What's Up Doc? Part Two: Swinging Through the Sixties

Martin Kottmeyer
Magonia 45, March 1993

The sixties were a manic time for UFO belief. Flying saucers were so real only the most bigoted sceptic could deny advance metallic piloted machines were flying around – a potential threat to the security of the world. Everyone felt something had to be done. Most of all the authorities should openly admit the reality of the problem

Book titles convey some of the mood of the period: Flying Saucers – The Startling Evidence of the Invasion from Outer Space; Flying Saucers are Hostile; Flying Saucer Invasion – Target Earth; Flying Saucers – Serious Business; The Real UFO Invasion; The Terror Above Us. Wilkins’ Flying Saucers on the Attack is reprinted with a teaser asking: ‘Are they Friendly Visitors from Outer Space or INVADERS Planning Conquest?’ The teaser on Flying Saucers Uncensored asks: ‘Is there a cosmic battle plan – aimed at Earth?’ ‘Exclusive! First News of America’s Most Terrifying UFO Invasion!’ was promised by The Official Guide to UFOs. The actual content was often less dramatic than advertised, but that hardly mattered. The conviction of urgency transcended the material gathered to justify the belief in, to use the 1 April Life article’s title, a ‘Well-Witnessed Invasion by Something’. (1

Throughout the first half of the decade Keyhoe’s NICAP pressed for Congressional hearings on the UFO problem by such tactics as letter-writing campaigns. The Air Force warned congressmen that such hearings would only dignify the problem and cause more publicity, thus adding to the problem. At one point, NICAP published a book called The UFO Evidence and sent copies to congressmen to demonstrate their case that UFOs were in fact real and posed a danger to the fabric of society. The danger included an unprepared public being caught up in a widespread panic if an external danger was suddenly imposed. A sudden confrontation with extraterrestrials could have disastrous results, they warned. Among them, ‘catastrophic results to morale’. (2)

While NICAP found some support for their position in Congress, nothing happened till the infamous swamp gas fiasco caused a loss of credibility in the Air Force’s handling of the UFO problem. On 5 April 1966 Congress held open hearings. This led to the creation of the Condon committee to undertake a new investigation – in essence, to get a second opinion of the Air Force’s diagnosis. Keyhoe rejoiced, calling it ‘the most significant development in the history of UFO investigation’. (3) Condon confirmed the Air Force’s diagnosis
Our general conclusion is that nothing has come from the study of UFOs in the past 21 years that has added to scientific knowledge. Careful consideration of the record as it is available to us leads us to conclude that further extensive study of UFOs probably can not be justified in the expectation that science will be advanced thereby.’ (4)

We know of no reason to question the finding of the Air Force that the whole class so far considered does not pose a defence problem.’ (5) ‘The subject of UFOs has been widely misrepresented to the public by a small number of individuals who have given sensationalised presentations in writings and public lectures. So far as we can judge, not many people have been misled by such irresponsible behaviour, but whatever effect there has been has been bad. (6)
Are then, all of these reporters of UFOs truly sick? If so, what is the sickness? Are these people all affected by some strange “virus” that does not attack “sensible” people? What a strange sickness this must be, attacking people in all walks of life, regardless of training or vocation, and making them, for a very limited period of time – only minutes sometimes – behave in a strange way and see things that are belied by the reliable and stable manner and actions they exhibit in the rest of their lives… Is there a philosopher in the house?’ (12)

Gordon Creighton offered the longest exposition of this metaphor in The Humanoids (1969)
One thing at least is certain. These stories of alleged meetings with denizens of other worlds or realms or levels of existence constitute a fascinating social, psychological – and possibly also a parapsychological enigma. And surely an enigma of some urgency, for if the growing numbers of people all over our planet who claim these experiences are indeed hallucinated, or, as we are confidently told, suffering from the stresses and strains of the Nuclear Age, then it is as plain as a pikestaff that they are in grave need of psychological study and medical attention. If a brand new psychosis is loose amongst us, then, instead of wasting so much time on why we hate our fathers and love our mothers, our mental experts and psychologists ought to have been in there right from the start, studying and combating this new plague since its outbreak nearly twenty years ago! Valuable time has been lost. By now, they might have come to important conclusions, or even licked the malady!’ (13)
Even rendered in facetious terms the imperative quality of the UFO problem is retained in the overwrought choice of words like plague and grave need. Aime Michel also utilised the disease metaphor in suggesting the aliens ‘dominate us only to the degree that the microbe dominates us when we are ill’. (14)

