What's up Doc? Fear and Loathing in the Fifties.

Martin Kottmeyer
Magonia 44, October 1992.
General John A. Samford, director of Air Force intelligence, put the official position in crystal clear terms in this statement to the press after the Washington D.C. flap of 1952: "Air Force interest in this problem has been due to our feeling of an obligation to identify and analyse to the best of our abilities anything in the air that may have the possibility of threat or menace to the United States.

In pursuit of this obligation, since 1947, we have received and analysed between one and two thousand reports that have come to us from all kinds of sources.
"Of this great mass of reports we have been able adequately to explain the great bulk of them, explain them to our own satisfaction. We’ve been able to explain them as hoaxes, as erroneously identified friendly aircraft, as meteorological or electronic phenomena, or as light aberration. However, there has been a certain percentage of this volume of reports that have been made by credible observers of relatively incredible things. It is this group of observations that we are now attempting to resolve. We have as of this date come to only one firm conclusion with respect to this remaining percentage and that is that it does not contain any pattern of purpose or of consistency that we can relate to any conceivable threat to the United States." (1)

To UFO buffs the important part of Samford’s statement is the concession that credible observers report UFOs. It is important to emphasise that Samford regards that concession as irrelevant to the main point that UFOs pose no threat. Ufologists were fond of poking holes in Air Force explanations of UFO reports and always tried to make something of the fact they had failed to even propose answers to a certain residuum. But it wasn’t really their job to solve the UFO mystery. Their job was to determine whether it posed a menace to the security of our nation. The Constitution demands the government provide protection of the life and liberty of its citizens against the threat of foreign enemies. One doesn’t have to solve all UFO reports to satisfy oneself they do not represent a threat.

Nobody was reporting bomb attacks, gunfire, chemical clouds, or any other type of deadly intrusion. Nobody indicated there were parachute drops of personnel or supplies in preparation of battle. If any compromising information was ever gathered by reconnaissance saucers, it apparently never was used. Given that few reports were at strategically important locations it was hard to read any kind of danger or even annoyance into saucer behaviour. The D.C. flap was an exception to the general innocuousness involving as it did apparent entry into restricted air space near the Capitol and the White House. But in retrospect, it wasn’t proof of overt hostility from any recognisable quarter. The radar blips behaved mindlessly and to no evident goal. UFO buffs may still defend the case as unexplained but, if accepted at face value, what does it say about alien motivation? Not much, from what we can tell.

It is a cliché of ufological rhetoric that if even one UFO report can be substantiated, the implications are staggering. Unless one regards the idea of extraterrestrial life as innately intoxicating, this ain’t necessarily so. What if the one case involves a pair of Ganymedean tourists taking a scenic route to a resort spa on Mercury? The practical consequences to humanity would be virtually nil. The philosophical implications that life exists elsewhere and likes to vacation are total yawns next to the average television soap opera. It would also hardly be in the same league as typical ufological concerns that aliens are casing out the planet for war and colonisation. That would be truly important and worthy of attention and immediate concern, but frankly most UFO data is more consistent with the Ganymedean tourists than War of the Worlds. If we threw aside all critical judgement and accepted as fact every claim ufologists have made for UFOs killing people over the years, the death toll would likely be less than that caused by pig attacks. There are lots more important things to worry about in life than the purported UFO menace.

Ufologists have worried about the dangers of UFOs and have asked both the public and government to share their concern. As we will see, they were particularly intense in the sixties and formed a distinct era in the developing history of ufology. It is axiomatic here that these concerns were fundamentally irrational and are identical in form to fantasies found in a certain phase of paranoid psychosis. Though this phase has been termed the pursuit stage by some recent workers, I prefer to follow Frosch’s lead and use the word 'hypochondriacal' to describe it; this being more widely evocative of the range of symptoms encountered.To fully appreciate the phase nature of these concerns it will be necessary to contrast it against earlier and later periods of UFO history. This history of the idea of the UFO menace will thus be divided into three sections. The points of division are arbitrary to some degree and are chosen to set off the general bunching of themes.


