Dubious Debates; Trump's Strategy; UFOs!

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Good morning, it’s Monday, June 24, 2019. On this date in 1947, an amateur pilot named Kenneth Albert Arnold was flying his small plane from his home in Boise, Idaho, to an air show in Oregon. He had taken a slight detour en route, one necessitating that he look out of his cockpit window with acute attentiveness: a U.S. Marine Corps transport plane had crashed recently in that area, and there was a $5,000 reward offered to anyone who found the wreckage.

Although Arnold did not spot the Curtiss C-46, he did see something else interesting that afternoon, not on the ground but in the air. When he discussed it during a refueling stop at a small airstrip in Yakima, Wash., Kenneth Arnold launched a new movie genre, a coast-to-coast craze, and a national obsession -- with UFOs.

He would be quoted, controversially, as saying he saw “flying saucers.” That's not precisely the phrase he used, but within a couple of weeks, President Truman was discussing flying disks with White House reporters.

In a moment, I'll have a further word on this subject, which I first wrote about four years ago. First, I’d point you to RealClearPolitics’ front page, which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion columns spanning the political spectrum. We also offer original material from our own reporters and contributors, including the following:

* * *

The Dubious DNC Debates. Bill Scher argues that flaws in the criteria for inclusion have kept out two candidates with credible resumes while two others with no qualifications made it through the door.

Murder on the Campaign Express: All the Dems Did It. Frank Miele offers some advice regarding the president’s 2020 messaging.

American Nationalism: It’s Real…and It’s Spectacular. Steve Cortes asserts that the term is defined not by race but by shared values.

A Madisonian Remedy to the Social Media Revolution. Peter Berkowitz assesses a new book by Glenn Harlan Reynolds, “The Social Media Upheaval.”

Innovative Gun Control Idea Gains Support. Jack Beyrer explores the use of Extreme Risk Protection Orders to temporarily take firearms from someone behaving in ways that suggest potential violence.

2020 Women: Overlooked But Not Forgotten. Lauren Leader applauds the accomplishments of the six female candidates who will take the stage this week at the Democratic primary debates.

Trump Isn’t Afraid to Stand Up to the Big China Lobby. Jon Toomey writes that plenty of U.S. businesses are behind the president despite media coverage of those opposed.

* * *

By 1947, Americans were attuned to the awesome, and sometimes frightening, power of technology. Hiroshima and Nagasaki had taught everyone that lesson. And even before the Second World War, Orson Welles' 1938 "War of the Worlds" broadcast wasn't merely viewed as a metaphor for the destruction beginning to erupt around the globe. It was also a frightening campfire story about unknown threats from the heavens.

In this milieu Kenneth Arnold flew his small plane over Mount Rainier when something caught his eye. He saw the flash of a bright light with a bluish tinge, which he initially thought came from another airplane.

Looking around, he saw a DC-4, which he estimated to be 15 miles away, heading in the opposite direction. Then he saw another series of flashing lights, nine in succession, and, even stranger, a series of airborne objects that he estimated were stretched over a distance of five miles. Moving in unison, they weaved from side to side, he said, darting like "the tail of a Chinese kite."

Attempting to calculate their speed, the pilot clocked how long it took the mysterious fleet to travel between Mount Rainer and Mount Adams, and concluded that they were traveling 1,700 miles an hour. This assessment is what convinced some people -- and convinces UFO enthusiasts to this day -- that Kenneth Arnold was witnessing extraterrestrial avionics at work. That airspeed, after all, is more than twice the speed of sound, and Chuck Yeager wouldn't go supersonic for another four months.

I think Arnold was looking at a flock of geese, and he miscalculated their speed because he misjudged how far away they were. But his imagination was off and running, and when he told the ground crews and hangers-on at the Yakima airstrip what he'd seen, they tended to believe him. Or, at least, they passed it along.

By the time Arnold arrived at the air show in Pendleton, Ore., his tale had preceded him. A local reporter interviewed him, the story went out on the wires and made newspapers all over the country.

Arnold didn't really call the objects “flying saucers.” What he said was that "they flew like … a saucer being tossed across the water." Famed CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow would later call this a “historic misquote,” but it seems to me that the paraphrase is pretty close and that if there’s a fault, it lies with Arnold.

In any event, reports of "flying saucers" spiked in this country, and by the time a military weather balloon crashed outside Roswell, N.M., on July 8, 1947, witnesses immediately thought of flying saucers and spacemen. Two days later, Harry Truman was asked about this phenomenon at a White House press conference.

“Mr. President,” he was asked, "have you seen any flying saucers?”

“Only in the newspapers,” he replied with a laugh. 

Carl M. Cannon  
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics
@CarlCannon (Twitter)

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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