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The Months When the Earth Stood Still

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It’s long been a staple image of science fiction: the people of the world finally unite under the shadow of an alien invasion or a global catastrophe, the entire international population attending to local broadcasts while the same historic news is relayed in their native English, Mandarin, Spanish, Russian, or Swahili. At the climax of 1951’s The Day the Earth Stood Still, for example, the extraterrestrial visitor Klaatu (Michael Rennie) warns his planetary audience that if their warlike ways are not abandoned, “this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder. … Join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration.” Properly chastened, the assembled billions are left with a momentous choice.

In recent years, the closest we have come to such a collective accord, or scare, on this Earth of ours may have been the COVID pandemic of 2020–22. We can now make a rough assessment of the impact of the crisis on history, as various leaders and governments have stated that the worst stage of the danger is over. However, there are still many new assessments of the Great Depression, Black Death and Roman Empire, and any verdict regarding the pandemic could also be subject to the inevitable passing of time. However, there are some early…



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