Friend or Foe? The Fifties

News articles from the first weeks of the UFO mystery do not paint the picture of a nation gripped by panic. Arnold’s saucers were a mystery and a fascination, not a source of imminent danger. The Air Force said it wasn’t anything of ours. The Russians said it wasn’t anything of theirs. So what were they? Take your pick: transmutations of atomic energy, beer bottle caps shot out of a blast furnace, secret experiments, tricks of the eye, mirages of planes, a State Dept. propaganda ploy to lure us into war, helium-filled rings to publicise a ring toss game, electrical flying fish from Venus. One reporter, apparently on a lark, contacted authorities to get a statement about the invasion. The official hadn’t heard of one and directed him to contact Orson Welles. Witnesses who came forward to corroborate the existence of the saucers expressed no fear. One lady spoke of having a creepy feeling at seeing a disc, but even that mild effect is exceptional.

In intelligence circles, rumours surfaced in July that saucers spewed out radioactive clouds that killed animal life and one scientist wrote to the FBI claiming the saucers might be radio-controlled germ bombs or A-bombs, but these apparently never became part of the public discourse. Some intelligence folks recommended in 1948 that the military be put on alert status, but cooler heads prevailed. In 1949, a researcher for Project Sign observed that no damage had yet been attributed to UFOs. One doctor proposed there might have been a link between a polio epidemic he was treating and the saucer problem, but authorities quietly discarded the idea. In 1950 a group of scientists calling themselves the Los Alamos Bird Watchers Association looked into the possibility there was a correlation between radiation and UFO overflights, but nothing conclusive came of it. (2)

The Mantell tragedy was a pivotal event in early UFO history in that it began to press the point that something serious was going on. Some rumours appeared in the papers that radioactivity was found at the crash site. They were denied, but the absence of a clear answer to the mysterious circumstances surrounding Mantell’s UFO sighting and subsequent plane crash was not so easy to dismiss. Interestingly, however, the concern among UF0 buffs was over the governments handling of the case and not about trigger-happy aliens. Keyhoe felt no belligerence was involved. They had merely acted in self defence. ‘Even the stoutest believers in the disks do not think any mass invasion from space is possible at this time.’(3) Gerald Heard noted that, until Mantell, saucers always succeeded in getting out of the way. ‘They have behaved with a deportment that shows not merely savoir-faire but real considerateness.’ He felt it was puzzling that they threw away the advantage of surprise if they truly posed a future threat. (4)

Frank Scully echoed the sentiment that there was no belligerence evident in alien observer actions. His fear was that Earth pilots might attack the saucers and prompt retaliation against not only the aggressors, but our whole planet. (5) Contactees offered contradictory confessions. Orfeo Angelucci’s aliens said Mantell’s death was unavoidable because he tried to overtake and capture a ‘remotely controlled’ disc. (6) George Adamski’s aliens regretted the ‘accident’ was caused by the power field effects of a large manned vessel. (7)

A Dr Anthony Mirarchi, in 1951, was widely quoted as suggesting saucers came from a potential enemy of the United States. ‘If they were launched by a foreign power then they could lead to a worse Pearl Harbor than we have ever experienced.’ He recommended considerable appropriations be allocated to conduct a complete investigation. The historic significance of this plea is open to argument. It may be the first expression of the hypochondriacal theme to be generally known, but Mirarchi is not heard from again in UFO circles and the call to action was likely ignored. The reference to Pearl Harbor, however, will recur a decade later in the writings of the Lorenzens. (8)

