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Date: August 24, 2003
Source: Iowa City Press-Citizen

Forget Martians; how will we handle a ‘new’ truth?

The Martians are coming! The Martians are coming!

Or at least Mars is getting very close to Earth - on Wednesday, the closest it's been for almost 60,000 years. In H.G. Wells' "The War of the Worlds," the Martians wisely selected such proximity during their orbit to invade Earth.

A few decades later, Orson Welles adopted the novel into a radio play that frightened a whole lot of Easterners far more than did the recent blackout.

These days, we know Mars probably wasn't inhabited by anything more dangerous than bacteria. The little green men of yesterday now are the Greys, allegedly of the star system Zeta Reticuli.

And they scare the be-jeezus out of a whole lot of people, too - even right here in Iowa.

Just two summers ago, Ed Williams was combining his wheat near Iowa City when he discovered a crop circle. The stems lay clockwise with a herringbone weave. A 60-foot diameter ring surrounded this circle.

At first, Williams and his brother, an airline pilot, thought it was caused by the weather, perhaps micro-bursts, or strong winds that sometimes crash planes. But 60 feet is way too large for a microburst.

A pair of Iowa State University agronomists also examined the formation. One argued it was man-made.

Crop circles also have been found in Iowa during the last decade at an Arlington cornfield and a Nevada soybean field. Their origins also remain mysterious.

Skeptics blame crop circles on elaborate hoaxes or rare natural occurrences such as plasma forces. Undoubtedly, some are hoaxes. Their elaborate designs, however, leaves many wondering.

At the beginning of the 21st century, polls show a majority of Americans believe that at least some UFOs are alien spacecraft. Though espousers of such views once were ridiculed, more than a century of strange aircraft in the skies and motion pictures about extraterrestrials have shifted views.

Among the earliest recorded sightings in Iowa is from a Sioux City area farmer during March 1897. While tilling his field, an airship hovered over him before descending. The airship tried to capture him, but he got away.

In 1947, a few days before a flying saucer allegedly crashed in Roswell, N.M., a bus driver in Mason City witnessed an elliptical craft flying toward the city. Four similar-shaped objects followed. A few minutes later, he saw 13 more craft at an estimated 1,200 feet.

And during October 1995, an Iowa City man near town saw two white aircraft close upon each other at a high altitude. They then flew toward another sparkling object that approached them at a fast speed.

I've never seen an UFO, though I've always wanted to. I briefly attended school in a Wisconsin farm town that was the site of a flying saucer flap in the 1970s. The neighbor girl, who was a classmate friend, and her no-nonsense mother claim a flying saucer almost abducted them.

As a news reporter, I once was scared crazy by a silvery object in the southern New Mexico sky during the early 1990s. Though my first panicked reaction was to get the heck out of there, some irrational notion that this would be a great scoop forced me to drive toward it. The dang thing turned out to be a blimp monitoring drug trafficking along the Mexican border.

That also turned out to be a good story, just not the one I was looking for.

But such is the problem with flying saucers. No one who wants to see them ever does.

Which doesn't mean at least some UFOs aren't alien spacecraft, the physics of interplanetary travel aside. I've talked to plenty of sheriff's deputies and American Gothic farmers who stand by their tales of brilliant lights, cattle mutilations and crop circles.

One former Iowa City man even says he and his son were abducted. While traveling through Wisconsin in 1988, John R. Salter said he inexplicably drove onto the wrong road. His next recollection was of standing outside his pickup truck, sur-rounded by several Greys. The aliens escorted his son and him through the woods to a flying saucer in a secluded clearing.

The aliens examined Salter and his son, injecting an implant through the elder's nostril. After being returned to their truck, the Salters watched the saucer rise above the treeline and disappear.

Sometimes we're shaken from our routines as the circularity of our orbits form strange conjunctions. Those moments force us to rethink our schema of the universe.

"But who shall dwell in these worlds if they be inhabited?" Johannes Kepler asked as pondering his theory that planets circle the sun rather than the Earth. "Are we or they Lords of the World? ... And how are all things made for man?"

Undoubtedly, most UFO sightings are hoaxes, dreams, panicked reactions to test aircraft and even swamp gas. But what if some of them, say even just a couple are something from out of this world?

How would it change the way we view the universe and ourselves? Would our religions crumble? Would we see our politics as the petty bickering it so often is? Would we panic, uncertain of the fate that awaits us as for the first time in literally hundreds of thousands of years we become the technologically inferior species on our planet?

Would governments transfer the realization of this to the way we treat other nations on Earth?

Interestingly, in Wells' book, not fear but a lack of knowledge was the invaders' undoing.

Bacteria killed the Martians.
Rob Bignell is the Press-Citizen's editorial page editor. He can be reached at rbignellic@press-citizen.com

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