OU Professors Talk Aliens with History Channel

It was an unusual assignment.

target-earth-six-sheet-1954

The 1954 sci-fi movie “Target Earth” featured an alien invasion by giant robots.

Oglethorpe’s Dr. John Orme, professor of politics and division chair, and Dr. John Cramer, professor of physics, recently appeared in the H2 channel’s series Target Earth. The show explores topics such as infrastructure, natural resources, and engineering, but with a sci-fi twist: how would aliens view our planet if they were targeting Earth for a takeover?

This 173rd episode in the series, likely named for the 1954 science fiction movie, Target Earth, hypothesizes about what would happen during an alien invasion.

Although the documentary itself seems a bit far-fetched and funny at times, the issues addressed are serious: What would the consequences of an (alien) invasion or biological weapon? What would we do in the event of a world wide black out? What if water sources were attacked? How does nature affect our lives? Ultimately, Dr. Cramer and Dr. Orme offered answers that reflect possible outcomes in the event of any disaster—not simply an alien invasion.

So, why are our professors considered to be experts on alien invasions?

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Dr. Cramer, pictured at the annual Space on the Green, Oglethorpe’s celebration of science.

Dr. Cramer is the author of How Alien Would Aliens Be?, which takes a scientific approach to the potential existence and appearance of extra-terrestrials. His book surmises that since both humans and aliens would be subject to similar physical constraints (vision, hearing, environment), it’s likely that aliens would not be so physically different from us —if they exist. Similarly, Dr. Orme was tapped for his expertise based on his book The Paradox of Peace, which “examines the foundations of peace by using diverse case studies to look at the calculations of political leaders and their reliance on optimism.”

Dr. Orme teaching a politics class in his fabled favorite classroom, simply for the  chalk board.

Dr. John Orme in the classroom.

In the event of an alien invasion, both cite water resources as pivotal. Dr. Cramer believes that water resources would be targeted during an invasion. Dr. Orme suggests that humans’ experience and reaction in natural disasters would likely be repeated in the event of an invasion. For instance, an attack on freshwater sources would elicit similar chaotic responses; water would become worth stealing  and protecting. Patience would wear thin and violence would erupt.

So, while the show itself seemed a bit campy at times, our professors’ professional opinions were credible and based in reality. Plus, it’s pretty cool that our professors were interviewed about aliens.

To watch the documentary, search your TV listings, or purchase the episode and watch it on demand.

Liberal Arts in the 21st Century: War, Peace and Security

Dr. Orme Discussing

Dr. Orme's class discusses politics in a worldwide context.

For years, academics and world leaders have strived to understand the origins of war, the causes of peace, and the sources of future conflict. In his “War, Peace, and Security” class, Dr. John Orme invites students to explore just this, by examining the motives and calculations of past statesmen involved in warfare. He says that investigating historical conflict and resolution is beneficial to helping a student understand how the world works, no matter what career lies ahead of him.

“This is really a theoretical course,” explained Dr. Orme. “It is important to know the answers to questions like, ‘Why do states go to war? Why peace?’ [War stems from] a desire for security, which breeds a competition for power. In this class, we are trying to understand those in power.”

The concept of warring nations is certainly nothing new in the 21st century, but the ways in which we war certainly are. Last summer, in an effort to better understand terrorist ideologies and how democratic states combat them, Dr. Orme travelled to Israel as an Academic Fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. The 10-day fellowship program, taught in conjunction with Tel Aviv University, exposed university professors to the latest trends in terrorists’ operations. While in Israel, Orme and his colleagues engaged in discussions with top diplomats, military, and intelligence officials from around the world, including Ambassador Dore Gold, Israel’s former Ambassador to the UN. They also visited military bases, border zones, and imprisoned terrorists for an up-front view of Israel’s counterterrorism methods.

“The main purpose [of the field excursions] was for Westerners to have some appreciation for what Israel is going through,” remarked Dr. Orme. “I was most impressed by Israel as a people, and especially those who were being recruited into service…Ispecifically recall [at a security fence east of Jerusalem] the face of an Israeli commander. We did not speak to him, but his nonverbal communication spoke to how great a responsibility he has.”

He says that having participated in the seminar has certainly benefited classroom discussion, recently sparking conversation about nuclear proliferation, why states want nuclear weapons, and the differing conclusions about Qaddafi’s fall that those in the Middle East might make versus Americans and Europeans.

“Most of [my students] are not going to end up being practitioners,” said Dr. Orme. “But it prepares them as citizens in the world…if they do end up in a position of power, they’d use it responsibly.”

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2012 edition of Oglethorpe’s Carillon magazine.