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11451Fwd = Invaders from Elsewhere

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  • Frits Westra
    Jan 2 4:33 AM
      Forwarded by: fwestra@... (Frits Westra)
      URL: http://www.strangemag.com/invadersfromelsewhere1.html
      Original Date: Tue, 1 Jan 2002 15:34:04 +0100

      ========================== Forwarded message begins ======================

      Invaders from Elsewhere

      Flying Saucers,


      and Pop Culture

      by Bruce Lanier Wright

      Let's open with a newsreel, "Citizen Kane"-style, at the beginning
      that wasn't the beginning, with the saucers that weren't saucers.

      June 24, 1947: Afternoon skies over the still-unspoiled Washington
      Cascades. Kenneth Arnold, a private pilot from Boise, ID, takes in the
      view. Suddenly, he sees nine silvery, crescent-shaped objects flying
      in tight formation. Later, he estimates their size at 40 to 50 feet
      wide, their speed at a fantastic 1200 miles per hour. Yet they're
      moving like no jet, no airplane, would ever move: rhythmically, as if
      you were to skip a saucer across water, he tells the newspapers. A
      headline writer garbles the quote and coins a snappy tagline "flying
      saucers." And Kenneth Arnold earns his footnote in history.

      We'll revisit some of the weirdest of those glorious days of our youth
      and examine some tasty souvenirs for the collector. But, as Bela would
      say, be varned. If you believe that a complete and accurate picture of
      our world can be obtained from Newsweek or, God help us, network TV,
      you will find this puzzling at best. If, on the other hand, you're a
      big fan of talk radio, you may move your lips when you read, but at
      least you've been exposed to, um, alternate belief systems.

      Saucer Time!

      Of course, people have been seeing strange things in the skies for a
      long time, globes, cigar-shapes and saucers, you bet; old English
      accounts mention Yorkshire peasants spotting a silver disc in the
      heavens in the Year of Grace 1290. Dozens of more recent stories can
      be pulled from the historical records, from the large saucer seen by a
      farmer near Dallas in 1878 to the "ghost rockets" reported over
      Scandinavia in the '30s and '40s. But in June 1947, the phenomenon
      achieved critical mass, God knows why. A philosopher of history once
      remarked that it steam-engines when it comes steam-engine time, and
      1947 manifestly was Saucer Time.

      After Arnold's initial report, UFO sightings in our skies exploded. On
      June 26, four witnesses including a doctor saw a "huge silver globe"
      moving along the rim of the Grand Canyon; two days after that, an Air
      Force pilot reported a flight of six discs over Lake Meade, NV. Within
      days, reports were pouring in from localities as widely separated as
      Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, Louisiana, Quebec and Prince Edward Island in
      far-north Canada.

      And then there was the Roswell Incident.


      Another newsreel: Midnight on Friday, July 4, 1947, near Roswell, New
      Mexico. During a thunderstorm, a rancher named Mac Brazel hears an
      explosion. The next morning, he discovers an enormous debris field in
      his pastures, so thick he has to route his sheep around it to drive
      them to water. The debris is odd: plastic-like beams, wire, scraps of
      a metal light enough to flutter in the breeze, but impervious to
      hammer blows and flame. Some foil-like pieces, when bent or twisted,
      reassume their original shapes without a mark.

      The next day, Brazel reports his discovery to the sheriff, who
      contacts Roswell Army Air Field, headquarters for the 509th Bomb
      Group. Major Jesse Marcel, an air intelligence officer, visits
      Brazel's field to investigate. He quickly concludes that the material
      is literally unearthly. On Tuesday, July 8, the air base releases a
      story to the AP newswire that begins: "The Army Air Forces here today
      announced a flying disc had been found." All hell breaks loose.

