Willy Smith and Roger Sandell
Magonia 19, May 1985
It is regrettable that some who write reviews and/or critiques of books and papers do not take the proper care to read thoroughly the work they intend to analyse, either for lack of time (the charitable version) or because their animosity to the topic or the authors leads them to extract only those parts that fit their confessed or unconfessed bias (the vindictive version).
The net result is that the commentary becomes a piece of disinformation, not helping the authors to see their own weaknesses, and deceiving the potential readers about the value – or lack thereof – of the work under consideration. What prompted these thoughts is the review of Sky Crash by Roger Sandell that appeared in the previous issue of Magonia .
“First of all”, as Mr Sandell begins, it is true that the central theme of the book is the possibility of a high-level conspiracy surrounding the incidents in Rendlesham Forest. What is not so true is that the authors, “assiduous in finding evidence for the cover-up”, are trying to force their conclusions on the reader. On the contrary, as Mr Sandell should have noted in the preface (p.5), the authors say, verbatim :
We may be right or we may be wrong. We have no vested interest to anything other than the truth, and this book merely provides the means for you to decide what the truth may be.
Of the eighteen eyewitnesses listed, Mr Sandell has singled out two for comments: Charles Halt and ‘Art Wallace’. About the first, “he refused to be buttonholed by the authors in his house at 11 o’clock at night”. I imagine this comment pertains to the events of 23rd February 1984, and had Mr. Sandell read the last chapter of Sky Crash (p.269), he could not have failed to recognise the marks of a setup, although Butler and Street brought this upon themselves for being naive. The reasons for Colonel Halt proceeding in that manner may be many and complex, but they are not relevant. What is relevant is that otherwise the authors are lying. Is that the message that Mr. Sandell is subtly transmitting?
As for ‘Art Wallace’, true enough he seems to talk like a character in a B-movie. But so what? he is young, presumably uneducated, and probably talks in that fashion all the time. In my view a sophisticated vocabulary on Wallace’s lips would have made him totally suspect. There are, however, reasons to distrust his testimony, but certainly not because of his speech patterns.
The authors did not conclude, as Mr Sandell wants us to believe, that the promotion of the officers was a reward for their silence. The point is that in the military those who do not follow established policy and/or make mistakes are committing professional suicide. Three of the high-ranking officers in the Rendlesham episode (Col. Charles Halt, General Ted Conrad and Brigadier General Gordon Williams) have been promoted. Hence, whatever they did had an official blessing, and their connection with the case and their conduct must be examined in that light.
As for Occam’s Razor, it has nothing to do with the ‘sinister’ or ‘mundane’ characteristics of an explanation, but rather its simplicity. If the authors indicate that a witnesses seemed to be frightened I am willing to accept this simple assessment from those who had direct contact with them rather than remote and convoluted reasons for their behaviour hatched by someone who was not there.
Again Mr. Sandell tells us that “there is no real evidence that he was even in the US Air Force”. Wrong again, Mr Sandell. Go and look on page 233, or better, read the whole book and find the several confirmations from various sources that ‘Wallace’ was indeed in the USAF during the critical period.
With reference to the radiation readings, they are mentioned explicitly in the Halt memorandum, including values of exposure in milliroentgens. As a copy of this memorandum is in Sky Crash, the statement that “we are given no data to evaluate their significance” is empty and in error.
We read on page 82 that “animals do not suffer hallucinations and if they do respond to something strange it is safe to assume that something strange really is happening”. This statement seems to perturb Mr. Sandell extremely, and one wonders if he has some documentary evidence that animals in fact do hallucinate. lie refers us to Allan Hendry’s well-known handbook  where in fact we find (p.160) a word of caution in establishing a cause-and-effect relationship between the presence of a UFO and animal behaviour. But it doesn’t imply in any way that such a relationship does not exist, and moreover, Allan’s comments refer almost exclusively to domestic animals, not to cattle. More importantly, Allan Hendry does not provide us with a single clue as to whether animals hallucinate, which was the point that we were trying to resolve. Come on, Mr. Sandell, don’t you ever read any books before quoting them?
As for the ‘ideas’ of Ian Ridpath attempting to explain the incident with a moving lighthouse , the less one says the kinder one will be. However, what cannot be condoned is the doctoring of TV footage by using a zoom lens to make the lighthouse look like a glowing object, and by editing the dark pauses that would have given the game away. This is pure deception, and I wonder how the British audience of Breakfast TV took it, although I know what would have happened in America to the prestige of such a programme.
Well, I believe Mr. Ridpath sympathises with CSICOP (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal), and his reputation will not be damaged any further by this faux-pas than it is already by his association with this group, whose members have not hesitated, on more than one occasion to distort the truth when it disagrees with their avowed purpose.
It is useless to continue, as I believe that I have made my point, i.e. that the critic left himself quite open to criticism by reading only superficially the book he was supposed to discuss. It is not my intent to write a review of Sky Crash, but having gone this far, I think I am entitled to express my opinion.
This book is what it portrays itself to be: a presentation of the information collected by the authors over an extended period of time with reference to the incidents in the Rendlesham Forest. It includes a detailed list of military and civilian witnesses (firsthand and incidental), impressions gathered during the different stages of the investigation, official documents (like the Halt memorandum), as well as several possibilities (other than UFOs) that could explain the occurrences. But it is up to the reader to draw his own conclusions. It is an interesting piece of research which indeed has some flaws, but not those that Roger Sandell has pounced on.
