A Brief History
Orson Welles (b. 1915 – d. 1985) aired a 60-minute radio broadcast in 1938 about a Martian invasion of earth based on the science fiction novel The War of the Worlds. Some Americans, when they first tuned in, mistakenly thought it was real news. By the time the film (a loose adaptation of Wells’ novel of the same name) was released in 1953, America enjoyed a flurry of reported flying saucer sightings, and a science fiction mania swept across the country. (There was also a remake of the film in 2005).
Major Donald E. Keyhoe began freelance writing when he retired from active duty in the period between the World Wars. In his classic book The Flying Saucers are Real, he advanced the theory that the flying saucers were alien spaceships and considered the idea that the US military was covering up the possibility of extraterrestrial visitors.
Keyhoe also wrote (among other works) Flying Saucers from Outer Space, which gives an account of areas of frequent sightings, and his otherwise rather science fictional book, Aliens from Space: The Real Story of Unidentified Flying Objects, in which he alludes to the advance testing of unusual aerial craft by the government.
Project Blue Book
Due to the continuing number of reports that were coming in, the ATIC put Edward J. Ruppelt in charge of bringing some kind of order to its now bulging files and responding to inquiries from the press or public in 1952. This was done under the codename Project Blue Book. The occurrence of dramatic sightings four months later in July of 1952 in the area of Washington, D.C. were a cause for alarm because they were hard to brush off.
The USAF forwarded a deluge of reports of new sightings to Project Blue Book. There was concern that hysteria could effectively jam military communication channels, potentially setting the stage for a sneak missile attack by a ‘foreign power,’ particularly if real missiles were to land and explode without the USAF intercepting them if they were mistaken for UFOs. There was also apprehension that the fostering of independent UFO research and inquiry organizations could potentially invite unchecked clandestine intelligence activities. In 1953, a joint CIA/Air Force panel recommended that:
“…such organizations should be watched because of their great influence on mass thinking if widespread sightings should occur. The apparent irresponsibility and the possible use of such groups for subversive purposes should be kept in mind.”
These kinds of concerns may have induced the government to adopt a disinterested public policy toward the extraterrestrial enigma, providing a ready-made breeding ground for an array of conspiracy theories, particularly “debunking” and “disinformation.”
Casebook on the Men in Black cites cases which suggest that the government, as part of a “debunking” effort, dispatched intelligence men to caution witnesses against reporting their UFO sightings. We have to remember that jets, rockets and helicopters were new inventions shrouded in secrecy at the time, but some believe (as Keyhoe did) that the Air Force was covering up reports to avoid panicking the public.
At the same time, there’s been speculation that many intelligence agencies since the late 1940s and 50s have engaged in “disinformation” by simulating many incidents via special effects technologies, possibly to sell the E.T. (extraterrestrial) interpretation of secret terrestrial military aircraft and their maneuvers.
On the evening of March 13, 1997, hundreds of people reported seeing a V-shaped array of lights, known as the “Phoenix Lights” sightings. Were they some kind of propaganda show designed to cover for experimental maneuvers at Luke AFB with the added aim of gauging public reaction to urban legend for purposes of Psy Ops (psychological operations) research? After seeing the 2005 documentary, I’ll say that the witnesses who were interviewed seemed to be perfectly credible, and in a few cases, deeply affected in profound ways. It’s certainly compelling testimony.
The Influence of the Space Race on Popular Culture
Sputnik 1 (the first man-made earth satellite) was launched into an elliptical low Earth orbit in 1957 by the Soviet Union. The first man in space, Yuri Gagarin (b. 1934 – d. 1968), whose spacecraft completed an orbit of the Earth in 1961, was a Soviet pilot and cosmonaut. The space race was on, but America’s culture of militarism and uniformity (which had been a necessary way of life in wartime) also had its critics, from the rebels of the 1950s to the conscientious objectors of The Vietnam War, a protracted Cold War era military conflict that lasted from 1955 to 1975. We can see how some of these themes have played out in popular culture.
The Faculty is an example of a movie containing the same underlying motif as Invasion of the Body Snatchers. An alien parasite (which is really part of a greater organism) comes to earth and needs a host to replicate. In theory, if the master (or queen) alien is killed, they’re all killed. The alien life form offers a utopia which is depicted as a fool’s paradise since the peace and stability which an alien takeover represents demands absolute conformity at the cost of genuine human emotion and individuality.
In Plan 9 from Outer Space (science fiction/horror film, 1959), a pair of aliens set up shop in a cemetery and animate an army of the dead to march on the capitals of the world to stop humanity from creating Solaranite (a sort of sun-driven bomb). Some deem it the worst film ever made, a real miss. We can, nevertheless, appreciate its underlying theme.
US foreign policy in the strategic arms race at the time was still one of nuclear deterrence to resist the threat of Soviet expansion, officially known as containment policy, which met with some opposition. Widespread public opinion about the morality of nuclear weapons use was mounting amidst fear that American resources would be depleted in trying to resist communism wherever it might appear.
The late John Glenn (b. 1921 – d. 2016) was best known for being the first American to orbit the earth. He completed three orbits on his 1962 flight in the single-seat Mercury spacecraft. For Colonel Glenn, the “City of Light” (Perth, Australia) was a memorable sight to behold. It’s nowhere near Sydney where the mysterious signal was detected back in 2008. (Click here for details).
Against the backdrop of the heyday of America’s cultural revolution of the 1960s were some notable developments. The first successful fly-by mission to Mars, Mariner 4, launched in 1964, returned the first pictures of the Martian surface.
Intelsat I, nicknamed Early Bird (the first commercial communications satellite) was placed in geosynchronous orbit (the same speed that the Earth rotates) in 1965. Three American astronauts made history on July 21, 1969 by successfully landing on the moon, fulfilling JFK’s 1961 mission statement to land “a” man safely on the moon by the end of the 1960’s and return him safely to earth.
Beyond the verifiable explanations for the extraterrestrial mystery (from ball-lightning, a rare electromagnetic weather-related phenomenon, to deliberate hoaxes), are cases which have escaped the grasp of complete comprehension by science. Keith suggests the strange possibility that there are at least some instances which are actual “supernatural” occurrences.
“Evidence suggests that some experiences of the MIBs challenge tightly formulated definitions of reality, and may even point up the deficiencies in those definitions. MIBs and many other paranormal events happily cross these lines of demarcation, defying the definitions, and the manner in which they do so incidentally provides clues to something else entirely: the actual nature of reality.”
It’s been a source of consternation for serious researchers.
Page published October 1, 2013 (Updated 26 July 2017)