Sunday, January 6, 2013
Idle UFO musings
A lot of that accumulation was a [small compared to my actual collection of resources back home] minor mountain of purchases for a "mirror library" so as to have something to work with while I was here. Most --- well, maybe half --- of those things were duplicates of my real library so I've been carting them across the street to The Paradox Books store and giving them to Tom Stobart, the owner, for free to increase his meagre cash flow. I like Tom a lot, and he has a philosophy of selling things for 50cents. I've tried to talk him out of giving books by Heuvelmanns and Sanderson et al away for only that, and he may price things like In The Wake Of The Sea Serpent for a buck.
As I've given things to Tom and packed up others for home, almost all of the old classics passed one after another through my hands. It brought out to me that some things were FAR more helpful to the understanding of UFOlogy then in their days, and even now in ours. So my idle musing today is to say to myself: for those olden days of UFOlogy, which books were actually "helpful" and generally solid? Which of the oldtimers of the first 25 years or so would I recommend that people today have on their shelves, and hopefully read?
I'm going to pick ten. Anytime one does such a thing, it is bound to upset people in this world and all the way to Tau Ceti, but what-the-hell?, I'm old.
Allen Hynek's The UFO Experience. Allen was a teacher at heart and not at all well-suited for the bravado and extrovertism of the intelligence community. And he was an idealist in his style. So, when Allen left the UFO Project behind [or it he], he approached the field as a teacher would. I have found that people don't think of this book this way, but it is a textbook. Allen was defining "UFO" at the start, classifications of UFOs throughout the middle, and hoping to set the foundations of an academic discipline at the end.
Of course he failed. But it was a noble heroic try for a guy who didn't have much "hero" in him. Had the world been populated by reasonable exploring idealists like Allen, he would have pulled it off. We all know what the world is really composed of.
Despite who "we" are, Allen Hynek's textbook still stands tall. It's good. It's still a best beginning. Bless you, Allen --- given your timid personality and astounding naivete about the military community, you ultimately saw what was going on, and gave us your best. This book, being crafted by a scholarly mind, has the wonderful characteristic of being almost totally unemotional and objective. You are not going to find THAT many places in UFOlogy.
Since we're "here", we might as well list Allen's other book, as it deserves to be in the list too.
This is not at all a textbook but Allen's attempt to give a sort-of personal history of his involvement with the USAF years. It is not as unemotional as the UFO Experience either, as Allen was clearly embarrassed about his [particularly early] behavior "on the job" at Wright-Pat, and massages the history a little to make himself look a little better. Still, the UFOlogy in The Hynek UFO Report is almost always good and the history from his inside standpoint makes this a cherished primary resource. If one read his great book first, then Ruppelt's and then Keyhoe's second book, and followed that with this one, one would be reading a nearly seamless retelling of the early history of UFOs as close to the "inside" as was available for decades. I'd not hesitate for a moment in recommending both Allen's books.
There are UFOlogists who do not like Edward Ruppelt nor his book. They're wrong. They are about as wrong as anyone can be about anything in the field. Captain Ruppelt did this field a service which cannot be overstated. He gave us a pretty accurate look behind the mirror of the UFO project and it was a look loaded with frankness and humility --- as well as astonishing revelations about how good some of the cases that the USAF battled with were. This book is foundational. It in almost every sense inspires the scholar to pursue UFO history. It gives one energy to see, if the FOIA process paid off [and it ultimately did] what the intelligence community actually thought. It hints of the complexity of their divergent views, especially at how to manipulate the public's reactions to the mystery. And in doing all of this, and in stating flatly and honestly that the Air Force was looking at more than 25% unknowns, this book inspired many readers to become lifelong UFO researchers [including this writer, as it was my own "Wow!" moment.]
Shown above is a version of the old ACE undersized paperback edition. All rumpled and worn, it could easily be my own 1956 vintage copy, although mine did not evade ultimate disintegration. Just seeing it there is a nostalgic experience. Three years or so later, the phenomenon blessed me with a nice little well-behaved CE1 to cement what "St. Edward" had told me in his book. Should be on every genuinely interested person's shelves and read at least twice.