UFOs Over the Americas (1968) is more suffused with confusion than fear. They note a new phase of UFO activity involving car chases. A new observation is forwarded that UFOs show a proclivity to be sighted near cemeteries. They speculate this is just their way to get to the bottom of what funeral processions are. They criticise the scientific community for holding the position that UFOs show ‘no intelligent pattern of behaviour; they zip hither and yon but don’t seem to be going anywhere’. Yet elsewhere they observe the extraterrestrials’ motivations and overall purpose are so well-concealed as to suggest a deliberate attempt to confuse’. They call for a UN sponsored agency to look into the matter. Why isn’t clear since they predict elsewhere that UFOs would manifest so constantly that ‘it should be evident before the end of 1968 just what UFOs are’. (15

Alas, the 1969 volume UFOs – The Whole Story did not proclaim what that evident identity was. The concern about invasion gives way to the assumption of aloofness. The stoppage of vehicles is downgraded from weapons-testing activity to a means of studying humans at a leisurely pace. For the Lorenzens, the hypochondriacal themes begin to vanish in favour of discussions of UFO politics and ufonauts being time-travellers. (16)

The writings of Frank Edwards were probably the best-selling books of the sixties. Edwards is sometimes dismissed as a journalist and not a ufologist, in part because of his obvious errors. The substance of the books, however, is heavily indebted to Keyhoe and NICAP. The flyleaf of Flying Saucers – Serious Business is highly notable for the flying saucer health warning presented on it. For me, it epitomises the hypochondriacal spirit of the times:

Near approaches of Unidentified Flying Objects can be harmful to human beings. Do not stand under a UFO that is hovering at low altitude. Do not touch or attempt to touch a UFO that has landed. In either case, the safe thing to do is get away from there quickly and let the military take over. There is a possibility of radiation danger, and there are known cases in which persons have been burned by rays emanating from UFOs. Details on these cases are included in this book. 

It is fascinating to note that nearly a decade later, Allan Hendry encountered a UFO witness who still had this warning not to stand under UFOs posted in his memory. (56) Edwards does affirm inside the reality of cases involving ‘eye damage, burns, radioactivity, partial or temporary paralysis, and various types of physiological disturbances’. He talks of heat waves and stunrays, and the relationship between UFOs and blackouts is explored at length. ‘They have shown the ability – and sometimes the apparent inclination to interfere with or prevent the functioning of our electrical and electronic systems.’ Despite these hints of malevolence, Edwards proclaims near the end of the book that contact will be ‘the greatest experience of the human race’. (17)

The sequel Flying Saucers – Here and Now was spawned by the incredible increase of saucer sightings and saucer interest in the middle of the decade. Writings that, in cooler times, would have stimulated half a dozen letters, now filled bags at magazine offices. Besides chronicling the rush of events unfolding, the book includes James McDonald’s call for a full-scale Congressional investigation. Edwards maintains UFOs are not hostile, but warns contact will have tremendous impact theologically, psychologically, and sociologically. And that contact is described as imminent. (18

George Fawcett, in a February 1965 article, surveyed UFO cases for repetitive features. Among his catalogue of commonalities was the phenomenon of pursuit, cases of increased background radiation, cases of electrical shock, burns, dimming of vision, blackouts, temporary paralysis, and hostile acts. (19) In an April 1968 article, Fawcett cites dozens of UFO chases, a half-dozen deaths attributed to close encounters, and numerous instances of electromagnetic interference with machinery. He laments that it ‘may already be too late’ for our government to act on the UFO problem. Their crossing of international boundaries, at the simplest level of concern, could result in ‘an accidental World War III by mistake’. He adds his voice to the chorus of those calling for verification of UFO reality:
The growing UFO problem worldwide must be solved in 1968 or the explosive situation of UFOs may easily get out of our control and reap a “real” disaster beyond all imagination. A worldwide probe of this problem is long overdue and it should be handled by the world nations through the United Nations.
This theme turns up in several variations during the Roush Congressional hearings on 29 July 1968. James McDonald wanted a pluralistic approach employing NASA, NSA, ONR, and even the Federal Power Commission – the last to take up the subject of blackouts. J. Allen Hynek wanted Congress to establish a UFO Scientific Board of Inquiry. James A. Harder wanted a multiple-faceted approach, preferably at several institutions simultaneously. Robert M. Baker wanted a well-funded programme with the highest possible standards. Donald Menzel, ever the sceptic, thought the time and money would be completely wasted in such studies. (39)

