UFO Trio

Terry Hansen. The Missing Times: News Media Complicity in the UFO Cover-up. Xlibris Corporation, 2000.

The title does not refer, as you might think, to stories of missing time and alien abduction, but to the absence of pro-UFO stories in elite, broadsheet newspapers. The reason, according to Hansen, is not that UFO stories are perceived as low status, human interest stories largely beneath the dignity of the likes of the New York Times. If ufologists are not taken seriously and are ridiculed, this is not because much of what they say is in fact ridiculous - no it is all part of the government conspiracy and manipulation of news.

Like much conspiracy literature there is enough smattering of truth in Hansen's claims to give a aura of superficial credibility to what he claims, He provides a fairly straight history of propaganda and government manipulation of the media, and the tendency for the old boy network to ensure that the press and broadcasting organizations give a generally pro-business and ruling class slant on much news. From this he then makes the wild leap to speculation about what the American government (a largely fictional beast, perhaps he means the network of competing and backbiting bureaucracies centred in Washington, which are only coordinated by the President, if he can be bothered) might do if they had evidence that ET’s were on earth. The latter is then assumed.

The resulting conspiracy theory is one very flattering to ufologists, for it essentially asserts that all of their critics are part of “the conspiracy”, and that they are never the authors of their own misfortune. Any evidence which contradicts their pet beliefs can be dismissed as government disinformation. The bullshitter of the hour is always the brave dissident who is standing up to 'them'.

Though Hansen starts by quoting some possibly interesting UFO cases from US missile sites, (possibly interesting becauce no one has ever subjected them to detailed critical investigation), he rapidly descends into the usual servicemen's tales and quotes from such paragons as Linda Moulton Howe and Tony Dodd, the latter adding the claim that British intelligence vetoed French plans to assassinate him, to his other absurd fantasies. However in being sceptical about this no doubt as far as Hansen is concerned Magonia is part of the disinformation cover-up.

So ufologists are not only never wrong, they are so important that various intelligence agents have to spend loads of taxpayers money on tapping their phones and doing the dirty on them, and may even be plotting to kill them. Paranoia always has this element of self-inflation.
The trouble with paranoia is that it is catching, so some other paranoid might argue that Hansen himself is an intelligence agent aiming to discredit real stories of government media manipulation by associating them with damn fool flying saucer stories.

 UFOs in America 1947: FBI Files Relating to the Sighting of Unidentified Flying Objects During 1947. The Stationary Office, 2001. (Uncovered editions, series editor Tim Coates).

Well here is a book on UFOs by the official government publisher, one of a series that has been devoted to republishing juicy official UK government documents such as the report on the sinking of the Titanic, the Profumo report and various exciting stories of derring do from the British forces. A while ago they published the Hansard report on the House of Lords UFO debate was reviewed in our January 2001 issue.

Obviously it was a good seller, for the series have now raided the America archives for this one, and the privatized Stationary Office is always on the look out for a good money spinner (Oh you awful cynic, don't you know this is all part of the official 'education programme'?).

Though there are no earth shattering revelations, the book does give a very good impression of the very early days of flying saucers, in which any odd object in the sky, or any old piece of metal on the ground was a flying saucer. Ufologists will be interested in another Kenneth Arnold version of his story. While it is often said that Arnold did not refer to disc shaped objects, in his report to the FBI on July 12th he describes them as 'the chain of these saucer-like objects'. "Of course, when the sun reflected from one or two or three of these units they appeared to be completely round" and as "saucer shaped disks". In fact one gets the impression that Arnold never gave exactly the same description in any two accounts.

