How The First Two Alien Movies Are Basically The French And Indian War

Art imitates life, even in the sequels.
It's no secret that James Cameron used the Vietnam War as inspiration for his action sequel Aliens, but I see stronger parallels to the earlier French and Indian War.

Cameron's sequel and Ridley Scott's original horror masterpiece Alien feature violent battles with a powerful, mysterious enemy in a new frontier. At the heart of these stories is a woman whose experience with that enemy made her a hero, Sigourney Weaver's iconic Ellen Ripley.

In the French and Indian War, the closest thing to Ripley was George Washington, whose encounter and return to the wild Forks of the Ohio (modern-day Pittsburgh) mirror Ripley's encounter and return 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 on the Nostromo, Washington didn't choose to be in charge. It took a xenomorph bursting through her fellow crewmember's chest and killing her superiors to put Ripley on top, but 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 incited the French and Indian War and caused thousands of deaths, but for the purpose of this comparison...they are 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's secret mission, it seemed, was 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 would 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.

The Queen is Canadian Commander Beaujeu

Commander Beaujeu poses in the wind.
In his sequel, James Cameron introduced a new terrifying member of the Alien family ñ the Queen. Bigger, badder and bitchier, the queen laid hundreds of eggs. Similarly, Canadian Commander Daniel Hyacinthe Lienard de Beaujeu had nine children.
The Queen doing the robot.
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 Queen with her arched head 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 marines, Braddock's inflexibility ultimately led to the bloodiest day in the history of the British empire up to that point.

British engineers made a nice smooth road through the woods, which made it easy to travel but even easier to be ambushed. Just after crossing the Monongahela River, shots rang out from the dark woods.

The scene must have been as chaotic and terrifying as the alien ambush in the atmosphere processing station. 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

Bishop only wants to help.

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 The Battle of the Monongahela.
I rest my case.
Newt was better at staring pensively, but Daniel Boone excelled at fighting tiny Indians with giant axes.

Exceptions to this Comparison

Clearly, Alien perfectly reflects the battles of Jumonville and Fort Necessity, and its sequel Aliens corresponds exactly to the bloody Battle of the Monongahela. With the following exceptions:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. To my knowledge, Pittsburgh has not once been nuked from orbit.

Sources: Washington: The Indispensable Man by James Thomas Flexner

Plodding Through The Presidents on Facebook for more like this!

Did George Washington’s Colossal Incompetence Start the French and Indian War?

Spoiler Alert: Yes. Yes it did.
Before starting this presidential biography project, one of the only pre-Revolution facts I knew about Washington was that he became famous in the French and Indian War. What I didn’t realize is how much of that fame was due to his own incompetence and inexperience, and how he turned a cold war into a hot, bloody catastrophe.

It's remarkable such an astonishing career and legacy began with such missteps. And it's a damn shame George Washington didn't know French.

Let's take a look at the ways the Father of His Country started a war with France when he was 22 years old.

1.  He was totally unqualified for his post.

Just 20 years old and an imposing six-foot-two (which is like 7 feet with inflation), George was an experienced surveyor who wanted nothing more than to be part of the British Army. He had no formal education beyond elementary school, but he had friends in high places. By schmoozing the right people, he became a major in his local militia company, which was more like a drinking club. He had zero military training, but he knew the woods like nobody's business.

It turns out Ohio has always been a battleground state, well before it was a state. Back in 1753, the British and French both said they owned it, and the Indians just wanted to be on the winning side. The royal governor of Virginia, Robert Dinwiddie, heard the French were encroaching on the fledgling Ohio Company (which he owned stock in), and he needed someone to tell them to back off. The problem was the 500 miles of wintery mountains, rivers, and forests full of Indians in between. He needed someone with the skills to make the journey who was also respectable enough to represent the British Empire. Enter young, unqualified Major Washington.