Towards the end of 1968 the Rand Document recommended a central collection agency with analysis given over to specialists. (40) The last significant expression of this motif appears in 1973 in James M. McCampbell’s book Ufology. He recommended setting up a two-phased research effort. Phase 1, price-tagged at $4 million, would ‘confirm absolutely the existence of UFOs in scientific terms and identify any advanced technologies’. Phase 2 would define the new technology and its applications and was price tagged in the $75 million to $100 million range. And to think, some people complained the Condon commission wasted half a million. (40)

The concern over invasion spawned some spectacular notions in Raymond A. Palmer’s The Real UFO Invasion (1967). Palmer offers evidence that the US was preparing for war with weapons so titanic they couldn’t have been intended for a mere international war. That war wasn’t in the future either. Palmer points to nuclear blasts in Project Argus as being against a satellite not made by earth-men. (41)

Gordon Lore’s Strange Effects from UFOs: A Special NICAP Report (1969), Robert Loftin’s Identified Flying Saucers (1968) and Otto Binder’s What We Really Know About Flying Saucers (1967) deserve brief mention for their treatments of physiological effects from saucers: eye injuries, radiation burns, paralyses, cases of shock, and mysterious blows to the body. A particularly odd and problematic case could be made for including Vincent Gaddis’s Mysterious Lights and Fires (1967) since it makes an effort to link UFOs to spontaneous human combustion. Unforgettable is Gaddis’s question, ‘Are We Walking Atom Bombs?’ (42)

Passing references should perhaps be given to John Keel’s expression of alarm over the 1966 Wave and Robert Loftin’s speaking of the UFO threat as something we better get the truth to ‘before it is too late’. (43) I also can’t resist recalling a number of unusual articles from the period like Otto Binder’s which fretted over the number of deaths that had taken place in the UFO field and Timothy Green Beckley’s article for Beyond which acclaimed ‘UFOs Use High-Tension Lines for Recharging’. (44) Beyond was a haven for weird articles about aliens which probe brains, paralyse observers, and destroy dogs in ghastly manners. One relevant here was James Welling’s ‘Does UFO Radiation cause Phoenix, Arizona Residents to be Afflicted with Strange Malady – Why does Press Not Report Epidemic of Electronic Poisoning’. (45) The significance of these items is probably historically slight, but they add interesting flourishes to the portrait of the times.

It is, of course, true ufologists are a heterogeneous bunch and not everyone displayed hypochondriacal themes or shared the same degree of concern. Charles Bowen in The Humanoids (1969) speaks of the pointlessness of humanoid behaviour and thinks of it all as ‘diversionary play to give people a giggle’. In this same volume Donald Hanlon surveys the range of occupant behaviour and concludes that even with allowance made for their use of immobilisation weapons like knockout vapour, they do comparatively little harm. Gordon Creighton’s ‘vast surreal nightmare’ wasn’t apparent to all. (46)

The issue of hostility was complicated by a paradoxically simple observation. Why didn’t they simply wipe us out years ago? Otto Binder, Cleary-Baker, Mervyn Paul, among others rejected it on that account. (47) John Keel’s Operation Trojan Horse contains a call for an independent, objective investigation but indicates it should be unhampered by the petty UFO cultists and laments no suitable psychiatric programme had been instituted to take care of those who are going insane or attempting suicide. The ufonauts don’t care about us and mischievously confuse us with behaviours ranging from complete hostility to the rescuing of lives. (48)

Such differences as these that existed fail to even hint at their being any problems in characterising this period as overwhelmingly dominated by the mindset of hypochondria. By the time of the release of the Condon report in January 1969 the UFO mania of the mid-sixties had cooled already of its own accord. Some felt it represented the end of the saucer era, but it was just a pause. If it satisfied any ufologist enough to drop out, they left no record of their concession. Even before it was finished, Condon was vilified. As texts on hypochondria observe, doctors are trained to deal in uncovering the physical causes of complaints and are ill-equipped to handle cases rooted in emotional difficulties.

