go back to learn from the British army and rejoin them.
- To my knowledge, Pittsburgh has not once been nuked from orbit.