I need help idenfying this story, published before 1979 (when I read it).

Earth armies fight what they are told are aliens. They have a rallying cry as they attack the aliens (something like "Dirty Marts!" or similar), until one of the soldiers hears the attacking "aliens" screaming the same thing at him and his buddies.

He realizes, too late if I recall, that they're fighting against other humans, and that the war was concocted by leaders to keep Earth armies fighting each other. The primary differentiation appeared to be that each army wore significantly different uniforms, which was how the enemy was identified.

I believe it was a short story, not a novella.

  • Welcome to the site! You have a good start here. If you could take a look at this guide to help jog your memory and edit in any more details, that would be great. Every little bit you can remember helps us.
    – amflare
    Nov 6, 2017 at 22:15
  • Thanks. Will do.
    – AEldritch
    Nov 6, 2017 at 22:30
  • 2
    I was going to suggest the Outer Limits episode Hearts and Minds- soldiers on both sides regularly take 'inoculations' but are really shooting up hallucinogens that make the enemy look and sound like aliens.
    – Nu'Daq
    Nov 6, 2017 at 23:12

1 Answer 1


This idea is used in Empire of the Sun by Andrew Weiner, which as far as I can see has only been published in Harlan Ellison's anthology Again, Dangerous Visions and Weiner's own anthology Distant Signals and Other Stories. The story starts:

Earth, year 1990, falls victim to the history-bending project of the Sirius Syndicate. Travelers in time establish a network of communication satellites around the globe, and open the Martian War. Continuous 'Martian' broadcasters promise destruction, total war, liquidation, war without limits, to the terrified Earth populace. TV channels are jammed with further images of death. The United Nations is revived, as the World Draft Board. Military elements seize control, promising "the War of all Wars." A space armada is to be constructed. The first troop draft is announced; twenty millions. Draft rioting in China is vigorously suppressed

The relevant scene is:

Kaheris weaves his way through the dead and up to the summit of the hill, adrenalin driving him on, blind to his terror. The hill must be taken. Sure. One of the enemy sprang from a dug-out. Tossing aside an empty gun, it came at him with a knife. Physically, it looked human.

It screamed "Dirty Mart" as Kaheris shot it, through the head. A trick? He was beyond thinking. Nausea welled up. He sank to his knees.

My only reservation is that Empire of the Sun is far from the usual simple SF story. It's highly stylised (like many of the Dangerous Visions stories) and meant as a condemnation of all war. If this is the story I can't help feeling you would remember how unusual it was.

  • John, you've identified it. Very quickly, too. Many thanks. Now to find my old copy of Again, Dangerous Visions.
    – AEldritch
    Nov 7, 2017 at 16:25

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