It’s one of the foundations of the whole Alien Mythos. Why does our own government is part of the Great Cosmic Conspiracy to hide the alien presence in our planet? Donald Keyhoe already had one tentative answer in the 1950s: to avoid public panic and the collapse of civil order. People are simply not prepared to know the truth, they would go insane. And as ufologists would tell in the decades afterward, there was even one clear proof of that.
The War of the Worlds. The 1938 Mercury Theater version, that is, by one then unknown Orson Welles, and the subsequent mass panic.
As head of Project Bluebook, captain Edward Ruppelt wrote in 1956, pondering why the USAF had suddenly started to approach the UFO subject in such a negative way:
“Was it an effort to cover up the fact that UFO’s were proven to be interplanetary and that this should be withheld from the public at all cost to prevent a mass panic? The UFO files are full of references to the near mass panic of October 30, 1938, when Orson Welles presented his now famous "The War of the Worlds" broadcast.”
There’s only one problem with that. Or better yet, two problems. First, the dramatization of the War of the Worlds by Welles is the dramatization of a War. Of the Worlds. This is such an obvious thing, the first contact between the Martians and humans happens with a heat-ray that vaporizes people. There are also terrible tripods and a poisonous gas that simply eradicate people like pests. It’s absolutely no wonder people panicked, but nowhere clear that the fact Martians were involved had anything to with it.
Then, we have the very small detail that the panic was not that widespread. Reports of millions of people running wild are greatly exaggerated. Many thousands may have been scared, and a handful may have acted like mad in response to the dramatization, but even the broadcast of a War of the Worlds with people being mass murdered didn’t provoke an instant collapse of the civilization around New Jersey. That is surprising in itself.
As it turns out, Ruppelt mentioned this question again in his book:
“Another question the [Blue Book] panel had was about Orson Welles’ famous War of the Worlds broadcast of October 1938, which caused thousands of people to panic. Had we studied this to see if there were any similarities between it and the current UFO reporting?
Our psychologist looked into the matter and gave us an opinion—to make a complete study and get a positive answer would require an effort that would dwarf the entire UFO project. But he did have a few comments. There were many documented cases in which a series of innocent circumstances triggered by the broadcast had caused people to completely lose all sense of good judgment—to panic. There were some similar reports in our UFO files.
But we had many reports in which people reported UFO’s and obviously hadn’t panicked.”
Which is, they looked at it, but they didn’t know the answer. Did the government, that is, the US government look into this matter seriously in the years afterward? We don’t know.
We can only ponder about it. Personally, I think the most obvious thing is that the public reaction has a lot to do as to what exactly the aliens are up to. It would also depend on how the authorities disclose the information.
The track record, though, if you exclude the Welles’ War of the Worlds, suggests people will not go instantly mad at all. Ufologists often forget some recent examples.
In 1996, NASA effectively announced the discovery of life on Mars. Later, it turned out the evidence was not that rock solid (Ha ha!). In 2004, the Mexican Air Force effectively suggested they filmed alien spacecraft in their air space, while also giving the exclusive footage to an ufologist claiming he was the only authority on the subject they knew. Later, it turned out they had filmed oil wells.
In none of these cases, despite broad media reporting, society didn’t collapse. Sure, they were not exactly the full disclosure ufologists hope for, but they are certainly examples of authorities stating we are not alone.
As one war journalist said of the war in Yugoslavia, with people going to school amid flying bullets, it’s amazing how people get quickly used to things. I do seriously suspect that when the final contact happens, there will be some changes, but people will soon accept our alien friends. Or even overlords.
There will only be some slight panic if they come with heat-rays.
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