All the “major” had to do was find where the French were camped and ask them to politely back off. This first mission went surprisingly well. Washington teamed up with the Mongo Indian chief Tanacharison, known by the British as the Half-King. Together they journeyed through dangerous terrain to Mordor Fort LaBoeuf, the French camp. Washington successfully delivered his “please back off” message from King George II to the old Frenchman Legardeur St. Pierre who replied, “As to the summons you send me to retire, I do not think myself obliged to obey it.”
Ultimately Washington's alliance
with the Half-King was a bust.

That's where everything went to hell. Dunwiddie wanted Washington to lead an army of 300 to oversee the building of a fort at the forks of the Ohio River to keep the French out. Washington insisted he wasn't qualified and requested to be second in command instead. Dinwiddie agreed. But then the first in command didn't show up and Washington had to take over. What was the worst that could happen?

2.  He assassinated a Canadian diplomat.

Washington's instructions were to act on the defensive – keep the French out of the British territory, take them prisoner if they resist, and attack if they aggress. Word reached him that a group of French-Canadians were approaching. His trusty ally the Half-King took Washington and about 50 men to the Canadian camp. Standing outside the camp with no military training, no business leading such a mission, and no knowledge of the language the other side spoke, what would he decide?

He decided to kill the shit out of the Canadians. Washington's men shot at least ten to death and took the rest prisoner in a bloody 15-minute battle. If he knew French, he might have understood their cries that they were on a peaceful mission to ask the British to back off, essentially the same purpose as Washington's earlier journey.

Among the slaughtered was the Canadian ambassador, Joseph Coulon de Jumonville. Reports vary, but one reliable second-hand not-at-all-racist account claims the Half-King himself tomahawked Jumonville's head, washed his hands with his brains, and scalped him. Other accounts claim it was British musket fire that killed the ambassador.

The fact remains that young George Washington, unprovoked, attacked and killed a French ambassador who was on his way to deliver a message. Biographer James Thomas Flexner referred to it as "a clumsy entrance to the world stage."

Clumsy? A clumsy entrance would be if Washington lost his footing mid-curtsy at his debutante ball. The man launched a preemptive strike on some sleeping Canadians and let the Half-King chop into their leader, and he expressed no remorse when he found out what he had done. He insisted the Canadians' intentions were hostile and said of his first battle, "I heard the bullets whistle, and believe me, there is something charming in the sound."

National Park Service painting of the Battle of Jumonville Glen, where young George Washington learned to love a good bullet whistle.
It was young George's first battle and first taste of victory, though victory is a strong word considering it was a surprise attack on a group who didn't know they were at war. All he knew of war at this point was winning, but his haphazard actions were about to get the undefeated Washington into a real battle for which he was woefully unprepared.

3.  He positioned his army in the worst fort ever.

The French got word of this little unprovoked massacre and felt rather provoked about it. Washington and his crew of 300 prepared for battle. In the worst fort ever. It was actually built as a storage shed to keep supplies from being stolen by Washington's own men — it was never intended to withstand an oncoming French army 700-strong.

At least he'd have his trusty homicidal Indian friend and his tribesman to assist though, right? Actually, after helping him get into this mess in the first place, the Half-King decided he didn’t like the looks of Washington's shoddy fort (or his odds) and he got his Mongos out of there.

The Half-King was right about the fort. "Fort Necessity" was too small to hold the men, it was completely exposed to attacks from higher ground, and it was quickly filling with water as rain poured down. These were the conditions when 600 Frenchmen and 100 of their Indian allies came for Washington's army. To put a nice personal touch on the battle, the French were led by Louis Coulon de Villiers, the dead diplomat's brother. That's what the French call being merde out of luck.

Model from the Fort Necessity Learning Center
It was a long and drawn out battle not because Washington’s men stood much of a chance, but because even sitting ducks take a while to hit with muskets. With his gunpowder stash ruined by the rain, one third of his men dead and the rest standing in bloody water, what did the brilliant military leader and future father of his country do? He broke out the rum and got his surviving men good and drunk. This actually says a lot about why he was a popular leader.