      Just what happened next will always remain murky. The air base is
      sealed off, and military police close some roads. The FBI squelches a
      radio station's report. Every scrap of the mysterious wreckage is
      removed. Roswell receives a series of visitors from Washington and
      other military installations, and some very unfriendly statements are
      made to the sheriff and other locals, encouraging them to forget
      various things they've seen and heard. Mac Brazel spends over a week
      in military custody. After his release, he doesn't say anything to
      anyone for a long time. And a little more than 24 hours after the
      first news report, the world learns that the so-called saucer was only
      a weather balloon. The nation has a good laugh at Jesse Marcel's
      expense. Marcel, a good soldier, keeps his mouth shut until near the
      end of his life. Roswell drops out of the news for 30 years but not


      UFOs remained headline fodder throughout the late 40s, to the
      increasing irritation of the United States Air Force and at least some
      members of the scientific community. The 1947-49 sightings constituted
      what came to be called a "flap," an unusually active period for UFO
      activity. As in all flaps, a "me-too" factor was at work; a hard core
      of genuinely unusual sightings were surrounded by a great deal more
      misidentification, wishful thinking and general flakiness. For awhile
      it seemed as if flying saucers were crashing every week, judging from
      the regularity with which any shiny metal found in a field was put
      forward as a saucer remnant.

      Hastily prepared attempts to explain away the phenomena were two-
      a-penny. In July 1947, for instance, an Australian physiologist
      confidently stated that flying saucers were merely "the effect of red
      corpuscles in blood passing in front of the retina." Cloud formations,
      ball lightning, and the planet Venus were trotted out regularly as
      well. The Air Force mounted an official study effort that in 1949
      grumpily concluded the investigation of UFOs should be curtailed. The
      UFOs may have felt snubbed as saucer reports seemed to taper off for

      Then came the extraordinary Saucer Summer of 1952, when for months, it
      seemed, you could scarcely leave your house without getting your hat
      knocked off by a gleaming messenger from beyond. UFO sightings piled
      up for months, with an impressive number of reports from airline and
      military pilots. The flap reached its peak in the Washington, DC area
      in July; an Air Force report declassified in 1985 describes radar
      sightings involving up to 12 unidentified "targets" at a time near
      Washington National Airport. At its largest peace-time press
      conference in history, the Air Force attributed the radar activity to
      "temperature inversions." Local meteorologists said: no way.

      Kooky Kontactee Kults

      I don't want to get all Freudian on you, but it's clear that flying
      saucers answered a deep need in a lot of lonely souls. People were in
      the market for reassurance. Nuclear terror was in the air. They wanted
      help. They wanted Space Brothers.

      Enter George Adamski, the Grand Old Man of saucer religion, who in
      1953 published Flying Saucers Have Landed, an account of his meeting
      with a Venusian named Orthon (!) near Desert Center, CA. The book,
      illustrated with his own photographs of various flying saucers and
      "mother ships," sold well and gave him a group of followers who have
      not entirely dissipated to this day. Adamski prospered on the lecture
      circuit, assuming the title "professor" and talking up his connections
      with Mount Palomar observatory (actually, he'd been a fry cook at a
      nearby tourist cafe). Adamski's aliens were spiritually advanced and
      conveniently handsome and Nordic-featured. They took him on joy rides
      to Saturn and Jupiter.

      [fromouter.gif] Adamski's success spawned a series of copy-cat space
      gurus, each waving his own book of revelations from aliens whose names
      all sounded like new synthetic fibers. These included Aboard a Flying
      Saucer (1954), by Truman Bethurum, who chatted with UFO captain Aura
      Rhanes from the planet Clarion; Secret of the Saucers (1955) by Orfeo
      Angelucci who once met a space-babe named Lyra in a bus station; and
      Howard Menger's From Outer Space to You (1959), which reveals, among
      other mysteries, the alien approach to organic farming. The kindly
      aliens of 1950s contactee literature came from a bewildering variety
      of planets, but the message of all these "space brothers," as they
      were dubbed by their followers, was essentially the same: our earth is
      a backwater, a dangerous slum on the outskirts of a benign sort of
      interplanetary U.N., and we must Get Our Act Together.

      Space Brotherism is a little starchy for my taste, but the movement
      produced at least one series of events I would have given a lot to
      attend, the Giant Rock Spacecraft Conventions held each year in the
      Mojave Desert from 1954 to 1977. Hosted by George Van Tassel yet
      another Venusian contactee (and founder of the Universal College of
      Wisdom and the Cosmic Brotherhood of Christ), in its mid-1950s heyday
      the annual get-together attracted crowds of up to 10,000 enlightened
      and out-there folks with vital messages to share (and, on at least one
      occasion, packages of "genuine Venusian dog hair" to sell). One of
      these celestial proto-Woodstocks was attended by fantasy filmmaker Ray
      Harryhausen, who was then planning his own UFO epic, "Earth Versus the
      Flying Saucers."