Sometime in early 1952 the subject of flying saucers was taken up by a lecturer at a Rotary Club meeting. He expressed the belief they heralded a better life. They represented a non-hostile invasion from which we might acquire an advanced science. (9) An informal survey of the opinions of saucer buffs uniformly got responses that saucers were not a menace. They: ‘come here in peace’, ‘don’t wish to destroy us’, had ‘outgrown war’, had ‘curiosity’, were afraid to contact us, or would eventually contact us and give us secrets. (10) The most telling fact that this was in fact the general attitude occurred in the wake of the Washington D.C. incidents. Al Chop, working at the Pentagon press desk, said people were writing letters and wiring the President urging the military not to shoot at the saucers. He asked newswriters to please emphasise to people that pilots in fact weren’t shooting at the saucers. (11)

Kenneth Arnold resurfaced around this time with his opinions that UFOs were harmless and probably a living, thinking animal of the stratosphere. (12) The Coming of the Saucers, the book he co-authored with Ray Palmer, avoided any final conclusions about flying saucers. They weren’t American or Russian or Spanish or Argentine and they saw no substance to claims of crashed saucers bearing little men from other planets. They presently hoped that the truth could in time be sifted from the fanciful. All they knew was that flying saucers may be the ‘most vitally important fact of our time!’ (13)

In 1953 Desmond Leslie and George Adamski played ventriloquist to the stars with their contact tale Flying Saucers Have Landed. Their message included the sentiment that these people from other planets are our friends and wish to ensure the safety and balance of the other planets in our system. They could take powerful action against us, not with weapons, but by manipulating ‘the natural forces of the universe’. As they are here among us, let’s be wise enough to learn from them. (14)

Keyhoe’s book Flying Saucers from Outer Space (1953) is a first major step into the hypochondriacal mindset. In it, Keyhoe argues with some friends about the implications of various saucer reports. One of them is a jet pilot named Jim Riordan who presents a very spirited defence of his belief the aliens are hostile. Repeated surveillance of certain strategic sites leads him to believe ‘It looks as if they are getting ready for an attack … measuring us for a knockout.’ He points to an odd case of a red spray bomb which exploded at Albuquerque which he suggests had to be a ranging test for a future attack. Keyhoe offers the self-admittedly thin suggestion it is only a back-up plan in case we don’t listen to reason.

Keyhoe, himself, insisted there was no proof of hostility – ‘at least an even chance they mean us no harm’. The long reconnaissance of earth was ‘possibly nearing its climax’ – ‘the final act of the saucer drama’. Instead of an all-out attack, he preferred to believe ‘the final operation may be entirely peaceful. Herrmann Oberth, the father of the V-2 rocket, offered his opinions about the saucers in a frequently quoted 1954 article. “They obviously have not come as invaders, but I believe their present mission may be one of scientific investigation.’ He optimistically suggested the ‘ultimate result might be the disclosure of secrets otherwise we might not lay bare for a hundred thousand years’. (16)

Harold Wilkins, of Britain, was notably ambivalent about the hazards of saucers in Flying Saucers on the Attack. On one page he deduces they are ‘unmistakably hostile’ because of evidence of ‘arson on quite a large and dangerous scale’. Later he backpedals and thinks it may just be a warning. He speaks of death rays wielded by the aeroforms, but allows it could have been prompted by earth fliers menacing them. He quotes contactees to the effect that the aliens are not hostile, but notes they do not desire close contact. They perhaps see in us, Wilkins suggests, ‘hooligan children’ deserving to be ‘whipped with a rod of scorpions’. Elsewhere he wonders if they are drawn here to profit from mineral deposits on our planet. (17)

His sequel Flying Saucers Uncensored is less ambivalent and solidly in the category of hypochondria. He warns it is folly for any sane man to do more than quietly investigate given that their ethics are unlikely to be ours. Even so, he speculates on the aggressive tactics a hostile cosmic power might employ and he asserts seeing ‘a most disturbing pattern has been slowly built up’. The issue of death rays reasserts itself and he speaks of a ‘death ceiling’, in essence a blockade, having been instituted to prevent us from future flights to the moon and beyond. Mysterious experiments are performed which cause tears in everybody in an area in Singapore. Horses are sterilised by atomic radiation. Humans are abducted for unknown ends, but in pursuing their overlordship of the earth, Wilkins suggests they would not need our bodies. It is probably annihilation of our souls they seek.

