Breaking the Ground: Donald Keyhoe’s The Flying Saucers are Real

If it’s not too bizarre a claim to make in the context of a cultural field as marginal and questionable, in ufology Donald Keyhoe is a monumental figure. No history of the UFO can overlook his contributions as a researcher and activist, as director of the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) and one of the first and most forceful figures to press for Congressional hearings into the question of the UFO, arguably inaugurating similar, continuing efforts on the part of today’s Disclosure movement. What’s telling, either about the UFO as such or Keyhoe’s insight into the phenomenon, is the the way his original conclusions set forth in his article for True Magazine “The Flying Saucers are Real” and his book of the same title, both published in 1950, continue to set the ufological agenda.

In line with the USAF’s own reasoning, Keyhoe posited what is now known as the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis (ETH), that UFOs are spaceships of interplanetary origin. Keyhoe and the Air Force arrived at this conclusion by a process of elimination. Some of the reported sightings could not be explained away as misidentifications or hoaxes; neither the American military nor any of its allies or enemies possessed the aeronautical technology to produce aeroforms with the flight characteristics of the disks, nor did it make sense that if the disks were experimental aircraft that they would be tested in ways that might allow this new weapon to be observed or even captured or that threatened civilian life and limb and that actually resulted in the death of one airman, Thomas Mantell; therefore, since no conventional, earthly explanation existed to explain these uncanny flying machines, they were most likely of extraterrestrial origin. This argument in support of the ETH is repeated to this day.

The ETH found further support and elaboration in matching the patterns of reported sightings to speculations about how humankind might explore inhabited planets in the future with the result that the way the story of the flying disks had developed to this point mirrored the way human beings would proceed with their own explorations. This projection of an imagined human future behaviour also extended to the disks’ extraterrestrial origin:  the pilots’ technology must be in advance of our own, given what their ships can do and how far they must have traveled to have reached earth from some distant planet if not, as was thought more likely, star. That is, their intelligence is an anthropomorphic one, that, like our own, proceeded along a path of tool-using, technological development. At work here is a fateful generalization and failure of imagination that posits human intelligence as singular and archetypal and the radically contingent history of industrial civilization as typical of intelligent beings. Such a projection of the “human form divine” finds its culmination in Keyhoe’s finding himself unable to picture the extraterrestrials as anything other than anthropomorphic, because of

the stubborn feeling that they would resemble man. That came, of course, from an inborn feeling of man’s superiority over all living things. It carried over into the feeling that any thinking, intelligent being, whether on Mars or Wolf 359’s planets, should have evolved in the same form. (The Flying Saucers are Real, 136)

These anthropocentric and technocentric prejudices remain as operative in much of the UFO imaginary as they go unremarked.

An equally persistent set of concerns orbits the potentially disruptive consequences of the revelation of the reality of extraterrestrial, technologically advanced civilizations having appeared in our skies. Keyhoe mulling this matter over with his editor as they prepare to publish his article for True Magazine reflects that “public acceptance of intelligent life on other planets would affect almost every phase of our existence—business, defense planning, philosophy, even religions” (139), a supposition that inspires the 300+ pages of Richard M. Dolan’s and Bryce Zabel’s 2012 book A.D. After Disclosure:  When the Government Finally Reveals the Truth About Alien Contact.https _visibleprocrastinations.files.wordpress.com_2014_10_mars

More acutely, in the wake of the purported reaction to Orson Welles’ 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast, many feared the most immediate reaction to the news would be widespread panic. These considerations guide the development of official reaction to the phenomenon. As Keyhoe saw it, the USAF first set out to “investigate and at the same time conceal from the public the truth about the saucers” (173). Then “it was decided to let the facts gradually leak out, in order to prepare the American people.” However, “the unexpected public reaction [to the True Magazine article] was mistaken by the Air Force for hysteria, resulting in their hasty denial that the saucers existed.” The problem of just what to reveal and conceal concerning the saucers was also complicated by Cold War national security issues. As Keyhoe saw it

