by Jay Johansen | Feb 27, 2005
Apparently theories of UFO cover-ups are quite popular today. At least, I see that there are many books and TV shows on the subject. The basic idea is that aliens from other planets are visiting our Earth, that the U.S. government knows all about it -- perhaps even is in contact with the aliens -- but is keeping this secret from the general public.
Such conspiracy theories are, by their very nature, difficult to prove true and impossible to prove false. If someone claims to be an eyewitness or to have documents proving his claim, we would fully expect the authorities to say it's all a hoax. If his claims are true, the authorities could surely take steps to cover up and make his story impossible to corroborate. On the other hand, if there is absolutely no evidence, someone will claim that this just proves that the conspiracy is succesful. By this perverse logic, the less evidence there is, the more the theory is proved.
I don't claim to have any special knowledge about the subject, but rather than attack it empirically, I think it is interesting to approach it as a problem in logic. Namely: What would be the government's motive in keeping such a secret?
I've heard four basic theories proposed:
If alien beings are visiting us from far-away planets, their technology must be far more advanced than ours. (If our techology was more advanced, we'd be the ones visiting their planet, right?) If the public knew about this, people would be afraid that the aliens would have the technology to easily conquer the earth, and there would be a general panic.
Problems with this theory:
If aliens really were planning to conquer the earth, and if their technology really was such that there was little that terrestial military forces could do to stop them -- like some primitive tribe armed with sharpened sticks trying to fight off a modern army with machine guns and bombs -- then surely the public would know pretty quickly after the invastion began. When alien spacecraft are landing in the middle of town and massacring everyone with their death rays, surely government denials that these creatures exist would be pretty unconvincing. So the secret could only be kept if, in fact, the fear was completely unfounded. Now granted, people can be irrational, perhaps people would fear an alien invasion even if the aliens had given no sign at all that they meant anyone any harm. But people who are going to go into a panic over a hypothetical scenario of what someone might do if they were capable of doing it and wanted to do it ... well, such people probably go into a panic over many things, from the latest "tainted food" scare to urban legends about ghastly gang initiation rites. The fact that some people panic over these things hasn't destroyed the country yet. What would one more source of irrational fear hurt?
Indeed, this government cover-up is supposed to go back to at least the "Roswell Incident" in 1947. At that very same time, the Cold War was just starting up, and there was the very real threat of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Did the government try to hide the fact that people who openly said, "We will bury you", now had weapons capable of annihilating our nation? Quite the contrary, the government went to considerable effort to keep people informed about the subject. There were endless books and movies about how nuclear war could end civilization, or even end all human life. Why would the government hide a questionable or non-existant danger to prevent panic, while at the same time speaking very loudly about a real danger?
If the public knew that there were intelligent aliens, whether friendly or hostile, it would bring a new sense of the unity of mankind to people everywhere. This would inevitably lead to a great movement to establish a single world government. The government of the U.S. does not want to lose its power, and so is keeping this all secret to prevent this from happening.
It is not at all clear that knowledge of the existence of aliens would bring any particular sense of unity to humanity. When Columbus brought the Old World and the New World in contact, people on both sides of the Atlantic discovered for the first time that there was a whole new continent that they had never know about before, populated by a very different civilization. Yet neither side of the Atlantic showed any sudden rush to unity: Britain and France and Spain didn't suddenly say, "Hey, we're white men and Europeans and Christians and have all these other things in common, while they are red and American and pagan. We should form a single European nation". Nor did the American Indians say the reverse and form a single American nation. The old conflicts continued. For the Europeans, there were just new lands and resources to fight over. For the Indians, there were just powerful new potential allies against their enemies.
And if there was some great rush to a world government, why should U.S. leaders be afraid of it? It stands to reason that as the richest and most powerful country in the world, the U.S. could insist on a major role in shaping this new world government, and many Americans Leaders could transform themselves into World Leaders. Surely this thought would occur to at least some American politicians. Sure, some power-hungry politicians would be afraid that a world government would be a threat to their power, but others would see a world government as their means to even greater power.