- SANDELL, Roger. ‘Down in the Forest Something Stirred…’, Magonia, no. 18, January 1985, p.18.
- BUTLER, STREET and RANDLES. Sky Crash, a Cosmic Conspiracy, Spearman, 1984.
- HENDRY, Allen. UFO Handbook. Doubleday and Co., 1979.
- RIDPATH, Ian. ‘An Explanation of the Woodbridge UFO’ Magonia, no. 14, 1983.
Roger Sandell replies:
Dr. Smith is indeed entitled to his opinions, and I do take the points he raises seriously, especially since, unlike most angry reactions to Magonia book reviews, his letter does not come from an outraged author with an axe to grind. However, I am still not convinced that I have been unfair. To take some specific points:
1. I did not express any doubts about the authors’ honesty, since I do not feel any. I made it clear that the authors provide data which permits readers to come to different conclusions. In any case, regular readers will know that Magonia reviewers do not engage in innuendo but, when they consider an author to be dishonest clearly say so (Vide, Fontbrune, Magonia+, passim.)
2. 1 am aware that the book does give figures for radiation; I merely stated that no data necessary to evaluate these figures were given. Knowing nothing about radiation, I did not know whether the amounts in question are or are not a significant deviation from normal. Having read Dr. Smith’s letter I still don’t.
3. On the subsequent promotion of Rendlesham officers, I certainly understood the authors to imply that this was a move to silence them. If I am wrong I can only point out that the MUFON Journal in a highly favourable review, also interprets the book as making that claim.
4. The statement on page 82 concerning animals hallucinating struck me as so manifestly absurd I left it to make its own impression on the reader. Perhaps Dr. Smith would indicate any way we could find out whether or not animals hallucinate. Tests of animal brain activity certainly suggests that they dream. Further, I have no idea what the term ‘strange’ means in this context. UFO reports are strange to us because there appears to be no obvious explanation for some of them. To an animal even the most spectacular close encounter would merely be a bright, noisy object, similar to a plane or car.
5. Concerning ‘Art Wallace’, the evidence for his presence at the base did not strike me as impressive. However Ian Ridpath tells me that the person using this pseudonym was in fact present at the time of the events in questions, so I stand corrected. However, the significant thing about his use of melodramatic clichés, as I should probably have made clearer, is not that he used them to express his own feelings, but that he put these B-movie phrases into the mouths of his superiors who he claimed were silencing him by death threats. In assessing his credibility, I would note that, since Ian Ridpath knows who ‘Wallace’ is, the USAF presumably does as well, but no dire consequences seem to have ensued.
6. I do not accept that I had suggested any “remote and convoluted reasons” for the silence of local witnesses. I leave it to readers whether it is more reasonable to suggest other commitments or aversion to publicity as a reason for witnesses’ reluctance to be interviewed, before postulating official cover-ups. While on the subject of cover-ups I can only trust that if, as is suggested, the British government is involved in this cover-up, whoever is responsible will shortly be promoted since their efforts have been much more successful than the recent inept efforts to suppress facts concerning the sinking of the General Belgrano and M15 phone-tapping.
7. I was not aware that Ian Ridpath was linked with the CSICOP. I would certainly be critical of some of the methods and conclusions of this organisation, but I would reject the guilt by association that Dr. Smith engages in. One cannot lump peoples’ ideas on different subjects into a package, to take or leave in this way. For instance, while I reject the conclusions of Sky Crash, I still feel that Jenny Randles’ Northern UFO News is a valuable source of investigations; and I imagine that while Dr. Smith approves of Sky Crash he would not share Jenny Randles’ belief in astrology or Nostradamus.
I must confess I also find it puzzling that after implying that Jenny Randles’ view of the witnesses is more valuable than mine, since I have not seen them, he is so quick to dismiss Ian Ridpath who, unlike him, has been to Rendlesham.
I would close with some wider observations. Sky Crash is labelled on the cover as being about “a cosmic conspiracy” and the jacket claims that it tells the story of “the world’s first officially confirmed landing and contact”. Later we read suggestions that the US government may be in regular contact with extraterrestrial. These are extraordinary claims that require extraordinary evidence, and when they are made it is surely responsible to consider alternative explanations, especially when one looks at the way some UFO causes celebre have disintegrated over the years.
I am especially alarmed by the readiness of some associated with the case to attribute bad faith or participation in a ‘cover-up’. A very serious example is the claim made by Jenny Randles in a recent Northern UFO News that a recent book sceptical about the case was under government sponsorship.
This, it would seem, is a reference to William Porter’s Lies, Damn Lies and Some Exclusives, a book on contemporary popular journalism that, as I mentioned last issue, includes criticism of the News of the World’s treatment of Rendlesham. Anyone who has actually read this book would find this suggestion ludicrous since a large part of it deals with press misrepresentation of the peace movement, pro-Conservative press bias in the 1983 election and ministerial attempt to manipulate the press. Hardly the sort of thing I can see the present government sponsoring.
Such tactics may have been all right for the late Senator McCarthy but those who retail such baseless and unsubstantiated smears can hardly be surprised if others find such methods do not inspire confidence.