The education problem is complicated by two imperative needs. We must try to learn as much as we can about the space ships’ source of power, and at the same time try to prevent clues to this information from reaching an enemy on earth. (174)

Here are nascent themes in ufological speculation that persist and have been developed to the present day. First is the belief that militaries and governments around the world have or continue to investigate UFOs. Secondly, their efforts have borne fruit in determining the (usually extraterrestrial) truth of the phenomenon. Thirdly, because of the explosive nature of these discoveries, those who hold these secrets dissimulate concerning the phenomenon to dissuade serious, public interest and to maintain either the potential or real technological advantage these secrets bestow, or, alternatively, they are engaged in a process of public education through a combination of leaks, disinformation, and popular culture (such as movie and television) to prepare society for the ultimate revelation of the reality of the extraterrestrial presence.

https _photos1.blogger.com_blogger_6956_659_400_majic6Hand in hand with this motif is that of the insider able to access this otherwise secret or tactfully unpublicized information, a figure that has morphed, today, into the whistleblower. Keyhoe, as an ex-Marine pilot, maintained many contacts within the military and government. Most of the narrative of his books is conversations he has with these inside sources. The final chapters of The Flying Saucers are Real find Keyhoe studying over two hundred secret Air Force files released to him and his petitioning a general of his acquaintance for the more than one hundred he had been denied! This figure with access to inside information undergoes a change as the official relation to the phenomenon (at least in its public guise) develops from secrecy, to debunkery, to indifference. The truth is no longer obtained via official documents from official channels, but via leaked or hacked documents or whistleblower, witness testimony.

Two other dimensions of the UFO myth appear in Keyhoe’s first book. At one point, an informant tells him that he has learned that the flying disks are British secret weapons developed from German plans and prototypes captured at the end of the Second World War (122). https _cagizero.files.wordpress.com_2016_12_nazi-ufo-flying-saucer.jpg w=592&h=350Here, the myth of the Nazi flying saucer, arguably first popularized by Holocaust denier Ernst Zündel as a money-making scheme  but since elaborated perhaps most fully by Joseph Farrell, makes very likely its first appearance in print. Moreover, although, tellingly, the Roswell incident is not mentioned in The Flying Saucers are Real, another of Keyhoe’s informants relates to him a story about “little men from Venus”:

In the usual version, two flying saucers had come down near our southwestern border. In the space craft were several oddly dressed men, three feet high. All of them were dead; the cause was usually given as inability to stand our atmosphere. The Air Force was said to have hushed up the story… (139)

The source of this particular story is given as George Koehler (165), who later admits to its being “a gag”. But the rumour also brings to mind a more famous fabrication by Frank Scully, whose Behind the Flying Saucers is published the same year as Keyhoe’s first book. Regardless of who first invents this scenario, we find here the vector for what will be called Crash/Retrieval Syndrome, a string of increasingly elaborate stories concerning crashed and retrieved flying saucers and the capture of their pilots, dead or alive, that will bloom with the rediscovery of the Roswell Crash and subsequently flower into a wildly variegated myth of reverse-engineered alien technology, secret treaties between various ET races and earth governments, breakaway civilizations, exopolitics and disclosure, a term that perhaps appears for the first time in the UFO literature in Keyhoe’s important first volume.

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What’s so compelling about ET, Cover-up and Disclosure?

A post of Robbie Graham‘s at Mysterious Universe coalesced with some of my recent, casual ufological reading (Jung’s Flying Saucers, Heard’s The Riddle of the Flying Saucers, Keyhoe’s The Flying Saucers are Real, Vallee’s Revelations…) to prompt the question that titles this post.

