Today I offer proof that members of government can be just as nutty as Ancient Aliens' theorists.
In June 1978, the British House of Lords prepared for a debate (which was delayed until 1979) on the question of UFOs at the instigation of ufologist William Francis Brinsley Le Poer Trench, 8th Earl of Clancarty, a believer in the existence of alien spacecraft and ancient astronauts. He was a UFO book author, magazine publisher, and an honorary life member in the original Ancient Astronaut Society. I found among the thousands of pages of declassified UFO documents released by the British government last month a memo prepared by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) for K. E. G. Barber of the Department of Education to request Education’s help in preparing remarks for Lord Winterbottom, who was then scheduled to speak for Her Majesty’s government. (Lord Strabolgi would eventually do so in 1979.)
British civil servants were equally outraged and amused that Trench had used his newfound position in the House of Lords (gained in 1975 at the death of his half-brother) to introduce his UFO magazine to the Lords’ library, create a UFO study group in the Lords, and devote his seat to pushing for UFO investigations.
In the memo, Patrick Stevens of the MOD notes that the MOD “do not take this lightly” and that they consider the Earl to be a “recognized expert on UFOs,” a subject the MOD did not employ experts on. Stevens noted that the widespread interest in UFOs was driven not by science but by popular culture, specifically articles appearing in the Daily Express and the popularity of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. This was certainly not the first time that pop culture more or less invented an alien panic out of whole cloth. The MOD repeatedly noted in its documents a correlation between media UFO coverage and subsequent UFO reports and demands for MOD investigations.
Stevens begged Barber to help stave off a Parliamentary request for a full UFO inquiry. “Should the Government defences break, I need hardly warn you that responsibility for the study could very likely fall on your Department.” The waste of resources could threaten the effectiveness of government policy. Accordingly, Stevens said Winterbottom would stress the impossibility of interstellar travel, the poor quality of UFO evidence, and the complete lack of evidence. In so doing, he noted that “Clancarty’s own UFO references go back to the Star of Bethlehem and earlier.” Nevertheless, Stevens wrote, there were no artifacts of the aliens anywhere on earth. Trench, however, felt the CIA had hidden them all!
Trench eventually got his UFO debate, but it failed to turn over the government to UFO enthusiasts as he had hoped. Instead, Trench retreated into ever stranger ancient astronaut theories. He claimed the earth was hollow and that he had visited the interior, that the aliens had created the different human races and given them various skin colors, and that he could trace his unbroken ancestry back to an alien from 63,000 BCE. Oh, and that the Biblical book of Genesis took place on Mars.
No wonder Patrick Stevens was so exasperated about the potential for being buried in paperwork trying to investigate so many impossible claims!
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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