      The movie business was quick to pick up on the cinematic potential of
      the UFO phenomenon, and the drive-in screens of the 1950s soon were
      flooded with a dazzling array of unearthly visitors. The first of
      these was a fully dressed 1950 turkey called "The Flying Saucer"; its
      "saucer" is a Russian secret weapon, and about its only other point of
      interest is that producer/director/"star" Mikel Conrad promoted the
      film by hinting that his lame saucer shots were actual top-secret
      government footage.

      Better saucer flicks were forthcoming. To make sense of what followed,
      it helps to remember just how paranoid things were at that time - and
      not just because of flying saucers. The McCarthy era was in bloom and
      Cold War jitters spilled over into saucer cinema. In 1951, two sci-fi
      classics helped to trigger the decade's science fiction movie boom
      while marking the opposite poles of a distinctly ambivalent attitude
      toward alien visitors.

      April 1951 brought Howard Hawk's "The Thing from Another World," the
      story of an Arctic military base under siege by an intelligent and
      hostile alien. "Classic" isn't too strong a label for this
      claustrophobic and genuinely scary movie, in which the hard- headed
      Average Joes of the Air Force successfully battle the beast despite
      the misguided notions of the base's head scientist, who thinks any
      spacefaring creature must be susceptible to sweet reason. Robert
      Wise's "The Day the Earth Stood Still," released in September, argues
      the opposite case with a conviction and forcefulness that seems fairly
      astonishing considering the nation's mood. "The Day" concerns Klaatu,
      a wise, saintly alien emissary who lands his saucer in the middle of
      Washington DC - every saucerhead's dream during the 50s - and warns us
      that nuclear weaponry and our own natural aggression may lead to our

      [earthstoodstill.gif] The philosophies expressed in "The Thing" and
      "The Day the Earth Stood Still" can be found at war throughout the
      era's saucer movies. Sometimes the viewpoints are embodied in opposing
      characters, often, as in 1959's "The Cosmic Man," a scientist and a
      hot-headed military officer. In terms of sheer volume, though, 1950s
      saucer cinema comes down firmly on the side of paranoia. In film after
      film, otherworldly life is simply a menace to be battled and stamped
      out. Sometimes the aliens arrive in force, like the flying-saucer
      fleet that ravages Washington in Ray Harryhausen's "Earth Versus the
      Flying Saucers" (1956). More often, though, they infiltrate quietly as
      commie-style fifth-columnists and saboteurs, as in Gene Fowler's
      excellent "I Married a Monster From Outer Space" (1958).

      Movies weighing in on Klaatu's side were relatively rare during the
      1950s. Space Brotherists weren't a big population segment, after all,
      and it just wasn't a trusting era. The mistreated alien in Edgar G.
      Ulmer's "The Man From Planet X" (1951) and the benign interplanetary
      castaways of "It Came From Outer Space" (1953) were exceptions to a
      rule of de facto antagonism between Us and Them.

      Saucer World!

      As the Populuxe years of the 50s and early 60s progressed, UFO
      sightings continued to pour in from around the world. On August 13,
      1956, for instance, a flight of objects buzzed the joint RAF/USAF base
      at Bentwaters in Suffolk, England and were tracked by three different
      ground-based radar stations at speeds of up to 4,000 mph. The UFO
      phenomenon began to seep into society's subconscious in a number of
      ways. The saucerist movement even mounted a bid for the presidency in
      1960, when one Gabriel Green ran with the full backing of the
      Amalgamated Flying Saucer Clubs of America. (Fraud at the polls!)
      Flying saucers became totems, an enigmatic addition to the celebration
      of conventional speed and technology embodied in the era's atom
      symbols and tail-fins. You can see saucers everywhere in the era's
      landscape, if you pause to look, from the glorious one atop Seattle's
      Space Needle to those astonishing lamps that sell for way too much in
      chic junk stores. (The last rental house my wife and I occupied had
      not one but two fab early-60s hanging saucer lamps, and like idiots we
      didn't steal them.) Roadside architecture borrowed from UFO imagery,
      and many cities are lucky enough to have at least one or two saucerish
      hamburger stands left.

