It speaks to the oddness of our times that the nation’s “paper of record” runs a story about new military protocols for dealing with unidentified flying objects and people barely look up from their coffee.
“Really, a UFO? But did you see that tweet?”
I grew up in an era when a president promised to do great things in space, and then the nation did them.
As a boy, I got a full dose of TV programs, from “The Twilight Zone” to “Lost In Space” to “Star Trek,” that just assumed aliens zipped around in pimped-out interstellar rides built for doing good or ill for Earthlings.
For some good-natured fright, my parents took me, my sister and some friends on a post-dusk ride into the country to see a mysterious set of lights, which we took as otherworldly but they later discounted as “swamp gas.”
(Swamp gas, indeed. That’s just what the aliens want you to think.)
In most popular entertainment, the creatures from other planets had much superior intellects. You knew this because scriptwriters insisted that the visitors have massive heads.
Like Easter Island heads, you know. They needed such huge craniums to hold their oversized brains. The 1960s knew no nuance when it came to space invaders.
Only later, but not much, did I recognize the possibility that extraterrestrials might, in fact, be idiots, or least a little dense when it came to geography.
Why else would they visit a swampy backroad in New Madrid County?
It was not until that Steven Spielberg movie that people figured guests from space might be benevolent but just a little lost. “E.T.” showed the world that big eyes, a glowing finger and a strangely transparent chest could make folks go sniffly in theaters.
But we barely know what to make of this report in The New York Times about Navy pilots encountering strange doings off the Virginia coast in 2014 and 2015.
At least five of them witnessed these objects, described variously as a large spinning top and something resembling an airplane-sized Tic Tac.
They had the capacity to climb as high as 30,000 feet, hover at times, then jump to hypersonic speed. And they gave off no exhaust.
Keep in mind that these are not the sort of people who fashion hats from foil. These are the best of the best of the American military, F/A-18 Super Hornet pilots of long service and given multi-million dollar planes to fly.
Investigations commenced, including one by the notably surreptitious folks in a now-unfunded (or is it?) Defense Department office known as the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program.
An official in the program, understandably circumspect, offered no concrete explanation for what the pilots had seen, but told The Times they represented “a striking series of incidents.”
If they based Pentagon salaries on understatement, it would be a pretty good payday.
With this, the government did the most government thing ever: It issued a memo with instructions on how to report such a thing if it ever happened again.
Apparently, whatever these things were, they went elsewhere. Or at least any new sightings have been given a low profile.
No official source has attached “flying saucer” to the appearances — “unidentified aerial phenomena” seems the preferred current usage — and the absence of big-headed life forms speaks to the wisdom of that restraint.
In America, in 2019, we have learned not to be too surprised. Flying Tic Tacs just mess with our days.