They might create mutations of humans that are devoid of divine creativity and dissatisfaction. ‘Creative art and pure science, the godlike in man, would die out.’ They might be throwing ‘a cosmic monkey wrench into our terrestrial wheels’ to derail our use of atomic weaponry and supersonic aircraft. Activity along the Martian canals, he worries, might indicate they are contemplating an invasion of earth. Dangerous or not, Wilkins is certain they have conducted a pole-to-pole survey of our world. We can only ‘watch, wait, collate, and synthesise’. (18)

The concern that flying saucers were hostile started to take hold of Keyhoe in his 1955 work The Flying Saucer Conspiracy. He began to collect phenomena that could be interpreted as alien attacks. A Walesville plane crash indicates the use of heat beams. Skyquakes indicate the use of focused sound waves. A hole in a billboard is evidence of a missile from outer space. The Seattle windshield pitting epidemic is regarded as a retaliation for Earth space activities. The disappearance of Flight 19 becomes evidence that aliens are abducting humans. Keyhoe admits the absence of an all-out takeover is a problem he doesn’t have an answer for. His friend Redell gets the last word and proposes the disappearances are to acquire people who can teach them our language before they make contact. (19)

Morris Jessup is equally ambivalent. He sees in them exploratory missions which sometimes engage in experiment and the capture of specimens. Though they catch planes and cause occasional storms and deluges, he still thinks we shouldn’t be astonished if it turns out that space dwellers are preparing to prevent fear-stricken human beings from blowing up another planet. (20)

Waveney Girvan felt more evidence would exist if saucers truly represented hostile invasion. People were fearing the saucers because they forced a new dimension in our thinking. They offend the climate of our age, but he felt they brightened it up a bit as well. The large proportion of reports proved the visitors were peaceful and friendly and far from hostile. (21)

One ufologist around this time offered the revelation that the craft were not only friendly, they were helping clear our environment of radiation released in atomic bomb blasts. (22) It turns out this had been advanced in contactee circles, specifically Mark Probert’s Inner Circle, for some time. (23) There is even a news article dating back to the Flying Saucer Flap of 1947 in which a San Francisco zany claimed astral contact with the Dhyanis, rulers of creation, who were dropping ‘Metaboblons’ into our atmosphere to counteract atomic radiation. (24)

Aimé Michel in The Truth About Flying Saucers advanced contradictory opinions about the nature of the flying saucer problem. In one place he says it is essential we find out if they are real or an illusion. If real, a sword of Damocles hangs over our head – “

the destiny of our planet is assuredly at stake’. Later, he proclaims ‘their inoffensive nature is a certainty. If we are being visited, it is by beings whose courtesy and tact need no further demonstration. We could learn from them, in addition to their knowledge, a lesson in respect for others. With all the power at their disposal, they have never once attempted to interfere in our affairs.” He goes on to suggest that they are fearful of the murderous tendencies evident in all our great enterprises. Michel felt the American investigations had failed and proved nothing. Further investigation, a little more human effort, would make the difference. ‘The mystery tried.’ (25)

His sequel, Flying Saucers and the Straight-Line Mystery, advanced orthoteny as a mortal blow to the idea that saucers were a collective psychopathology. The threads provided by orthoteny now meant there was no question a sword of Damocles had been hanging over our heads. Why it had not fallen yet was unexplained. Their landing would lead to the extinction of mankind because of our inferior ethics. (26)

How very different this is from the conclusion of Bryant and Helen Reeve’s contactee study Flying Saucer Pilgrimage. The aliens are regarded as Guardians who will never offer coercion or assistance, but are servants of the Light, masters of energy, and are ‘balanced’ beings. While ill-intentioned beings exist, the Guardians prevent their passage here. The overall picture is deemed ‘very progressive and inspiring’. (27)

