Date: Wed Aug 24 1994 00:20:00
From: Sheppard Gordon
Subj: Watch The Skies! - Review
UFO sightings mirror to postwar America
San Antonio Express-News
Watch the Skies! A Chronicle of the Flying Saucer Myth By
Curtis Peebles Smithsonian Institution Press, $24.95
Despite the sensationalistic title, "Watch the Skies!" is
probably the most insightful, well-researched debunking of the UFO
myth that has yet been published.
Aerospace historian Curtis Peebles examines how the myth has
evolved over nearly half a century, from its first appearance in
the pulp magazine "Amazing Stories" in the 1940s through the
latest conspiracy theories concerning government coverups.
After years of researching UFOs, Peebles is a skeptic who
believes that flying saucer reports are misinterpretations of
conventional objects, phenomena and experiences. But he also
believes the myth is a mirror to the events of postwar America -
the paranoia of the 1950s, the social turmoil of the 1960s, the "me
generation" of the 1970s and the nihilism of the '80s and early
Rather than becoming bogged down in trying to prove whether UFOs
are real or not, Peebles examines the myth as a pop culture
phenomenon, showing how many of the most famous UFO stories and
books appear to grow out of earlier pop culture sources, such as
science fiction magazines and Hollywood movies.
People claiming to have had experiences with beings from other
planets are probably enjoying more credibility than at any time in
the past 50 years, especially since the recent publication of
Pulitzer Prize-winning Harvard University psychologist John Mack's
"Abduction: Human Encounters With Aliens" (Scribners).
Recent films such as "Communion," based on the book by native
San Antonian Whitley Strieber, and "Fire in the Sky," based on the
Travis Walton case in Arizona, use Hollywood special effects to
make extraterrestrials seem much more realistic than they appeared
in the 1950 films that helped shape the myth, "The Day the Earth
Stood Still" and "It Came From Outer Space."
In one of his best chapters, Peebles reveals that Walton, along
with his lumberman buddies, concocted his UFO abduction story to
get out of a contract with the U.S. Forest Service to clear more
than 1,000 acres of timber - which Walton and his cohorts were
unable to do by a deadline without paying financial penalties.
Walton came up with his tale of being operated on in a UFO only
two weeks after NBC aired "The UFO Incident," based on the first
widely reported UFO abduction story, Betty and Barney Hill's "The
Though Walton failed lie detector tests and was exposed by the
best-known UFO debunker, Philip Klass, the Walton case is still
considered one of the most valid by UFOlogists. "Fire in the Sky,"
now available on video cassette, is fairly realistic and skeptical
of the Walton story until the final, mind-blowing 20 minutes when
Walton is sucked up into an organic spaceship resembling a human
womb populated with big-eyed fetuses. Hollywood claims it is
"based on a true story," but Peebles proves it's nothing but a lie.
More doubt has been cast on UFO abduction stories gathered by
the unlocking of "repressed" memories through hypnosis by another
recent book, Austin author Lawrence Wright's "Remembering Satan"
(Knopf), which examines the controversial child abuse case of an
Olympia, Wash., deputy sheriff, Paul Ingram. Wright explains how
Ingram, under hypnosis, admitted to being part of a Satanic cult
and sexually abusing his two daughters despite having no memory of
Wright reveals how susceptible people are to inventing wild
stories while in a trancelike hypnotic state, which has turned many
recent child abuse cases into modern-day witch hunts.
If hypnotically recalled memories are tossed out of the courts
as legally admissible evidence, it will undermine the stories of
most UFO abductees, whose memories of "missing time" are often
uncovered in hypnotic sessions conducted by UFO believers.
In "Watch the Skies!" Peebles presents the hard facts about many
other UFO tales - the UFO crash in Roswell, N.M., in 1947; the
invasion of Washington in 1952; the Air Force's much-maligned
Project Blue Book; cattle mutilations; alien/human crossbreeding;
and the incredible, right-wing conspiracy theories about "MJ-12."
Peebles finds links between periods of national uncertainty and
popular UFO sightings or "flaps." The McCarthy era was leading to
the Cold War when the first UFOs were spotted in 1947. The Great
Flap of 1952 marked the stalemated Korean War and the development
of the H-Bomb. UFOs flooded the skies in the 1960s, when the civil
rights and anti-war movements threatened to split the country. The
last big flap in 1973 coincided with Watergate.
In the 1980s and '90s, aliens became familiar stars in the
movies -"E.T.," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "Star
Wars" - while UFOlogists became obsessed with alien abductions and
right-wing conspiracies. Stories of alien-induced pregnancies and
surgically removed fetuses have eerie parallels to the propaganda
of the anti-abortion movement. But UFOs have become such a familiar
part of the popular culture that mysterious lights in the sky
hardly raise an eyebrow anymore.
Peebles sees the UFO myth as an effort to make order out of a
confusing, chaotic universe. Yet, as he concludes: "We watch the
skies seeking meaning. In the end, what we find is ourselves."