After the initial enthusiasm gives way to bitter recriminations and scapegoating at the negative findings, the doctor will be left demoralised at the paradoxical reaction. There’s nothing there to worry about, shouldn’t they be relieved? The hypochondriac is often in search of a special relationship with the doctor. (49) It has been claimed that James McDonald first tried to cultivate a relationship with Condon at the beginning of the project, but actively orchestrated the campaign of publicity around the ‘trick’ memorandum penned by Low. (50)

David Saunders was fired over this affair, ostensibly for alleged ‘incompetence’, though nobody believes that was the real reason. He wrote a book about the Condon committee telling his side of things. He presents the results of a factor analysis of some questionnaires which yielded a taxonomy of UFO belief. It was his opinion that Condon must belong to the group he termed ‘Prejudiced’ based on remarks he had made subsequent to the writing of the report.

Digging up the paper showing how this taxonomy was constructed renders this judgement invalid. If one takes a close look at the numbers one will find the people he termed prejudiced were getting high scores for agreeing with the statements ‘Some flying saucers have tried to communicate with us’ and ‘People have seen spaceships that did not come from this planet’, and disagreeing with the statement ‘There is no government secrecy about UFOs’. These are manifestly not the positions of Condon.

The ‘Prejudiced’ unequivocally were believers in extraterrestrial visitations and government secrecy. Saunders termed this group prejudiced because of the high score of agreement with the statement ‘Science has established that Negro people are not as intelligent as white people’. (51) This finding brings Saunders in line with a study of 259 NICAP members by Dr. Leo Sprinkle that uncovered significantly higher levels of dogmatism and closed-mindedness among ufologists than a control group of psychologists and guidance counsellors. This also fits in with other studies linking prejudice to paranoia and superstitious beliefs to closed minds. (52)

