We’ve all seen it in the movies. The beleaguered humans are going up against something much more powerful than anything they have. They shoot their best weapon at the enemy, and there is either no effect (Independence Day), or the enemy is damaged but repairs itself (Star Trek TNG, the Enterprise versus the Borg). In some cases (Skyline) the enemy actually appears to be destroyed, but repairs itself. And the reaction of our heroes. Oh crap, we gave it our best shot and it didn’t work. We are so screwed from here on out. I call this the One Shot, One Kill paradigm of Hollywood. If the best shot doesn’t take out the enemy then it is time to panic, then come up with the super secret ultimate whatsit that will defeat the aliens. Or, in the case of Skyline, to just lose the battle. Wars on Earth would be so much different if we adopted this mindset for terrestrial foes. Imagine if a 120 gun man-o-war gave an enemy ship its fiercest broadside, only to see the damaged but still capable enemy vessel come through the smoke, and the captain and crew threw up their hands, made all possible sail, and took off for the horizon. Really wouldn’t make sense, would it? The commander of any military unit that made such a decision would deserve his court-martial and being busted out of the service. I guess the one shot, no kill, retreat scenario is Hollywood’s way of showing us how totally awesome the enemy, normally monolithic aliens, are as compared to us.
Now in real life one shot kills do occur, even in the realm of naval warfare. The Bismarck got in one good salvo that destroyed the Hood, only the couple of guys taking a smoke break on the stern surviving. The Arizona went up from one big bomb falling into the forward magazine. Though rare, such happens in the real world. What happens more often is that large weapons of war pound the crap out of each other until one submits or dies. Look at real battles between those old wooden men-o-war. They fired at each other with dozens of broadsides until one struck its colors or sank. The same Bismarck that sank the Hood emptied the magazines of several British battleships as well as taking a score of torpedoes before she turned turtle and sank. Even aircraft carriers with the deck filled with aircraft loaded with bombs and fuel took more than one hit to kill. The commanders threw everything they had at the enemy and didn’t quit until that enemy was no longer a threat or they didn’t have anything left to throw at it.
I remember the Star Trek TNG episode where the Enterprise made first contact with the Borg. A photon torpedo blasted a hole in the Borg ship and the Enterprise basically stood down and watched it repair itself. How interesting. I think a better strategy would have been to keep firing torpedoes into the damned thing before it repaired itself. Keep firing until the torpedo load out of the ship is gone or the damned cube is an expanding cloud in space. Hit the alien ship in Independence Day with one nuke and nothing happens. Keep on firing, you got plenty of the things. And ignore the idiot in the background shouting about hurting our planet when our planet is about to be stripped bare by the aliens. And the ships in the sky over LA in Skyline get knocked to the ground by a nuke (which should have been delivered by ICBM by the way, though it would have been much less dramatic). Don’t wait till they all repair themselves. Like a good fighter, hit them while they’re down, over and over again.
Sometimes they get it right. In Star Wars the big warships all kept pounding on each other until they couldn’t fight anymore. I remember watching the Battlestar Galactica mini-series, seeing the screen go blank from the bright glare of a nuke, and when the screen cleared the Galactica was still there. Damaged to be sure, but there. And I’m sure the Cylons would have lit her up with some more nukes if they had anymore in the region. Sometimes even Hollywood can write an intelligent screenplay and get it right.