It was a surreal Congressional hearing. A highly decorated Air Force intelligence officer and two trained Navy fighter pilots flatly declared, under oath, that they believed the US government was in possession of an alien spacecraft and pilots. However, they couldn’t prove it, which is why they called on Congress to investigate.
Congressional intervention was needed, according to the whistleblowers, because these events indicate that either the US military is technologically behind but doesn’t want to admit it, or that the military already possesses secret super-advanced technology that appears alien, but can’t be trusted to use it without oversight.
While the highlights of the testimony were extraterrestrial, the overarching emphasis was on themes related to the New Cold War here on Earth. It was taken for granted that the stuff you see in the sky represents a threat.
However, most people were more interested in the implications of alien contact for humanity, not the threat of inter-imperialist conflict between the US and China. Voyager 1 is the furthest man-made object from the Earth. It’s been traveling through space since 1977, and it’s only just left the heliosphere that envelops our solar system. In order to have reached Earth, alien society would have to be orders of magnitude more advanced than us and likely had to overcome all sorts of obstacles including possible war and environmental crisis. Maybe they could help us do the same.
Modern War Shapes UFO Sightings
Modern interest in alien life developed, like the science fiction genre as a whole, alongside the rapid technological advances of the Industrial Revolution. Aliens were often imagined within the boundaries of capitalism – for example, having the need to enslave or colonize whole races and planets. Military commanders and politicians were thought of as handling alien contact, not scientists. Likewise, the rapid technological advances, and broad public anxieties, during the wars of the 20th century shaped what people started seeing in the skies.
In 1938, an obscure radio show aired a fake news broadcast, created by Orson Welles, narrating an alien invasion. Despite numerous commercial breaks and despite the story being based on a 40-year-old science fiction book War of the Worlds, out of the 6 million people who tuned in, 1.7 million believed they were listening to real news. This reflected the fact that millions of people were grappling with a major turning point in history: less than a year after the broadcast, Nazi Germany invaded Poland, and World War II began.
UFO sightings spiked during WWII, mainly among soldiers who fought on airplanes at night. Radar was still primitive, and identifying targets meant endlessly scanning for flashes of light in the darkness. The term “foo fighters” emerged to describe the plentiful UFOs reported by Allied aircraft pilots in that period. One official report of a night combat patrol in 1944 describes “eight to 10 bright orange lights off the left wing…flying through the air at high speed… Later they appeared farther away. The display continued for several minutes and then disappeared.”
Then, during the Cold War, it wasn’t just soldiers anymore: UFO sightings exploded among the general public. This was a testament to the effectiveness of Red Scare warmongering propaganda: in 1951, polls showed 50% of Americans reported worry about a sudden air attack on their community, including 44% of people in rural areas. There were 12,000 reported UFO sightings between 1947 and 1967 in the US. Many of these happened close to military bases, and military commanders leaned into UFO stories to hide the existence of top-secret aircraft. By now the CIA admits that half of all UFO sightings during the late 1950s and through the 1960s were documented, manned reconnaissance flights of the SR-71 and U2 spy planes.
Now, anxiety around the New Cold War between the US and China is finding expression in today’s UFO sightings. Polls show the highest fears of nuclear war and imminent attack since the Cold War. The American political and media establishment was captivated by the sudden appearance of a Chinese spy balloon over Montana. Once they tuned their radars into looking for more balloons, they seemed to see them everywhere (and started shooting missiles at them). Taiwan scrambled its fighter jets to intercept unknown aircraft 2,972 times in 2020. In this context, it’s no surprise that UFO sightings are up again.
Just as spikes in military activity lead to spikes in UFO sightings, the evolution of UFOs themselves reflect the weapons of the time. World War 2 “foo fighters” looked like bursts of tracer rounds, and backfiring propeller engines. Metallic flying saucers seen during the Cold War were the size and shape of top secret, unconventionally shaped aircraft like the SR-71. Similarly, the wingless, engineless, “Tic Tac” objects described to Congress at the July hearings resemble the drones being shot down in the Taiwan Strait and deployed hundreds of miles behind enemy lines in the Ukraine War. Some of these new drones are designed to make seemingly impossible maneuvers in tight formations. Others can travel submerged before surfacing and flying away, like what was described by a Navy pilot off the coast of California.
“The Truth Is Out There”
It says a lot about the priorities of both corporate parties that a major bipartisan effort has focused on whether or not UFOs piloted by aliens are a national security threat. Polls show 87% of Americans don’t think so. If we are being visited by alien life from distant stars, it means aliens either have already built technology that lies beyond our current conception of physics (particularly our understanding that nothing can travel faster than light), or it’s alien technology from many years ago, and the society that sent it has been developing ever since.
The implicit understanding that an advanced society represents a threat to US imperialism is shown in the polls that 57% of Americans believe the US government is withholding information about alien life. It also shows how little confidence people have in capitalist institutions to deal with issues. In 1964, 77% of Americans believed the government did the right thing “most of the time” – today only 20% do. Capitalist rule rests on the assertion that there is no alternative way to organize a civilization, and this would give any politician an incentive to try to cover up first contact.
The notion that humans can do better, but we are being held back, is correct. It just doesn’t need aliens or vast conspiracies to be true. Humankind already possesses the knowledge to solve issues like climate change, world hunger, and poverty; the problem is that doing so requires removing the biggest obstacle that stands in our way – a capitalist class whose profits rest on keeping things the way they are. The true potential for humankind can only start to be explored in a socialist society, where our resources and ingenuity are focused democratically for the betterment of all.