  1. CLARK, Jerome, ‘UFOs: Mystery or Movement’, Flying Saucers, August 1965, 17-20. LORENZEN, Coral, UFOs over the Americas, Signet, 1968, 217.
  2. HALL, Richard (ed.), The UFO Evidence, NICAP, 1964, 179.
  3. JACOBS, David, The UFO Controversy in America, Signet, 1976, 186.
  4. GILLMOR, Daniel S. (ed.), Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects, Bantam, 1969, 186
  5. Ibid., 5.
  6. 44. Ibid.
  7. Ibid., 5.48.
  8. LORENZEN, Coral E., Flying Saucers: The Startling Evidence of the Invasion from Outer Space, Signet, 1966, 40, 55, 133, 199, 151, 153, 261, 273, 276, 278.
  9. ROTHOVIUS, Andrew, ‘Analogies of the Propagation Waves of the Great Fear in France 1789 and the Airship Flap in Ohio 1897′, Pursuit, Winter 1978. BROOKESMITH, Peter, The Alien World, Black Cat, 1988, 54-60.
  10. STABLEFORD, Brian, Scientific Romance in Britain 1890-1950, St. Martin’s, 1985, 30-4. SANDELL, Roger, ‘The Airship and Other Panics’, MUFOB, NS 12, Autumn 1978, 12-13.
  11. LORENZEN, Coral and Jim, Flying Saucer Occupants, Signet, 1967, 207.
  12. HYNEK, J. Allen, ‘The UFO Gap’, Playboy, December 1967, 144-6, 267-71.
  13. HYNEK, J. Allen, The UFO Experience, Ballantine,1974, 159-x1.
  14. BOWEN, Charles, The Humanoids, H. Regnery, 1969, 84-5.
  15. Ibid., 250.
  16. LORENZEN, Jim and Coral, UFOs Over the Americas, Signet, 1968, 161-2, 199, 86, 200, 216.
  17. LORENZEN, Coral, UFOs – The Whole Story, Signet, 1969,164-5.
  18. EDWARDS, Frank, Flying Saucers: Serious Business, Bantam, 1967, HENDRY, Allan, The UFO Handbook, Doubleday, 1979, 104-5.
  19. EDWARDS, op.cit.
  20. EDWARDS, Frank, Flying Saucers: Here and Now, Bantam, 1968, 148, 159.
  21. FAWCETT, George, ‘UFO Repetitions’, Flying Saucers, February 1965.
  22. FAWCETT, George, ‘Flying Saucers: Explosive Situation for 1968′, Flying Saucers, April 1968, 22-3.
  23. VALLEE, Jacques, Anatomy of a Phenomenon, Ace, 1965, 244-5. Compare last line of quote to ‘If it’s true the stars will never again seem the same’ which appears in Keyhoe’s The Flying Saucers are Real (Fawcett, 1950, 66). Such sentiments might be termed ‘trema’, the delusional mood that something strange is going on that appears in what Arthur M. Freman terms the premonition stage of paranoia in ‘Persecutory Delusions: A Cybernetic Model’ (American Journal of Psychiatry, 132, 10 October 1975, 1038-44).
  24. VALLEE, Jacques, Challenge to Science, Ballantine, 1974, 210, 220-4.
  25. VALLEE, Jacques, Passport to Magonia, Henry Regnery, 1969, 161, 163.
  26. STEIGER. Brad, Strangers from the Skies, Award, 1966, 143.
  27. Ibid., 132.
  28. STEIGER, Brad, Flying Saucers are Hostile, Award, 1967, 10-11.
  29. Ibid., 17-19.
  30. STEIGER, Strangers, 43.
  31. STEIGER, Hostile, 159.
  32. FULLER, John G., Incident at Exeter, G. P. Putnam, 1966, 251.
  33. FULLER, John G., Aliens in the Skies, Putnam, 1969, 38, 88, 187-8.
  34. FULLER,John G., Interrupted Journey, Dell, 1966.75. HYNEK, Playboy. npP cit.76. Ibid.
  35. CLARK, Jerome. ‘Why UFOs are Hostile’, Flying Saucer Review, 13, n6, Nov-Gee 1967, 18-20
  36. LOFTIN, Robert, Identified Flying Objects, McKay, 1968, 144.
  37. FULLER, Skies, op. cit., 84, 88, 56, 167, 205.
  38. McCAMPBELL, James M., Ufology, Celestial Arts, 1976, 162-65.
  39. PALMER, Raymond A., The Real UFO Invasion, Greenleaf Classics, 1967, 38, 43, 49, 59.
  40. GADDIS, Vincent H., Mysterious Lights and Fires, Dell, 1968, 233.
  41. LOFTIN, op. cit. vi.
  42. BINDER, Otto, ‘Liquidation of the UFO Investigators!’, Saga’s Special UFO Report, Volume II, 1971, 12-15, 69-72. Beyond, 1, #3, November 1968.
  43. Beyond, 2, #8, April 1969, 22-34.
  44. BOWEN, Humanoids, op. cit., 248, 185, 88.
  45. SHUTTLEWOOD, Arthur, The Warminster Mystery, Tandem, 1976, 83, 54.
  46. KEEL, John, Why UFOs?, Manor, 1976, 284-6, 205.
  47. BAUER, Susan, Hypochondria: Woeful Imaginations, University of California Press 1990.
  48. KLASS, Philip J., ‘The Condon UFO Study: A Trick or a Conspiracy?’, Skeptical Inquirer, 10, 04, Summer 1986, 328-41.
  49. SAUNDERS, David R. and NARKINS, R. Roger, UFOs? Yes!, Signet, 1968, 221-2. 225.
  50. SAUNDERS, O. R., ‘Factor Analysis of UFO-related Attitudes’, Perceptual and Motor Skills, 27, 1968, 1207-18.
  51. SAUNDERS, O.R. and VAN ARSDALE, Peter, ‘Points of View about UFOs: A Multidimensional Scaling Study’, Perceptual and Motor Skills. 27, 1968, 1219-38.
  52. ALLPORT, Gordon W.. The Nature of Prejudice, Anchor, 1958. ROKEACH, Milton, The Open and Closed Mind, Basic, 1960.