      [scienceandmechanics.gif] Inevitably, people began to consider the
      notion of building our own saucer-shaped flying craft. The December
      1950 Science and Mechanics speculated that enormous prop-driven
      saucers might serve as public transport; "Will 'Flying Saucer' Buses
      Lick Traffic Congestion?" its cover asked (answer, as you may have
      noticed: no). In the late 1950s, the Air Force developed the Avro air
      car, a piloted flying disc lifted by large fans. Despite various hints
      that the Avro might be behind some saucer sightings, the thing could
      scarcely get off the ground. With a few tweaks, the Avro could have
      been the first hovercraft instead of a really large paperweight. In
      recent years, the Air Force has developed successful saucer-shaped
      drones, which may explain some recent sightings; but as far as we
      know, man-piloted saucers have remained in the realm of fiction, like
      the elegant star cruiser of "Forbidden Planet" and the Robinson's
      sturdy Jupiter-2 from "Lost In Space."

      Illegal Aliens...

      While a lot of people clearly were enjoying the UFO phenomenon, in
      their different ways, governments seem to have regarded it as a

      The 1952 flap prompted the Air Force to revive its UFO investigation.
      The new effort, Project Blue Book, began in March 1952 under the
      guidance of Captain Edward Ruppelt. Blue Book seems to have begun as a
      serious investigation, and by the time Ruppelt left the project in
      1954, he was personally convinced that UFOs were extraterrestrial
      craft. The program he left behind, however, quickly degenerated into a
      public relations exercise whose "explanations" became a byword for
      idiocy among students of the subject. A typical case was one in which
      an Air Force wing commander was guided by radar to intercept a UFO
      over Japan. The official account ascribed the incident to the planet
      Jupiter, an object not often tracked by ground radar.

      As Blue Book began, other efforts were going on behind the scenes. In
      1953, the Central Intelligence Agency convened a secret scientific
      advisory body, the Robertson Panel, to examine the UFO question. The
      panel didn't break much new ground in researching the subject; a
      participant, astronomer J. Allen Hynek, later characterized the effort
      as cursory and close-minded. More interesting were the panel's
      conclusions about the effects of UFO belief. They took a dim damn view
      of saucer-heads, recommending that all UFO sightings be debunked to
      preserve public peace of mind, and suggesting that UFO groups be
      monitored by the government as potentially subversive elements.
      Subsequent events made it clear that Washington and some other
      national governments took this advice to heart. A cozy silence settled
      over the topic, at least on the official level.


      The UFO story has been compared to an onionskin. Peel back a layer and
      you find another layer. One observation, however, is incontestable:
      many national governments, including our own, have consistently lied
      about UFOs for nearly 50 years. Much of what is known is due to the
      U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and its counterparts in other
      countries. Since its July 1974 inception, patient investigators have
      used FOIA to sloowwllly pull documents out of the federal government's
      maw. It hasn't been quick or easy. Note that few of the folks who
      confidently assure you our government can't keep secrets have actually
      tried to obtain one.

      When the CIA was first approached for UFO-related documents, for
      instance, it claimed to have none at all. With continuing pressure,
      the agency squeezed out 400 pages; after some years, 40,000 pages of
      reports came to light. In 1973, then-FBI director Clarence Kelley
      stated that "the investigation of Unidentified Flying Objects is not
      and never has been...within the investigative jurisdiction of the
      FBI." Three years later, an FOIA request yielded some 1,100 pages of
      FBI documents on UFOs. And the Feds are allowed to hold back anything
      deemed vital to "national security." The plucky UFO researcher is
      quite likely to receive a juicy memo only to find everything blacked
      out except the words "To" and "From."

      Despite these hurdles, some have expressed disappointment that no
      smoking gun has emerged from the declassified records - no photo of
      Harry Truman with an ET at a White House smoker, say. This is missing
      the forest for the trees. Literally hundreds of compelling visual and
      radar sightings by military personnel have come to light, along with
      tantalizing hints of study efforts conducted behind the Blue Book
      window dressing. In all, the sheer weight of evidence points to an
      interesting conclusion Time magazine may feel there's nothing of
      interest in UFO sightings. You may feel that way. Governments don't
      seem to agree.

