How UFOs Conquered The World by David Clarke (book review).

May 25, 2015 | By | Reply More

In many respects, ‘David Clarke’s book ‘How UFOs Conquered The World’ is actually the history of UFOs that people have been seeing since just before the second world war. He also succeeds in correcting some misconceptions. Some good and some bad and along the way realises that it is less about what’s up there but the people who observe things.


No one has still not said just what the foo fighters are that early pilots of many nations had following their planes. ‘Foo’ means fireballs by the way. It was enough to give world leaders some sleepless nights as to what was going on. Interestingly, the Men in Black started around the same time although the early ones having glowing eyes seems to be something I missed as I thought they were supposed to wear sunglasses.

Most of your should be aware of Kenneth Arnold’s observations of nine objects flying near the mountains in Washington State but should know that they weren’t flying saucers but crescent-shaped and going faster than Mach Two. It was the media that turned them into flying saucers and mass hysteria that made everyone see UFOs as them afterwards. Mind you, that doesn’t explain some of the pictures that aren’t fake and there’s still the puzzle why no one has photographed the cigar-shaped UFOs that people have also seen which I can’t put down to mass hysteria. Oddly, Science Fiction magazines of the time period re-enforced the imagery on their covers although considering that people who saw saucers also said they weren’t SF fans makes me wonder. After all, the number of SF fans who have seen UFOs are in a minority which is definitely contradictory when you might have expected it to be the norm.

The second chapter puts a lot of what UFOs are in context and even Arnold’s observations are revealed to be probably birds and probably the reflected light off pelicans. Then again, with pelicans flying in such formations, you would have expected to have seen more sightings like that as well. Indeed, many of the misconceptions of what UFOs are can be accounted for by not recognising what is in the sky, especially at night. Where I live, at night, I can easily spot Venus and Jupiter and I might, without prior knowledge, think them as bright stars than moving objects. If you want a simple test, check if the same ‘stars’ are there the next night around the same time. This will be true for a few weeks before Earth’s orbit moves them sway.

Clarke goes a lot further when he was able to pull all the UFO files under the Freedom Of Information Act and which are now also available on-line. He also interviewed the people who ran the government UFO team and brings out an interesting picture. Yes, I can see how people would have been influenced by films like ‘Close Encounters Of The Third Kind’ but no one said they saw the flying light objects or indeed the mothership floating past although why would people see the Imperial Star Destroyer from ‘Star Wars’ which is clearly not even in our galaxy I’m less sure about. Likewise, although Clarke frequently points to ‘The X-Files’ as a major influence on people’s perceptions, there have been UFOs in other series over the years. Even looking through the diagrams of UFOs in the photosection, there are several with a resemblance to Klattau’s saucer in ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’ but none like those used in Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s series ‘UFO’ or any of the other SF series and films since. Surely something like the Klingon Bird Of Prey or some of the spacecraft from ‘Stargate’ would have been ‘spotted’ by now if that was the case. I had a rummage through the SF film posters from the time period and other than those using terrestrial spacecraft, the only significant one I could see was the original ‘War Of The Worlds’ and no one dreamed about the Martian war machines flying in the skies.

One pertinent point was the files the government had were nearly the same as public UFO investigators, no doubt because when witnesses failed with one option went to the other. I can see how Clarke slowly became more of a sceptic. The whole point of investigating UFOs is to remove the identifiable and see what’s left.

The more recently acknowledged fact that the CIA/USAF used UFOs to conceal their experimental aircraft when spotted in flight is covered in the next chapter, although Clarke doesn’t indicate the triangular UFO could have been one of the USAF’s experimental stealth aircraft. Logistically, it made sense for the CIA to exploit something that people already believed in. Of recent years, with more and more people carrying digital cameras, you would think the number of UFO sightings would have gone up, despite the fact that it’s easier to fiddle with digital images, but the reverse seems to have happened. Maybe people are paying too much attention to their screens than looking up.

Clarke does point to plastic balloons carrying gondolas around 1955-56 which, if you think about the shape, would have given rise to the belief in the cigar-shaped UFOs, although I would have thought the balloon above it might have been a giveaway. Thinking about the slow speed of balloons, it’s amazing people thought them alien-driven.

The 1967 ‘flap’ caused by students planting small UFO saucers around shows the UK had no contingency plans should aliens come to Earth. I suspect the same is true of the other nations as well. Objectively, I suspect there would be enough time should it arise simply because of the time it would take for a spacecraft to decelerate. Hopefully, none of this includes a pre-emptive attack at short notice.

What is interesting about the abductees stories is that so many of them have the, shall we say, same experience. Clarke points out a lot of SF film sources as influences and yet you would have found people like us would have had a higher proportion of abductee stories and, as far as I know, little if any. That alone should say something. Maybe being intent on SF removes such possible delusions. It isn’t like some of us aren’t susceptible to persuasion or take interest to extreme. Some of the more odd beliefs that lizards disguised as humans is so out of ‘V’ that even in our community, we keep our eyebrows raised. This doesn’t mean Clarke’s chapter on this isn’t without some astute observations that something is going on inside the human psyche. If I was going to extend the examination, I would look to see if there were other beliefs as widespread to see if there are other patterns out there. After all, there must be some other fearful experiences out there. Don’t people believe that during their paralysis in sleep that they lose some blood to vampires? I mean, it’s probably as strong as alien abduction in the human psyche and certainly heavily induced in the media.

As Clarke drew the book towards its conclusions, something that did occur to me was that the grey aliens look remarkably similar to the sensory map of the human body as if drawn by someone who hadn’t seen the actual map when the mouth was much larger. Then again, I suspect some people don’t see their ability to taste food as particularly important.

Something telling is Clarke reminding that many people seeing humans being important at a cosmic level being wonky thinking. Not that I would dispute that but considering how the SETI program is still looking for life in the galaxy, I think I would think sentient life is just rare or rarely happens in the same time frame, given the time it takes for light to reach us here. Relatively speaking, it could be out there now in our time frame but by the time we receive their signals or them our TV signals, both would be extinct.

As you can tell by the length of this review, I have learnt a lot from this book, not to mention some speculation in different directions. Considering that UFOs seem to be the next step from believing in fairy folk, I do wonder what will hit the human psyche next in a similar fashion and how long would it take to work out what causes it.

GF Willmetts

May 2015

(pub: Aurum Press. 312 press illustrated indexed small hardback. Price: £18.99 page hardback. ISBN: 978-1-78131-303-9)

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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