The aliens' superior technology would throw the terrestial economy into chaos. If, say, the aliens had some highly efficient energy source, people would realize that the oil companies were doomed to quickly become obsolete, and their stock would plummet. As this happened to industry after industry, people would be thrown out of work, and the economy would fall apart.
This is the same kind of fear that has been brought up about every new technological advance. In the 19th century people were so afraid that new industrial machinery was going to take jobs away from factory workers that a group called the "Luddites" went around vandalizing and destroying machinery to "save jobs". When I was a boy people worried that these new-fangled computers were going to take over all sorts of jobs and throw millions out of work. Today millions of people are employed in computer-related jobs. In the late 1990's many experts worried that Internet shopping was going to drive all the brick-and-mortar stores out of business. It never happened. In reality, of course, technological advances can bankrupt the companies that don't keep pace with the change, and some number of individuals will lose their jobs. But for the average consumer, and for the economy has a whole, techological advance has almost always brought greater prosperity.
If, for example, aliens really did offer people some incredibly efficient new energy source, it may well be that the oil industry would quickly fade away. But this would be no different from what happened to, say, the buggy manufacturing industry when the automobile was invented: A few buggy manufacturers managed to switch over to producing automobiles. A few hung on to what was left of the market. The rest went broke (or managed to close down their operations and sell off their assets before going broke), but their employees didn't all starve to death: they got jobs elsewhere. Many, no doubt, in the new auto companies.
An interesting theory that I came across once was that the government is keeping knowledge of alien life secret because some Americans have religious beliefs that rule out the possibility of such beings, and the government doesn't want to upset their religious beliefs.
I don't know of any religious group that takes belief in non-existence of aliens as a fundamental doctrinal position. Yes, there are people who doubt the existence of alien beings on religious grounds, but frankly I think that most of them would not find their faith unduly shaken if they were proven wrong -- they might be a little embarassed at having made such statements in print, but that would be about it. On the other hand, the government has not shown any particular reluctance to offend the religious beliefs of millions of Americans in far more clear-cut cases. The plain reading of the Bibical book of Genesis contradicts the theory of evolution on many points, but this fact hasn't stopped the government from openly espousing evolution in government-funded museums, educations programs, etc. Many people object to homosexuality on religious grounds, but this hasn't stopped the government from passing gay rights laws and discussing homosexual marriage. Etc. Why would the government be so cavalier about its people's religious beliefs in clear-cut cases, but extremely cautious in such a hazy case?
I can't prove there is not some vast government UFO cover-up conspiracy. But why would the government cover such a thing up? I haven't heard a plausible motive proposed.
In fairness, I will readily concede that there are at least two obvious rebuttals to this conclusion:
1. Just because a motive may not make sense, doesn't mean that somebody didn't follow it anyway. In other words, even if there is no good reason for the government to keep such a secret, perhaps it is doing so anyway, for no good reason, just because the people making the decision are paranoid or foolish or whatever. But ... we have to believe that all the people involved (or at least all those in positions of authority), over a period of decades, have all bought into this same paranoid theory.
2. If there is some big cover-up, then by definition we don't know all the facts. Perhaps there is some reason for maintaining such a cover-up that outsiders haven't guessed, because they don't know what's really going on. (Hmm, if I could come up with a good one, that might make an entertaining science fiction story: Intrepid investigator sneaks onto the military base, finds all the secrets, is about to break the UFO conspiracy wide open ... and then they explain to him why they just have to keep this secret, and when he learns the shocking truth, he realizes that he doesn't dare tell anyone ...)
This cover-up has supposedly been going on for almost sixty years, must involve large numbers of people, from people high up in the government to pilots and technicians and security guards, and involves a subject that clearly fascinates many people. I find it hard to believe that our government could keep anything secret for sixty years. We've pretty regularly seen that our government officials can't keep secret things that involved only themselves and a young intern in the privacy of a motel room. Could they really keep a secret like this for this long? Surely somewhere along the line, someone would have broken the story and there would be overwhelming evidence.
As a friend of mine put it, if I really belived that my government could pull off a conspiracy like this, it would make me proud to be an American.
© 2005 by Jay Johansen