Of the “10 Shocking Statements about UFOs by Scientists and Government Officials” Graham presents, eight have to do with official secrecy or dissimulation (that governments in fact know the nature of UFOs but suppress that knowledge), while four openly espouse the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis (ETH), that UFOs are spacecraft piloted by intelligent, unearthly beings. What’s as curious (if not shocking) is that this coupling of the ETH with accusations of an official suppression of its supposed truth has been part of the fabric of the UFO myth from the very beginning:  Project Sign’s “Estimate of the Situation” proposed the ETH as a possible explanation for flying saucer sightings in late 1948, while Donald Keyhoe concludes the Author’s Note that begins his 1950 The Flying Saucers are Real

I believe that the Air Force statements, contradictory as they appear, are part of an intricate program to prepare America—and the world—for the secret of the discs[,]

namely, that they are extraterrestrial spaceships.

Given that flying saucers first appear as such within the horizon of the Cold War, it should come as little surprise that the USAF personnel tasked with identifying them had to come up with some positive answers. If the flying discs were in fact real objects (as observations seemed to imply) and that aeronautical technology, domestic or foreign, was incapable of manufacturing such aeroforms, some alternative explanation had to be supplied; the urgency of the times could not allow for a shrug of the shoulders and admission of ignorance. That the most persuasive alternative proposed was that the flying saucers were extraterrestrial artifacts produced by “civilizations far in advance of ours” is as curious as it proved to be fateful for the development of the myth….

This concatenation of the ETH and an early instance of conspiracy theory will develop over the coming decades into a complex tale of crashed saucers and the retrieval of their pilots living and dead, reverse-engineering of alien technology and secret treaties between governmental or even more shadowy organizations and an ever-growing number of ET races, alien abductions and ET-human hybridization programs, secret ET bases, Secret Space Programs and Breakaway Civilizations, the suppression of free energy and other technologies, and, hanging over all this, the ever-imminent official Disclosure of these matters engineered by government insiders, ever-growing numbers of whistleblowers, and even benevolent ETs. (One should not ignore that alongside this more secular development is an equally lively and creative religious one rooted in Theosophy, that extends through the early Contactees to channelers and the New Age and various New Religious Movements). As Jacques Vallee relentlessly discloses in his Revelations (1991), the genesis and on-going production of this “powerful new myth, perhaps even the emergence of a new religion” (18) has more to do with human machination and manipulation than any suppressed science-fictional reality. Nevertheless, as Jung himself discovered in the 1950s “news affirming the existence of UFOs [and ETs] is welcome, but…scepticism seems to be undesirable” (3). Why should this be?

One might venture the following. Since the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution, humankind, especially in the West but increasingly globally, has found itself displaced. In the Christian cosmos, Man was the crown of creation, made in the image of God. With Copernicus, the earth ceased to be the centre of the universe; further discoveries in the Eighteenth century revealed the earth to be vastly older than 6,000 years; Darwin disabused homo sapiens of pretensions to any uniqueness in the animal kingdom; and cosmological discoveries since have revealed a God-less universe, if not multiverse, as vast in time and space as the earth and humankind upon it have become correspondingly tiny and insignificant. Add to this story the existential threats of nuclear war and ecological collapse and one will be unsurprised at attempts to imagine ways to alleviate the anxieties such a precarious situation inspires.

Enter one or more ET civilizations “far in advance” of our own or Space Brother incarnations of Ascended Masters to lead us on to a higher plane of spiritual evolution. In the first case, the history of one society on earth, that of the technologically advanced “First World”, becomes an instance of a universal tendency of life in the universe, to evolve towards intelligence, a sentience like our own, and evergrowing technoscientific knowledge and mastery of nature. In the latter case, again, the human being is understood as a stage on life’s way, from matter to spirit, from ignorance to enlightenment. In both cases, that dethroned, decentred, disoriented species finds a new orientation in a universal scheme, as either one species among a galaxy of others ranked according to their place on a  linear scale of intelligence and technoscientific development, or on an equally linear scheme of spiritual wisdom; humankind finds again a home in a cosmic order, a kind of Great Chain of Being, whether material or spiritual, except this time, humankind creates God in its own image. Even the paranoid and fearful version of the myth, that certain ET species and their human allies are evil, working toward conquest, colonization or domination, weaves itself on the loom that projects our kind of intelligence, the self-image of our present technoscientific culture, onto all forms of life, on and off the earth.