Here's the other thing which was nearly an insider look. Don Keyhoe was not inside the Project like Ruppelt was [or Hynek], but he was right at a friendly interface at the Pentagon. Showing up in history at the only fortunate time when powers in the Pentagon who wanted a gradual release of quality information were in the ascendent, Keyhoe benefitted from case releases from public information desk officer, Al Chop, who was getting the go ahead from superior officers such as Dewey Fournet and much higher. During that same golden year of 1952 which saw Ruppelt running Project Blue Book, Keyhoe received a few handfuls of very strong cases from Chop, which contradicted the repeated Air Force mantra about nothing in UFO work being interesting. From these releases came Keyhoe's second, and best by far, book: Flying Saucers from Outer Space.
In the book Keyhoe, as usual, gets almost all the speculations wrong while getting almost all the facts right. If you read the thing with an easy-to-do mental separation between these two elements, this becomes a walloping good UFO book and, when paired with Ruppelt's, a solid foundation for understanding what was happening without hysterics. You will come away from the Ruppelt/ Hynek/ Keyhoe experience with a pretty clear picture of NICAPian UFOlogy --- the UFOlogy which was dominant in the USAF from WWII through the 50s, and which seemed like it could not be anything but advanced aerial technology invading American airspace. No "high strangeness", just fast, maneuverable, solid craft which we can't catch.
This is the first Keyhoe book and the other one you should have on your shelves. Keyhoe's books are a mixed bag and after FSOS [book two] tend to slowly slide downhill in quality until falling off a cliff in his last book [Aliens from Space, or whatever's it's called]. The first book, The Flying Saucers Are Real, is not the resource that FSOS is, but definitely worth the read. Counterintuitively, I think that I'd recommend reading it AFTER reading the ones above. Once you set the real history in mind, reading the naive "first Keyhoe" battling the confusion of what he KNEW somehow to be a MAJOR mystery, becomes not only more understandable, but rather an entertaining Hoot on top of it. You can sit back with FSAR and follow "Just-the-facts-M'am" Don Keyhoe doing his Sgt.Friday impersonation on a 1940s detective hunt. Also, some of the stuff which was making Keyhoe's mind reel, and which left him in tumble-down confusion, will occasionally at least, make you nod and say to yourself: yes, I can see what THAT was and why Keyhoe couldn't understand it [yet]. This was the second UFO book I read, and the last until after getting my PhD and beginning to follow the mystery, still fully inoculated by Keyhoe, Ruppelt, and my own sighting. ... a long trail looking back.
In the 1950s there were very few things in book form which one could read about UFOs which weren't either incompetent or manipulative. Menzel's book was a travesty of intellectual dishonesty by a guy who enjoyed playing pseudoscientific mindgames with people just to go on an ego trip. On the other end of the spectrum were the contactee books, which were usually entirely lies. If they were not lies, they were the productions of delusional minds. I don't say these harsh words lightly. I've studied hundreds of pages of Menzelian correspondence [gawd, what an experience!], and many more of the contactees [I do, afterall house the George Hunt Williamson files, all 15 drawers of them]. There is something in Menzel, admittedly. As the Colorado Project concluded: Menzel was almost always wrong but occasionally his odd atmospheric illusions-style of debunking was correct or at least a possibility. AND there is "something" in the contactees. Mostly just liars, but some are trance control automatic writers so whatever THAT phenomenon is all about should be taken seriously, though, in my analysis, having nothing to do with UFOs.
But, thankfully, the book above, by Aime Michel [with some help from Lex Mebane and CSI-NY] contains none of that crap. Reporting largely on the 1954 European wave, Michel in The Truth About Flying Saucers gives us not only a needed expansion upon purely US-style UFOlogy but also the clear-minded logic which characterizes him. For the vast majority of the pages, this is rock-solid UFOlogy. I, in fact, like it more than his second book, which, although creative in attempting a statistical proof that UFOs represent an intelligently-directed phenomenon, chases what is to me the red herring of "orthoteny", or "The Straight Line Mystery". Even without those theories though, TTAFS did not quite live up to Lex Mebane's high standards. He mainly, and Isabel Davis and Ted Bloecher providing support, translated and supplemented the book for the US audience. The publisher [and maybe Michel himself] included a title [and various wordings in the text] which Lex could not countenance. They were too overpositive, too absolute, not cautiously-worded enough. Lex took a copy of the book, changed the title to "Light on the Flying Saucers" with a paste-over, edited the text, and passed on the marked up version to Ivan Sanderson and SITU, where it resides today. Maybe Lex was a little too rough on the editor or maybe not, but TTAFS is a solidly good read, and one of the rare early ones.