      Paranoia Strikes Deep

      Something was bubbling beneath the surface, all right. Stories abound
      of UFO witnesses being visited by government types and having film
      confiscated or "borrowed," never to be seen again. A lot of these
      tales may be fiction; some may not. The government rarely tipped its
      hand in any public way, other than in an interesting 1958 incident in
      which a live TV program was blacked out by the Feds "in the interests
      of national security," as Major Donald Keyhoe, a prominent UFO
      researcher, discussed the need for a Congressional investigation.

      Keyhoe, by the way, was a long-time director of the National
      Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP), the most widely
      respected private research organization of its kind. NICAP was founded
      in 1956 and operated until 1979, and at various times its board
      included the ClA's first director and the head of the CIA's
      psychological warfare staff. After Keyhoe left, he was succeeded by
      two former CIA agents in a row (although some say you never really
      quit that fine organization). Company fingerprints are all over NICAP.
      Why so many spy-boys? Beats the hell out of me. Maybe they all simply
      had a private interest in UFOs, although the CIA doesn't seem a Space
      Brotherish sort of place.

      The deepest plunge into paranoia was taken by saucer buffs who
      believed they'd run into the mysterious Men in Black. MlBs, as they
      came to be called, entered saucer mythology in October 1953, when
      Albert K. Bender, editor of a flying saucer rag called the Space
      Review, announced that he'd learned the secret of the UFOs - but
      couldn't tell anyone, because he'd been threatened. He warned others
      investigating saucers to be "very cautious" and folded his
      publication. Later, in an interview, Bender said "three men wearing
      dark suits had silenced him. Later still, he published a fairly
      incoherent book called Flying Saucers and the Three Men in Black
      describing his experience.

      Pretty soon, other people were encountering these strange men, and an
      elaborate series of folktales grew up around them: always traveling in
      twos and threes, driving dark cars and wearing impeccable dark suits;
      vaguely "foreign" in appearance, and closed-mouthed except when
      issuing cryptic warnings and threats to UFO witnesses. Sometimes they
      appeared to witnesses who'd told no one of their experiences, so the
      tales go. Reports of MlBs peaked in the 60s. Some saucerheads thought
      MIB stories were malarkey, and others just assumed they were J.
      Edgar's boys; but John Keel, a respected if gonzo paranormalist, had
      dealings with them and he thought they weren't even human.

      Swamp Gas

      Of course, little of this weirdness was making headlines. For decades,
      the American mainstream media have, with few exceptions, ignored the
      UFO phenomena or played it for laughs without investigation or
      follow-up. People like Gore Vidal have written far more eloquently
      than I could of the remarkable unanimity of opinion, shall we say,
      that exists within the U.S. press establishment. But you needn't
      assume a conspiracy; American journalists are an overworked and
      harried tribe who are forced to rely on conventional wisdom, and it's
      a helluva lot easier to turn in a silly-season piece than to conduct
      an actual investigation.

      This pattern of neglect was broken only infrequently, and never with
      more impact than in the great Swamp Gas Debacle of March 1966, which
      signaled the beginning of the end for Project Blue Book. In America,
      1966 was a flap year, with many sightings and some unusually
      high-profile witnesses, including the governor of Florida. March
      brought a series of reports from Ann Arbor, Michigan that caught the
      attention of the national press and put pressure on the Air Force for
      yet another explanation.

      J. Allen Hynek, who was working with Blue Book from time to time, was
      approached for what we now call a sound bite. When pressed for an
      explanation, Hynek said some people might have seen glowing clouds of
      swamp gas. The press, surprisingly, greeted this notion with a loud
      and nearly unanimous hoot of derision. It was as if a dam had burst.
      Reporters who had slept peacefully through more than a decade of
      equally absurd stories from the Air Force became indignant and
      demanded "the real facts" about flying saucers. UFO reports began
      popping up in the mainstream press again. Suddenly, it was almost
      respectable to believe.


      Within a few months, though, interest began to wane again. Klaatu
      didn't arrive on the White House lawn. A widely seen TV documentary
      reinforced the official line; scientists tut-tutted and a
      representative of the military said UFOs had never been tracked on
      radar, a lie pure and simple. Ufology was represented by the
      maddest-sounding Space Brotherist the producers could locate. Even so,
      the Air Force remained stung and embarrassed by the swamp gas fiasco
      and apparently resolved to wash its hands of the topic.

