At the end of July, a former military officer testified to a committee of the United States House of Representatives that the U.S. military was withholding information from Congress regarding unidentified flying objects (UFOs).
Retired military officer David Grusch and two other military veterans discussed UFOs (also referred to as unidentified anomalous phenomena or UAPs) with the committee, alleging that the military had hid evidence of non-human extraterrestrial life, claiming non-human “biologics” had been discovered at crash sites and that the government had been running a multi-decade program to reverse-engineer these crashed UFOs.
These claims were promptly denied by the Pentagon. Nevertheless, the seriousness with which the U.S. government approached this hearing is nothing new.
“The United States and other federal governments have been quite serious in their approach to UFOs and UAPs for a long time,” says Shane Montgomery, a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of Calgary. “Post-World War II, from Project Sign to Project Grudge to Project Blue Book, the government has been taking these incidents quite seriously in terms of national security interests.”
An airspace mystery
It’s important to note that UFOs or UAPs should not be considered synonymous with aliens or extraterrestrials, instead they are objects that cannot be immediately identified, unlike planes, birds or drones. Montgomery says, while government interest in UFOs may parallel those with interest in the potential extraterrestrial origin of these objects, it is not specifically about that.
“It is focusing on these unexplained phenomena and what they mean for the states and their airspace.”
The seriousness of these proceedings and the interest in the hearing may have stemmed from the secrecy with which the government tends to deal with UFOs or UAPs.
A recent IPSOS poll revealed that one in 10 Americans claim to have seen a UFO, and 42 per cent of the population believes in the extraterrestrial origins of UFOs. Public fascination in this topic seems to come not so much from a belief in aliens, but a belief that the government is hiding something about aliens.
“For as long as we’ve had these reports of UFOs or UAPs, there’s been this assumption that there is a government-level conspiracy,” says Montgomery.
Fueled by beliefs in government secrecy
TV shows like Ancient Aliens and Ancient Apocalypse have capitalized on this paranoia, painting themselves as having knowledge that so-called experts are hiding or trying to keep from the public.
“It’s very much a trend that we’ve seen going back to Roswell and the various reported alien crash landings we’ve heard about,” says Montgomery, referring to the mysterious 1947 crash in New Mexico that for decades has been alleged to have been of a UFO, despite the U.S. government claiming it was no more than a downed military balloon.
Overall, reaction to the testimony was muted, with many on social media pointing out they have more pressing issues to deal with than the potential existence of aliens.
Montgomery says the development of technology could also play a role in the lack of interest.
“As technology progresses, some of these concepts that could’ve been relegated to science fiction in the past are now becoming just science.”
Current research being conducted using radio astronomy and exoplanet spectroscopy to search for signs of intelligent life on other planets also make the idea of extraterrestrial life more realistic.
“It’s becoming less of a shock, and more of a matter of time before science finds something,” says Montgomery.
As an instructor who has taught a course about fringe archaeology, Montgomery has taught his students to be on the lookout for pseudoscientific and pseudo-archaeological claims and to be more critical in their examination of sources.
'Since we can't explain it, it must be aliens'
Many fringe archaeological sources dating back to the 19th century looked at the idea of "mother culture," where aspects of advanced civilizations in the past, such as monumental architecture, advanced astronomical knowledge and advanced writing, weren’t independently invented by those cultures themselves, but that they had help. In the 19th century, this involved lost civilizations like Atlantis, and in the 20th century it came to be claims of aliens helping these Indigenous cultures, an idea popularized by Erich von Däniken's 1968 book, Chariots of the Gods?
“The premise was these Indigenous groups weren’t sophisticated enough to invent these things on their own.”
“It created this false narrative by interpreting the iconography without understanding the cultures themselves to say, ‘We don’t know how they went about making this architecture and other things, and since we can’t explain it, it must be aliens.’”