By Ken Hollings
. . . It is perhaps not altogether surprising, therefore, to discover that it is a pilot who is destined to report one of the most aberrant pieces of technological behavior to take place in this modern age.
“They flew like a saucer would if you skipped it across water,” Kenneth Arnold tells Bill Bequette of the East Oregonian, referring to the nine unidentified flying objects he has seen speeding through the skies toward Mount Rainier on the afternoon of June 24, 1947. According to Arnold’s written report submitted to the US military, they moved “in a definite formation but erratically” in a “diagonal-like chain, as if they were linked together.” It is the image of the “flying saucer” that sticks in the popular imagination, however; its flashing and darting establishes an erratic but discernible visual rhythm that will continue to reverberate for years to come. A few weeks later, when the July 8 edition of the Roswell Daily Record appears in New Mexico with the headline “Army Air Force Captures Flying Disc in Roswell Region” spread across five columns of its front page, the transformation of motion into archetypal form is complete.
Although both stories have originated from local newspapers, they are quickly picked up all over the world, following the global grid now being comfortably imposed upon the earth’s surface. Never has a message been so clear, or its implications so ambiguous. “They’re more than atom bombs or falling stars,” runs the stark warning in “When You See Those Flying Saucers,” a hillbilly ballad written in 1947 by Charles Grean and Cy Coben. Released as a 78 rpm disc on the RCA Victor label, the song links religion and atomic devastation with the “trouble and unrest brewing” on the far side of the Iron Curtain. If it came out of the sky, the assumption goes, it can only be a judgment from on high. The other assumption, exemplified by the lack of a conditional preposition in the song’s title, is that it’s only a matter of time: of “when,” rather than “if.”
Both Arnold’s Mount Rainier sighting and the crashed saucer in Roswell will go on to assume mythic status, subject to endless lines of speculation, research, and argument. It is worth reflecting at this point, however, upon just how close both these incidents are to the ragged edge of aviation technology as it exists at this time. According to his own account, Arnold was piloting his “specially designed mountain airplane” in search of a crashed C-46 Marine transport. The flying disc reported to have come down in the New Mexico desert is investigated by officers from Roswell Air Force Base, home to the US nuclear bomber wing. Less than two years previously the Enola Gay took off from Roswell AFB into the blinding light of summer on its way to Hiroshima.
The Atomic energy Commission and Project RAND are soon studying the flying saucers, AeC chairman David Lilienthal going so far as to make a public statement discounting any direct relationship between such sightings and the effects of atomic radiation. However, the main connection between the saucers and the emergent military-industrial complex will inevitably be supplied by the United States Air Force: an organization that has had to wait until now for an Act of Congress to bring it into being. . . .
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