When the later 1950s came along and it was obvious that there was essentially nothing that you could hand a naive reader to begin to convince them that UFOs were worth talking about, NICAP felt that void. They were trying to assault the halls of Congress in hopes of opening up Air Force files through congressional investigation, but had no way to get any politician to show any interest --- they would occasionally make a little progress with a single congressman by the method of a UFO incident happening in their district, some stupid-to-insulting USAF announcement made about it, and having a NICAP member from that district "write their congressman" demanding an explanation for the USAF snub. [this is what later happened in a "perfect storm of incompetence" in the 1966 Swamp Gas situation.]
What NICAP needed was an easily readable "hammer" to hit people between the eyes. So Dick Hall went to work. The UFO Evidence was one of the hardest UFO publications to create in our history. Dick took a few years to finish the final version. What NICAP had in the end was a mighty monograph of hundreds of cases in lists with thumbnail descriptions of examples of each category arrayed. Categories of pilot sightings, scientist-engineer sightings, radar sightings etc each had their chapters with their truncated "Anvil Chorus" of many instances. It was a good try and still a valuable tool today. It failed at the time because it came just too late in the NICAP/USAF war which was fought for congress' attention. By the time The Hammer was ready, the USAF had cleverly maneuvered to reinforce the door. Today what you have is a pretty good research document with just small errors of detail here and there, always in my experience understandable as to how Dick got an occasional date or fact wrong. It's a good book and moreso an honorable piece of our history.
Because Hynek had not yet published, by the mid-late 1960s there was really no orderly scientific approach to UFOs available in any normal literary form. Jacques Vallee put a stop to that deficit with his twin volumes Anatomy of a Phenomenon and Challenge to Science. Good books. Jacques Vallee at his best in the minds of many in the serious UFO research community. Even the Air Force, astoundingly, liked them and in one year actually listed one of them in its recommended readings lists on its public relations publications. [This was quickly "rectified" and Vallee's book was replaced by Menzel's the following year].
Vallee's twins are the source of many persons' interests in UFOs in the generation following my own "Ruppelt generation". In them Jacques talks about cases, statistics, science, all in a scholarly and highly intriguing fashion. In his approach, he is trying in his own style to do what Hynek would shortly also try to do: make UFOs a reasonable field of study. Hynek's approach is more traditionally "academic", but his and Vallee's [in these two volumes] are certainly soul-mates. Solid intellectual stuff done before Jacques became disappointed in the intractability of the phenomenon in yielding to science methods, as well as his concerns that what we might call "social" or "organizational" elements were working against a solution, making things nearly impossible. But that latter is not the Vallee of these books, and regardless of what's right in the end, these are two good presentations to have.
The final in my list of ten oldtime classics is the first true attempt at writing a scholarly history of how we humans handled/ botched the UFO mystery. Coming just after the Colorado Report, it was a proper time for an outstanding university [Wisconsin] to grant a graduate student [David Jacobs] the green light to research UFO history for a PhD thesis. Dave did, and so we have The UFO Controversy In America. The thesis was turned into a marvelous history book through the University of Indiana Press and as such is one of the very few things associated with UFOs ever granted admission through any of the channels of academe.
This is a really good history book. Regardless of what anyone wants to think about UFO abductions and Dave's later non-historical work, he is still one of the sharper knives in the drawer when it comes to intellectual analysis and writing and this book shows it. It has stood the test of time astonishingly. In fact, if it were not for such a huge amount of new information via FOIA, and the ability of those FOIA successes to get us finally behind the curtain of secrecy, Robert Powell, I, and the rest of the UFO History Group would not have had to write UFOs and Government and I could have saved four years.
So.... if I had to pick ten oldtimers which still offer something to the modern reader [and these offer a LOT, especially when one values sanity], these are they. There are quite a few more modern books that one should have on one's shelves, but not as many as one would hope even there. Maybe I'll write an entry on those one day. But as most of them are written by friends of mine, that's a dangerous undertaking --- what if I mention buddy A's book and not buddy B's? Hmmmm....
I'll leave you with two other things which would be nice to have in their different ways: The House Symposium is a tour-de-force of pro-UFOlogy in the late 1960s and one way to read something by Jim McDonald. Max Miller's little monograph was a rare piece of intelligent writing from way back in the 1950s. MM went too pro-contactee ultimately but he was a smart and insightful guy.
whew!.... that was harder than I thought.... took three sittings not counting image searches. Don't know when the next might be. Blessings to everyone in the New Year.
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- A Different Perspective
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