Leonard Stringfield’s Saucer Post 3-0 Blue (1957) is a portrait of uncertainty. In a November 1955 article, he had offered the case for interplanetary war. UFOs seem to behave menacingly in certain cases, yet a superior culture could clearly be capable of planeticide and mass harm. Acts of UFO violence exist, but hostility seems highly debatable. Stringfield’s original title for the book was to be From Saucers to Ulcers. It captures the sense of the book beautifully. (28)

Gray Barker’s They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers added to the growing sense that malevolence is associated with UFO phenomena. These things may mean to do us harm and may or may not be shooting at us with rays from underground. This doesn’t alarm him too greatly since he feels we are bound to find some defence against it. What disturbs him is that some agency is trying to prevent us from learning about their existence and might come knocking at his door. (29) An acquaintance with the name T. James was suggesting to him aliens might be ‘downright evil’. (30)

Two hold-outs against the trend to see aliens as troublesome were Max B. Miller and Gavin Gibbons. Miller was still in the sway of the contactee faction and felt they conveyed ‘fraternal friendship and understanding’. Their effects were ‘positive and constructive’. (31) Gibbons was more influenced by early Keyhoe. ‘They are not hostile’, he affirms. He fully expected them to land en masse in the near future based on patterns of activity he had chronicled. ‘They will certainly bring benefits’, he predicts. ‘We must, all of us, welcome these beings who are taking so much trouble to bring the news of a good life to this planet: (32)

Reviewing the UFO myth in 1958, Jung noted the contradictory strands developing in it. Some held superior wisdom would save humanity, but aliens were carrying people off, such as Flight 19, according to others. Some affirm their inoffensiveness, but that harmlessness was ‘recently doubted’. To Jung, the flights didn’t appear to be based on any recognisable system. If anything, they were like tourists unsystematically viewing the landscape. (33)

I wonder what Jung would have made of Robert Dickhoff’s Homecoming of the Martians. The book is obscure and perhaps deservedly so from the standpoint of serious, so-called, ufology. Its news-clipping file is an interesting cross-section of what people in the fifties would have been exposed to. The commentary, though, makes it a treasure. According to Dickhoff’s conscious mythology, ‘Germ-invaders’ swept down from space in the past and ‘begot life or a parody thereof in a variety of forms that included the Ape-Men mentalities. Aghartan teachers have through the centuries been rendering them a harmless and controlled reality. In the present, a super-brain a.k.a God-Brain-Head, produced by manipulated biological engineering, exists for which robot-crews and scientists with gangster throwback mentalities travel through space. They spacenap earthlings and gather blood for the Brain’s nourishment. It captures almost nakedly the unconscious dynamics of the emerging hypochondriacal strain of UFO paranoia. (34)

By the end of the decade, Keyhoe is operating operating fully in the hypochondriacal mode. The creation of NICAP was directed to the end of proving wrong the Air Force’s diagnosis of UFOs being no threat. Delmar Fahrney, at NICAP’s creation, stated there was ‘an urgent need to know the facts’. (35) To that end they would pester the Air Force for release of all their files and call for Congressional hearings that would acknowledge the reality of the flying saucer problem. Keyhoe wanted an all-out drive to communicate with the aliens to convince them we wouldn’t try to invade other worlds. The Congress would be obliged to force a crash programme for our defence against aliens. (36)

That the Air Force refused to release their files is a fact. Ruppelt said they planned to ignore NICAP because they knew their independent review would nitpick every case. If the bird, balloon or plane hadn’t been caught and a signed confession wrung out, they would call it a spaceship. (37) They knew from earlier experiences what to expect:

“…many of the inquiries came from saucer screw-balls and these people are like a hypochondriac at the doctor’s; nothing will make them believe the diagnosis unless it is what they came to hear. And there are plenty of saucer screwballs. One officer summed it up neatly when he told me, “It isn’t the UFOs; that give us the trouble, it’s the people”‘