      In November 1966, a federally funded committee convened under the
      leadership of Dr. Edward Condon, a University of Colorado physicist,
      to produce a "definitive" study of the UFO question. Condon openly
      mocked the phenomenon, while the project staff split between the
      genuinely curious and a debunking faction. When the pro-saucer group
      produced evidence that the committee had never intended to produce a
      serious study, they were simply fired. Condon's December 1968 final
      report concluded that the UFO phenomenon was not worthy of further
      study. This solved nothing - the Christian Science Monitor called the
      Condon report "a hatchet job...rarely equalled in the field of
      scientific scholarship" but it gave the Air Force the excuse it needed
      to fold Blue Book in 1969 and get out of the explanations business

      A few months later, an American Airlines flight from Phoenix to
      Washington sighted four UFOs looking like "burnished aluminum." A
      nearby United Airlines flight and a National Guard plane also reported
      the objects, which were also tracked by air traffic controllers. But
      by then, few people were paying attention anymore.

      Onward to the Present

      And that's pretty much where things stand today. In America, official
      silence on UFOs is still near-total, although some other governments,
      including France's and Belgium's, have been relatively forthcoming
      with radar reports and the like.

      The phenomenon rolls on, as various and puzzling as ever, and even
      after the usual easy misidentifications and lunatics are filtered out,
      hundreds of interesting new cases pop up each year. In the 90s, there
      have been spectacular flaps in Belgium and Mexico, and as this is
      being written, others are under way in Australia and Scotland. These
      receive almost no coverage in the U.S. mainstream media, because we
      already know there's no such thing as flying saucers, right? It's one
      of those things Everyone Knows because, well, because Everyone Knows.
      And God knows the whole thing is easy enough to ignore. Tabloid TV
      provides most of what little coverage we do get. Space Brotherism was
      unfashionable for awhile, but with the coming of the "New Age,"
      credulous UFO religionists are as thick on the ground as ever, and a
      ripe butt for the usual jokes and sitcom gags.

      Some scientists are researching the phenomena, but for obvious reasons
      they play their cards close to their chests. J. Allen Hynek, the
      world's most respected UFO researcher, liked to joke that the handful
      of scientists seriously studying saucers constitute an "Invisible
      College." Since Hynek's death in 1986, his position has more or less
      been assumed by Jacques Vallee, who will probably go to his grave best
      known as the model for the Francois Truffaut character, "Lacombe," in
      Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." In general, though,
      science remains a field dominated by careerism: rather pleasant for
      the tenured and respectable, rather unpleasant for the impoverished
      grad students and associate profs who do most of the actual work With
      these stakes, few of the lab-coat set have much time for heresy. You
      want to make a name in UFO studies, Mr. Budding Scientist? Pack warmly
      - I hear winters at Moosejaw Community College are nippy.


      This void has left ufology almost entirely to self-taught researchers
      and the hardest-core saucer buffs, or, as they call themselves, the
      UFO "community." Although "barrelful of snarling hyenas" might be a
      more apt description, considering the comic-opera wars and vendettas
      that divide the field. (I won't single people out because they're a
      prickly bunch, and I don't remember John saying anything about a legal
      defense fund.) Their dispositions aren't improved by the fact that the
      Feds still seem to be up to their old tricks. At present, many members
      of the UFO community spend most of their time accusing each other of
      being CIA agents.

      In the 70s and early 80s, for instance - around the time that Steven
      Spielberg was updating Space Brotherism with "Close Encounters" and
      his treacly "E.T." - a number of prominent researchers, including
      Hynek and Vallee, were approached by bona fide U.S. military personnel
      and summoned to meetings, at which it was hinted that some earth-
      shaking revelation about UFOs would be forthcoming from the
      government, ah, soon. Hynek and Vallee soon smelled a rat and
      withdrew; others didn't. Most "ufologists" are semi-ordinary men and
      women, after all, with the espionage talents of furniture. Several
      prominent saucerheads were strung along for months, waiting for the
      Big Secret to be revealed, down primrose paths that led nowhere.