Also reproduced is the Air Force memo to the FBI concerning the Roswell 'crashed saucer', described at 6.17pm on July 8th as a 'disk ... hexagonal in shape ... suspended from a balloon by cable, which balloon was approximately 20ft in diameter'. It 'resembles a high altitude weather balloon with a radar reflector but that telephonic conversation between [Headquarters Eighth Air Force] and Wright Field had not borne out this belief'. In other words, something that looked like a weather balloon but wasn't one, e.g. a Project Mogul balloon. The FBI incidentally were aware of this project as they discount this explanation for a couple of other landing reports which they found to be crude hoaxes.
It was the landing reports which brought a premature end to the FBI's involvement. They discovered an Air Force memo saying in effect that while the Air Force would investigate the good quality aerial reports, the FBI would deal with the nutters and landing reports which 'turn out to be ash can covers, toilet seats and whatnot'. This offended J.. Edgar Hoover's very considerable dignity and he pulled the FBI out in a huff.

The aficionado will find the Maury Island (called Murray Island in much of this correspondence) mystery, and note the very early use of the flying saucers to promote the Shaver mystery by Palmer. This is the only reference to anything like the ETH anywhere. Even puzzling stories such as the Snake River CEII are not so linked, and 'falling leaf' UFOs sometimes turned out by sheets of paper floating in the wind.

No. The fears of those days were very different: one rambling letter hints at nests of German agents, and another lady relates a story told her by a spiritualist on a plane, that the Russians had a poison which they would put on atom bombs to destroy many cities and not just one, and then fearing that the flying saucers were going to be this weapon.

Brenda Denzler. The Lure of the Edge: Scientific Passions, Religious Beliefs and Pursuit of UFOs. University of California Press, 2001.

This is the first academic treatment of ufology by someone who has clearly taken the time and effort to get to grips with the its huge literature, or at least the not inconsiderable portion of it to be found in the personal library of George Fawcett. Brenda Denzler is a Ph D in religious studies, so her study concentrates to some degree on the religious motifs and implications of UFO belief system. This is also perhaps the first academic to look at something much closer to mainstream ufology that the contactee groups usually studied, though her study base on the UFO lecture circuit has perhaps inclined her to examine the abductee wing of ufology in greatest detail.

Her aim is not to study UFOs, the question as to what UFOs 'really' are she leaves to the scientists and historians of the far future. Her study is of the people involved in ufology, and the beliefs surrounding it. The first two chapters present a brief history of ufology and tales of alien encounters. This is generally reasonable, the second chapter being better than the first, though her confusion between New Guinea and New Zealand in the Gill case might just be the worst howler in UFO literature!

However it is her studies of the role UFO stories as 'evidences of the supernatural' that she scores, tracing the developments back and forth. She follows the debates in ufology as to whether the subject is to be some kind of science, bound at least loosely be some kind of scientific discipline, or an essentially religious quest. She tracks the various interpretations of the 'others', arguments which when abstracted from fancy wording, boil down to whether they are angels or demons. Looking at this argument we can see just how few ufologists really have sought to portray the subject in scientific terms. Of course this may be an accident of place and time, ufology in Europe or in pre-Hopkins America were very different things.

An appendix looks at the social background of ufologists which draws attention to the marked absence of African American ufologists and abductees (one African American conference attendee argued that blacks have so many problems already that the don't need any more from aliens, which may be hinting at the truth. If you have real problems you don't need to make any up). She also notes the very male-dominated nature of the UFO leadership and investigator teams, yet the majority of the abductees are women. (Implicit in her figures, though she does not comment on this, is that the percentage of women abductees is increasing over time, abduction is becoming a female experience).

This is an important and useful book, but at the end I felt rather let down, Denzler comes up with no overarching conclusion, no great insight. Nor does she really manage to place the changes in ufology in a historical and cultural context. There are times when she gets near, noting the religious impulses behind the space race, that somewhere behind it was the journey to the stars as part of the continuation of America's manifest destiny to spread to gospel to the waste places. But often the accounts become a chronicle. Her evenhandedness will, I fear please few, already a CSICOPian fundamentalist in New Scientist has damned this book, becauce she did not head every page with 'Ufology is shit'. Some ufologists will accuse her of downplaying the 'multi witness CE2's, and straight, scientific radar visuals. She will learn that you can't please anyone in this game.

So perhaps a seven out of ten rather than an eight, and a second, longer book asked for. A word of advice, to get the best out of this book, you must read the footnotes and not skip them. -- Peter Rogerson
 

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