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The War of the Worlds

by H. G. Wells

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In The War of the Worlds, what happens to the men holding the white flag?

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In The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, a group of men fashion a white flag and attempt to approach an alien cylinder.  In Book One, Chapter Five the group is described as a "little black knot of men," but three are mentioned specifically by name.  They are Ogilvy, a well-known astronomer who discovers the crater made by the Martian cylinder, Henderson, a London journalist, and Stent, the Astronomer Royal.  The narrator states

This was the Deputation.  There had been a hasty consultation, and since the Martians were evidently, in spite of their repulsive forms, intelligent creatures, it has been resolved to show them, by approaching them with signals, that we too were intelligent.

This ends up being a major mistake.  As the group of men approach the cylinder, "[s]lowly a humped shape rose out of the pit, and the ghost of a beam of light seemed to flicker out of it." The narrator describes the subsequent horror,

     Forthwith flashes of actual flame, a bright glare leaping from one to another, sprang from the scattered group of men.  It was as if some invisible jet impinged upon them and flashed into white flame.  It was as if each man were suddenly and momentarily turned to fire.
     Then by the light of their own destruction, I saw them staggering and falling, and their supporters turning to run.     I stood staring, not as yet realising that this was death leaping from man to man in that distant crowd.  All I felt was that it was something very strange.  An almost noiseless and blinding flash of light, and a man fell headlong and lay still; and as the unseen shaft of heat passed over them, pine trees burst into fire, and every dry furze bush became with one dull thud a mass of flames.

Shortly after, "the black, domelike object sank slowly out of sight into the pit."  By way of what the narrator calls a "heat-ray," the men are near-instantaneously incinerated.  Shortly after, the narrator adds to the shocking, eerie nature by stating that "[t]he little group of black specks with the flat of white had been swept out of existence, and the stillness of the evening, so it seemed to me, had scarcely been broken."  This is one of the humans' first direct experiences with the superior technology of the Martians.  Throughout the rest of the book, the heat-ray causes more death and destruction, but no other instance matches the complete and utter horror of this first, failed interaction.

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