      Roswell blew back into the spotlight in the 1980s. A handful of
      researchers (who, naturally, seem to loathe one another) have spent
      some 15 years tracking down evidence for a 1947 saucer crash. Their
      efforts have uncovered more than 500 material witnesses attesting to
      various aspects of a story that, in its most elaborate version,
      involves the retrieval and inspection of a handful of alien bodies and
      even the possible recovery of a survivor. The testimony is
      particularly compelling because of the Norman Rockwell character of
      the witnesses - ex-airmen and officers, nurses; the guys and gals that
      whipped the Axis. Our parents, basically.

      Of course, their word proves little except to those already disposed
      to believe, and already a truly bizarre belief pattern has sprung up
      around Roswell and its surrounding mythology, a nasty world in which
      our government has already sold us out to two-timing,
      cattle-mutilatin', fetus-lookin' aliens popularly called greys. Oh,
      and take a gander at two of the biggest drumbeaters for this
      depressing new religion: one's ex-naval intelligence, the other flew
      planes for the CIA in Laos. Hmmmm.

      Governments play a lot of nasty games. That's the nature of their
      business. And one of those games seems to involve UFOs. Why? Probably
      not because they've made a deal with aliens living in underground
      bases in Nevada, as the more loosely configured minds on the saucer
      scene think. Although you never can tell. Maybe toying with the public
      perception of UFOs is just something a handful of bored Yalies in the
      Company do for kicks. Maybe it's an ongoing class project at the CIA
      training academy.

      Or maybe they are tinkering with crashed UFOs out in Nevada after all,
      like some people fervently believe. Or maybe the secret is that, in a
      way, there is no secret. Maybe they've had pieces of an inexplicable
      puzzle locked away for nearly 50 years, and still can't make heads or
      tails of it. Maybe they've just been lying for so long that by now no
      one sees any percentage in coming clean.

      High Strangeness

      Of course, most serious students of the UFO question don't really buy
      the idea that UFOs are spaceships from another world. (You don't hear
      that much on "The X-Files," do you?) The evidence for an inexplicable
      effect behind UFOs is out there, as Mulder likes to say. It's a mosaic
      of first-hand accounts, radar records, photos of varying reliability;
      of burns and radiation effects on soil, plants, animals, and people.
      But this evidence doesn't necessarily fit the so-called
      extraterrestrial hypothesis any better than the notion that it's all
      misidentifications of Venus.

      The sheer number of sightings alone, as Vallee has pointed out, is far
      in excess of what would be needed to study us or our planet or to keep
      tabs on our activities. Furthermore, there's every reason to suspect
      that the phenomenon has always been with us. Close encounters and
      "abductions" occur everywhere in the world, throughout the historical
      record, as filtered through and interpreted by the moment's dominant
      cultural context. People saw plenty of dragons and fairies when people
      believed in dragons and fairies, and I don't think they were any more
      stupid than we are (go to the mall if you don't believe me). Polls
      indicate that, at present, half of us believe in space men.


      So what is going on? I kind of like Vallee's take on it. Look at the
      whole saucer phenomenon in its entirety: an inexplicable technology
      that appears, at times, to contradict accepted laws of time and space.
      A phenomenon that appears intelligent and yet absurd, following the
      dictates of some dreamlogic. Tens of thousands of people, scattered
      all over the world, have an inexplicable experience that shatters
      their previous notions of reality. Representatives of ruling
      orthodoxies disapprove; enough ridicule is heaped on witnesses to
      ensure that most keep their mouths firmly shut. Committed saucerheads
      band together and some jockey for control of the subculture. New
      belief systems bloom. And maybe this has been going on for quite
      awhile, in different guises.

      What does the UFO phenomenon look like? It looks like a conditioning
      mechanism. Who's behind it? Conditioning us for what? No one knows.
      Charles Fort, the crotchety granddad of paranormal research, once
      delivered a glum assessment: "I think we're property." And maybe
      that's the answer skeptic's old question. Why don't "They" just land
      on the White House lawn? For the same reason that the chemists at
      Parke-Davis don't introduce themselves to their rats. Neat, huh?

      Strange Magazine contributing editor Bruce Lanier Wright is a
      pop-culture historian and avid, if puzzled, fortean living in Austin,

      (C) Strange Magazine

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