Cold War, linked to UFO reports
Anxiety and actual aerial activity related to the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union contributed significantly to the saucer flap of the late 1940s. In May 1945, Germany had surrendered; two months later, Japan was A-bombed into submission. Yet despite its military success and new superpower status, America felt more insecure than ever. Already it had been attacked once out of the blue, by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor. Now there was the rising menace of communism and the fear that a Red tidal wave would steadily and relentlessly engulf the free countries of the world. At the end of the War, the United States alone had atomic weapons, but it was only a matter of time before the Soviets, too, would be as lethally equipped.
On Mar. 4, 1947, less than four months before Kenneth Arnold's seminal sighting of a "flying saucer", the Soviets rejected a U.S. plan for atomic energy control. Eight days later, President Truman made clear his policy, the Truman Doctrine, that America should support any country that was trying to resist external threats to its freedom. Rapid military buildup on both sides of the Iron Curtain became a grim inevitability. Although America was strong, it would have to become much stronger and more vigilant. It would have to stockpile weapons, build up its defenses, and use its ingenuity to evolve ever more powerful forms of deterrent, in a desperate attempt to stay one step ahead of the Soviets. And all the time, every minute of every day, it would have to scan the skies, to watch for the moment when the enemy might stir and choose to unleash its weapons on the American homeland.
Speculation as to what might lie behind the sudden outbreak of mysterious sightings abounded. Were they hoaxes or mistaken identifications of familiar objects? Or was the explanation more sinister: that the skies over America were being visited by foreign devices – from Moscow or Mars? At the start of the saucer scare, the U.S. military appears to have been as confused and nervous as was the public at large. It initiated the first of a series of investigations into the phenomenon, principally to determine if there was a significant threat to national security (see Sign, Project).
In September 1949, the news came that everyone had feared: the Soviet Union had exploded its first atomic bomb. It was time to raise the stakes. The following January, President Truman ordered the development of the hydrogen (fusion) bomb, a terrifying escalation of the arms race. Even as humans contemplated their first sorties to the edge of space, it appeared as if the world was poised on the brink of nuclear catastrophe. On June 25, 1950, Soviet-backed North Korea invaded its southern neighbor. Two days later, Truman ordered American troops to intervene and the Korean War began.
On Aug. 20, 1953, Moscow announced the explosion of the first Soviet H bomb. Three weeks earlier, the Korean War had ended in stalemate with 30,000 dead American troops. Back home, anti-Communist sentiment had never been higher and McCarthyism was at its peak. With suspicion rife that the Reds had tunneled their way into the very machinery of government and public life, it was not hard for ordinary people to be convinced by conspiracy theories about aliens. Rumors, initiated by the saucer faithful, began to intensify that the government and the military knew more about UFOs than they were prepared to admit. The public was hungry for anything that looked remotely like inside information on the subject of flying saucers, and some fanatics (see Keyhoe, Donald) and charlatans (see Adamski, George), no doubt seeing the commercial possibilities, were happy to oblige – even if it meant peddling fake photos and stories that were manufactured from beginning to end. In addition, there was a subtle shift of public attitude in some quarters toward UFOs in the mid- to late-'fifties, a change of sentiment augured and perhaps partly inspired by the film The Day the Earth Stood Still. What if the aliens were not, after all, malevolent? What if they were actually here to warn us – capitalists and communists alike – of the dangers of meddling with forces over which we had no control? Central to the claim of early saucer contactees, like Adamski, was that the UFO inhabitants were both benign and wiser than ourselves. Far from wanting to take over our planet, they wished to help us, to forewarn us of what might happen unless we could defuse the nuclear time-bomb that had been set ticking. So, although the contactees may have been myth-mongering on a grand scale, they were also reflecting a mood of the times. They voiced what many people badly wanted to believe: first that flying saucers existed, and second that the creatures inside them offered a solution to the most pressing problem facing the world in the 1950s – the very real and imminent possibility of nuclear devastation.
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