  1. From the film Unidentified Flying Objects: The True Story of Flying Saucers’, United Artists, 1956.
  2. GROSS, Loren E., UFOs: A History, Arcturus Book Service, 1982, etc.
  3. KEYHOE, Donald E., ‘Flying Saucers are Real’, True, January 1950. Reprinted in GIRARD, Robert, An Early UFO Scrapbook, Arcturus Book Service, 1989, 4-9.
  4. HEARD, Gerald, The Riddle of the Flying Saucers, Harper, 1951.
  5. SCULLY, Frank, Behind the Flying Saucers, Henry Holt, 1950,149-50.
  6. ANGELUCCI, Orfeo M., The Secret of the Saucers, Amherst, 1955,12.
  7. ADAMSKI, G., Inside the Space Ships, Abelard-Schuman,1955, 176-7.
  8. GROSS, History, 1951, 18.
  9. GROSS, History, 1952, Jan-May, 72.
  10. BENDER, Albert K., Space Review – A Complete File, Saucerian Books, 1962, 1, #1, 6; 2, #1, 6; 2, #2, 10.
  11. GROSS, History, 1952, August, 56.
  12. Ibid., 31.
  13. ARNOLD, Kenneth and PALMER, Raymond, The Coming of the Saucers, Amherst, 1952.
  14. LESLIE, Desmond and ADAMSKI, George, Flying Saucers Have Landed, British Book Centre, 1953, 221-2.
  15. KEYHOE, Donald, Flying Saucers From Outer Space, Henry Holt, 1953, Chapter XII, ‘Friends or Foes’, 230-1, 250-
  16. FLAMMONDE, Paris, The Age of Flying Saucers, Hawthorne, 1971, 73.
  17. WILKINS, Harold T., Flying Saucers on the Attack, Ace, 1967 (1954), 64-5, 70, 83, 45, 38, 107.
  18. WILKINS, Harold T., Flying Saucers Un-censored, Pyramid, 1967 (1955), 169, 140-3, 61, 82, 19, 185, 109, 170.
  19. KEYHOE, Donald, Flying Saucer Conspiracy, Fieldcrest, 1955.
  20. JESSUP, Morris K., The Case for the UFO, Varo Edition Facsimile, Saucerian, 1973, 33-4, 55, 91, 172.
  21. GIRVAN, Waveney, Flying Saucers and Common Sense, Citadel, 1955, 24, 74.
  22. MOSELEY, James W., ‘The Solution to the Flying Saucer Mystery’, Saucer News, 3, 39 4 (18), June-July 1956, 3-7.
  23. STRINGFlEID, Leonard, Inside Saucer Post 3-0 Blue, Moeller, 1957, 57.
  24. BLOECHER, Ted. Report on the UFO Wave of 1947, author, 1967, 1-12.
  25. MICHEL, Aimé. The Truth About Flying Saucers, Pyramid, 1967 (1956), 10, 240-1, 228.
  26. MICHEL, Aimé. Flying Saucers and the Straight-Line Mystery, Criterion, 224-8.
  27. REEVE, Bryant and Helen, Flying Saucer Pilgrimage, Amherst, 1957.
  28. STRINGFlELD, op. cit., 27, 90, 5.
  29. BARKER, Gray, They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers, University, 1956, 246.
  30. BARKER, Gray, Gray Barker at Giant Rock, Saucerian, 1976, 9.
  31. MILLER, Max B. Flying Saucers: Fact or Fiction, Trend,1958.
  32. GIBBONS, Gavin. The Coming of the Space Ships, Citadel, 1958, 93-5.
  33. JUNG, C. G. Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky, Princeton, 1978, 15-6.
  34. DICKHOFF, Robert E., The Homecoming of the Martians, Health Research, 1964 (1958), 8, 11, 13.
  35. RUPPELT, Edward J. The Report on UFOs, Doubleday, 1956, 251.
  36. KEYHOE, Donald. Flying Saucers: Top Secret, Putnam, 1960, 281-3. 937.
  37. RUPPELT, op. cit., 252.