18.10.10

FORWARD TO THE PAST

Leslie Kean. UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go On the Record. Harmony Books, 2010.

The reader who turns to this book looking for dramatic revelations about crashed flying saucers in the Pentagon pantry and the like is going to be disappointed, for it is largely a rhetorically sober account of a number of UFO cases, most of which will be well known to the UFO community. However, that is clearly not the 'community' to which this book is addressed. It is however addressed to the sort of people who are impressed by uniforms and titles.

The cases presented here include the 1989/90 black triangle wave over Belgium, narrated by Major General Wilfried de Brouwer (Retd), the 2007 story about a "gigantic UFOs over the English Channel" as told by witness Ray Bowyer; the 1976 Tehran case by witness General Parviz Jafrai (Retd), the 2006 O'Hare airport case, several South American pilot encounters, Nick Pope on the "real X files" along with James Pennistone and Charles Halt on the "extraordinary incident at Rendlesham Forest" etc.., Even our old friend Trindade turns up.

Much of the book is also devoted to various official investigations in France and South America, which lean towards exotic interpretations of UFO experiences, and the author calls for some new, presumably expensive, official investigation in the United States.

When I first looked at this book I imagined it was the sort of thing I might have thought was a good UFO book if I had read it forty years ago. On second thoughts, however, it would have struck me as very old fashioned even then, with only the merest whisper of close encounters, let alone occupant reports or the general weirdness that was apparent even then. Rather we are back fifty or more years, to the early days of NICAP and its assemblages of cases, rhetoric, and the great and good of the military-political complex. Change names and dates and this book could easily have been written in 1960.

This is not a scientific book, there are no in depth detailed, critical examinations of any of the cases, and it is significant that though the detailed multi-authored study of Ray Bowyer's case is mentioned by him and footnoted, it is not subject to any actual discussion. Needless to say the various critical accounts of some of the other cases, not least Rendlesham, are not referred to at all.

While the first hand accounts are not without interest, they are clearly not contemporaneous accounts, but seem to be recounted in the manner of well-honed and polished after-dinner speeches

Basically this book is a lawyers brief, and its various contributors are clearly engaged in presenting the case for exotic UFOs, i.e. alien spaceships. To be sure, that word tends to be avoided, and there is even a little disclaimer as on page 266 saying there should be an "ending [to] the automatic equating of UFO with extraterrestrial spacecraft" but this really cannot be taken at face value, Indeed, throughout the book there are references to "craft", "vehicles", "solid unknown objects" and "there exists in our skies ... a solid physical phenomenon that appears to be under intelligent control and is capable of speeds, manoeuvrability and luminosity beyond current known technology", etc. etc.. Note that the language is always in terms of craft, vehicles and technology.

Of course traditionalist American ufologists have learned a good rhetorical trick from the intelligent design community, who no longer talk of God and Bible, but of "an intelligent designer" (we never said God did we?) Thus ufologists tend to come up with "structured craft of unknown origin" (we never said alien did we?)

The possibly that otherwise puzzling UFO reports might be generated by a variety of poorly understood atmospheric phenomena is barely mentioned. Of course the role of psychology, the problems of perception, memory and narration and such are rarely mentioned. When clues exist they are overlooked. Thus at one point it is suggested that UFOs behave differently with military pilots than with civilian ones, engaging in more dogfights. The obvious possibility, that this rather reflects how the two groups are trained to respond to ambiguous lights in the night sky, is not even raised.

Of course, if you actually look at the individual reports, even taking them all at face value, there is little reason to assume that they are generated by the same sort of thing (what connects black triangles seen over Belgium, with the luminosities seen by Ray Bowyer for example) They are only linked together by the ufologists claims that they represent the activities of extramundane intelligences. -- Peter Rogerson

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