4.  He signed a confession he couldn't read.

As the battle raged on and the French's ennui set in, they offered to accept an American surrender and agreed to let Washington’s men go if he signed a paper. If only he knew French, he might have realized he was signing a confession stating he assassinated Jumonville. It ended the bloody battle, but it made him look like an embarrassing backwoods fool in the mother country.

His attack on the Canadians led to France declaring war on Britain, and his loss at Fort Necessity led to the Indians en masse switching sides to support the French. A clumsy entrance to the world stage, indeed.

Somehow, still a hero.

Assassinating an ambassador and getting your ass handed to you by the French might look like a failure to some, but not to Virginia. Washington was victorious for his win in the opening ambush, and he was a hero for surviving and bringing home (some of) his men after facing such a superior enemy. Thus began Washington’s legend as a bulletproof leader whose amazingly good luck must be divine.

In a nutshell, George Washington set off a chain of events that started the French and Indian War, which hurt England’s economy so much it decided to raise the American colonies' taxes, which led to the Revolutionary War, which was followed by America’s independent new government electing none other than George Washington as its leader. And he did it all without ever learning French. 

Well played, George. Well. Played.

Washington: The Indispensable Man by James Thomas Flexner
Plodding Through The Presidents on Facebook for more like this!

Dog Unidentified

Sometimes the smallest mysteries are the most intriguing.

I've decided to read a biography of every US president in chronological order. To make this less daunting, I've also decided there will be no time limit. I'm not the first to do this (or even the first to blog about it) but maybe I can be the slowest! A few friends asked me to write reviews of each book I read, but I'm more interested in sharing random thoughts along the way.

Since this is my first post, I'll share a little background. I didn't want to start this blog until I knew the project would stick. So far I've read biographies of Washington and Adams, so I'm 5% of the way there. My entries about Washington and Adams will be retrospective, but my reactions to Jefferson and beyond will be more raw.

My process in choosing which biography to read (in case you were wondering) involves reading lots of Amazon reviews and considering the length and focus of the book and its general availability, with a slant toward newer biographies because they're just more fun and maybe the author's been on The Daily Show.

But I didn't choose which Washington bio to read myself. Last Christmas, my lovely wife (then fiancee) Jess decided to start me on my journey through the presidents by giving me James Thomas Flexner's Washington: The Indispensable Man.

Flexner had written an enormous four-volume tome on Washington, and later released a condensed single version because he wanted people like me to read it.

What struck me first was the inside front cover, the painting "View of Mount Vernon with the Washington Family on the Piazza" by Benjamin Henry Latrobe.

In the caption, Flexner lists the characters in the painting and adds, "dog unidentified." It occurred to me he could have just said "and dog" or left the animal out entirely, but that's not how Flexner rolls. Clearly he wished he could tell us who that dog was, because of course the beloved creature had a name, an identity, and probably a crucial role in Washington's second term...but the truth eluded him.

It was clear in Flexner's book that Washington and his contemporaries knew they were living in a historically significant time and the details of their lives would be preserved. The simple phrase "dog unidentified" stuck with me as a reminder that some of the simpler things just can't be known.

Mount Vernon's website listed the painting in its collection (it's now at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History), and their description read: "Nelly's dog, Frisk, plays on the lawn with a child, possibly belonging to Washington's aide, Tobias Lear."

What. The. Hell. Nelly was Washington's step-granddaughter, and according to, the dog unidentified isn't unidentified at all, it's Frisk, her pet spaniel. (No one seems to care who the child was. No one.)

James Thomas Flexner died in 2003, or else I would try to contact him and ask him if Frisk's identity was only recently discovered, or if he was well aware of this whole "Frisk" theory but wasn't having it. Or maybe Flexner found some evidence, some conspiracy, some...Friskgate that produced a shadow of a doubt shadowy enough that he couldn't in good conscience identify the dog.

Whatever the case, it makes me think my wife made a good choice by choosing an author whose attention to detail meant I was in good hands. In a world where so much information is available instantly, it gives me hope that some things still remain a mystery.