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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2008 > May > May 17

An Undeniably Fading Obsession

From: UFO UpDates - Toronto <ufoupdates.nul>
Date: Sat, 17 May 2008 14:11:00 -0400
Archived: Sat, 17 May 2008 14:11:00 -0400
Subject: An Undeniably Fading Obsession

Source: The Times - London, UK


May 16, 2008

UFO: An Undeniably Fading Obsession

The opening of the British X-Files shows that the internet has
killed off flying saucers

Ben Macintyre

In 1985 a man wrote to the Ministry of Defence, politely
explaining that he had been in contact with aliens since the age
of 7. He had visited alien bases in Cheshire and Wirral, he
said, befriended a charming alien called Algar and seen a UFO
shot down next to Wallasey Town Hall, “as if done by an
invisible entity”. The writer described how he had arranged for
his alien chum to meet representatives of the Government, but
sadly Algar was killed by rival aliens before the meeting could
take place. The writer concluded: “That, of course, was that.”

The matter-of-fact tone is what makes this particular letter so
touching, and so representative of the hundreds of similar alien
and UFO sightings reported to the MoD and now made public for
the first time.

The story of Algar is more dramatic than most UFO sightings. The
vast majority of UFO spotters, as revealed in the MoD files, are
not fantasists, but ordinary people who thought they saw
something extraordinary in the sky. The spacecraft tend to come
in familiar forms, with saucer and cigar shapes the perennial
favourites. Coloured lights are also popular. (Why do aliens,
who clearly have no wish to make contact, still tend to turn up
here with all their lights flashing? Perhaps, like us, they just
forget to turn the headlights off from time to time.)

Some UFO spotters have reason to be resentful, like the elderly
Hampshire fisherman taken on a tour of a spaceship by little men
in green overalls but then rejected as a captive human specimen
because he was too old: a notorious example of space-ageism.
Some are unwilling to believe their own eyes, like the Woking
policemen who saw a white light descending in Horsell. (In
H.G.Wells's War of the Worlds, the first Martians land on
Horsell Common, which left the policemen wondering if their
account would be mocked.) “Genuine report. Two competent
officers slightly embarrassed,” notes the report.

A few sightings are genuinely compelling and intriguing, and
some are sweetly humdrum: like the alien spacecraft tootling
along the A839 to Lairg at a steady and law-abiding 30mph. But
most are perfectly straightforward, each written up on a
determinedly undramatic form by MoD bureaucrats: time, date,
angle of flight, background of informant, etc.

“The sole interest of the MoD in UFO reports,” the ministry
declares, “is to establish whether they reveal anything of
defence interest.” They don't. Instead, they reveal something
much more interesting: a passionate fascination with the
mysteries of space that transcends gender, age, class and
geography, and an urgent desire to believe in other worlds that
amounts to a sort of secular spiritualism. Even the most
sceptical reports come tinged with awe.

The sheer scale of the alien invasion is phenomenal. The British
X-Files contain more then 7,000 separate sightings, 150 files in
all, of which just eight have been released so far. The flight
of the UFO is a tale deeply embedded in our cultural DNA, a part
of modern folklore but also an ancient portent, reflecting the
grip of the celestial unknown on human imagination down the
ages. In the Old Testament, Ezekiel sees a fiery chariot in the
sky. The most famous UFO of all hovered over Bethlehem.

The UFO story has evolved over time, but the fundamentals remain
the same. The uncertainties of war and rapid technological
advances tend to breed UFOs in large numbers. “What does all
this stuff about flying saucers amount to?” Winston Churchill
wondered in 1951. “What can it mean?”

Space travel brought other planets closer to earth, and an
upsurge in alien visitation, but interest in UFOs has waxed and
waned, often propelled by popular culture. The number of British
UFO sightings almost doubled after the release of Close
Encounters of the Third Kind in 1977.

Soon after, the MoD felt obliged to dismiss ufology as
“claptrap”. Some psychologists believe alien abduction can be
diagnosed as epilepsy or transient narcolepsy, a form of
temporary sleep paralysis. UFO sightings have variously been put
down to wishful thinking, credulity and too much beer. But at
root, the phenomenon reflects something more profound: a sort of
antidote to cosmic loneliness, the age-old urge to peer into the
dark and wonder what or who might be out there.

You do not have to believe in flying saucers to believe in the
flights of imagination they inspire. Many of the people
reporting UFOs simply saw something unexpected and wondered,
like Churchill, what it could mean.

We wonder still, but not like we used to. For the last decade
UFO sightings have steadily declined. The British Flying Saucer
Bureau closed in 2003. The number of UFOs dipped with the
invention of the colour television and plunged with the advent
of the internet. Perhaps in an complex and uncertain society,
people have more practical concerns.

We no longer look into the sky and ponder the chances of
anything coming from Mars. And even if we did, with the spread
of light pollution, it would take a spaceship with very bright
lights to be spotted at all.

The decline in UFO sightings may reflect a healthy scepticism,
but a world without extraterrestrials would be drab indeed. The
British X-Files reveal a people alert to the sky, imaginative,
eccentric, slightly embarrassed and above all inquisitive.
Perhaps this new proof of our former fascination with the
mysteries of space will rekindle the curiosity. More likely, our
remaining sense of wonder will erode still further; the flying
objects of the future will be not only unidentified but
unnoticed. And that, of course, will be that.

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