In “Zero Hour,” a group of aliens (lead by an alien named Drill) convinces all children under ten years old to take part in an exciting game called Invasion. The goal of the game is for the children to successfully build specific apparatuses and other contraptions that will allow the aliens to teleport through the fourth dimension and invade the Earth. If the kids “win” the game, they will be rewarded lavishly with more television, later bedtimes, and the chance to run the world. The adults, however, are oblivious to the seriousness of the game and fail to intervene. It’s a time of extraordinary world peace, and the adults are confident nothing can change that. Through the course of the story, Bradbury cautions readers that peace is not forever. War and conflict often come as a complete surprise, so growing complacent in times of peace is dangerous.
The narrator’s descriptions of the peaceful state of the world ironically emphasize how peace is temporary. The story depicts the adults as having foolish, false confidence in their current situation. The narrator notes, “There was the universal, quiet conceit and easiness of men accustomed to peace, quite certain there would never be trouble again.” The narrator considers humankind to have a “quiet conceit,” meaning that they are prideful and excessively confident about this peaceful time. Furthermore, it’s impossible to be “quite certain” that there will “never be trouble again.” Such bold confidence in the future feels unreasonable and even irresponsible, as it leads people to become complacent and too comfortable. As it becomes clear to the reader that the children really are helping with an alien invasion, the narrator abruptly transitions into an indulgent description of the streets “lined with good and peaceful trees” that “drowsed in a tide of warm air.” This builds a sense of tension and highlights the rest of the world’s ignorance to the brewing conflict. In addition, the narrator claims that “Only the wind made a conflict across the city, across the country, across the continent.” Of course, the Invasion game is clearly sweeping the nation (as protagonist Mrs. Morris later learns from her friend Helen), so there is much more ruffling the city, country, and continent than just the breeze.
The most dangerous conflicts come as a surprise, implying that it’s dangerous to feel too comfortable and confident in times of peace. The narrator notes, “Arm in arm, men all over earth were a united front. The perfect weapons were held in equal trust by all nations. A situation of incredibly beautiful balance had been brought about. There were no traitors among men, no unhappy ones, no disgruntled ones; therefore the world was based upon a stable ground.” Initially, such deep-seated peace seems impossible to shake. Seven-year-old Mink, one of the players of the Invasion game, explains to her mother that the aliens have had a difficult time attacking Earth. Mrs. Morris is unsurprised, confidently declaring, “We’re impregnable. […] We’re pretty darn strong.” Although Mrs. Morris is speaking about the Invasion in “mock seriousness” to play along with what she thinks is Mink’s vibrant imagination, her response reveals her utmost confidence that the current peaceful state of the world is too strong to break. This is why Drill’s method of surprise is so effective—he uses humankind’s feelings of comfort and stability to his own advantage, shattering their peace when they least expect it. Mink explains this strategy to her mother: “They couldn’t figure a way to attack, Mom. Drill says—he says in order to make a good fight you got to have a new way of surprising people. That way you win. And he says also you got to have help from your enemy.” Mink explains excitedly that Drill and the other aliens felt hopeless about invading the earth—“‘Until one day,’ whispered Mink melodramatically, ‘they thought of children! […] And they thought of how grownups are so busy they never look under rosebushes or on lawns.’” Drill uses children as his element of surprise, because adults are unlikely to take children seriously, and children are easily manipulated and are thus an easy “fifth column.”
The adults in “Zero Hour” aren’t total strangers to times of war and conflict—Mrs. Morris and Helen talk about when they were children in 1948 and played a game called “Japs and Nazis,” an obvious gesture to World War II. Having enjoyed peace for so long, however, adults have grown complacent and negligent, ultimately allowing a deadly alien Invasion to unfold right before their eyes. Through the adults’ rude awakening, Bradbury reminds his readers to be on guard, recognizing that peace is temporary, and that bad things can happen at any time.
Peace, War, and Alien Invasions ThemeTracker
Peace, War, and Alien Invasions Quotes in Zero Hour
The streets were lined with good green and peaceful trees. Only the wind made a conflict across the city, across the country, across the continent. […] There was the universal, quiet conceit and easiness of men accustomed to peace, quite certain there would never be trouble again. Arm in arm, men all over earth were a united front. The perfect weapons were held in equal trust by all nations. A situation of incredibly beautiful balance had been brought about. There were no traitors among men, no unhappy ones, no disgruntled ones; therefore the world was based upon a stable ground. Sunlight illumined half the world and the trees drowsed in a tide of warm air.
Mink rebelled. “You’re laughing! You’ll kill Drill and everybody.”
“They couldn’t find a way to attack, Mom. Drill says—he says in order to make a good fight you got to have a new way of surprising people. That way you win. And he says also you got to have help from your enemy. […] And they couldn’t find a way to surprise Earth or get help. […] Until, one day,” whispered Mink melodramatically, “they thought of children! […] And they thought of how grownups are so busy they never look under rosebushes or on lawns!”
“We’re having trouble with guys like Pete Britz and Dale Jerrick. They’re growing up. They make fun. They’re worse than parents. They just won’t believe in Drill. They’re so snooty, ‘cause they’re growing up. You’d think they’d know better. They were little only a coupla years ago. I hate them worse. We’ll kill them first.”
“Your father and I last?”
“Drill says you’re dangerous. Know why? ‘Cause you don’t believe in Martians! They’re going to let us run the world. Well, not just us, but the kids over in the next block, too. I might be queen.”
“Mink, was that Peggy Ann crying?”
Mink was bent over in the yard, near the rosebush.
“Yeah. She’s a scarebaby. We won’t let her play, now. She’s getting too old to play. I guess she grew up all of a sudden.”
She was babbling wild stuff now. It came out of her. All the subconscious suspicion and fear that had gathered secretly all afternoon and fermented like a wine in her. All the little revelations and knowledges and sense that had bothered her all day and which she had logically and carefully and sensibly rejected and censored. Now it exploded in her and shook her to bits.