Editor’s Notebook: Aliens, viruses, and Independence Day

June 30, 2021 6:10 am
A view of Earth from the observatory

As the global climate summit concludes in Glasgow, America is presented with an urgent opportunity. (NASA Earth Observatory | Joshua Stevens; NOAA National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service)

Twenty-five years ago Saturday, all the nations of the world came together as one to repel an attack by an alien civilization. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. But the world did come together as one to watch Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, and Bill Pullman help repel an alien attack (thanks in part to a computer virus) in the disaster film “Independence Day,” which was released globally on July 3, 1996, and went on to become the highest grossing film of the year.

As another Independence Day approaches, alien visitors and viruses are still making headlines.

The virus on everybody’s mind isn’t the kind that can disable the deflector shield of an otherworldly spacecraft, of course, but rather one that’s killed nearly 4 million Earthlings in the past year and a half. COVID-19 isn’t quite finished with us yet and has added the Delta variant to its arsenal.

“It’s going to be hyper-regionalized where there’s certain pockets of the country that could have very dense outbreaks,” said Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former FDA commissioner, speaking about the variant on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday. He and others are worried about the unvaccinated – and what summer and fall might bring. 

As for aliens, Independence Day 2021 is unlikely to be as eventful as “Independence Day” 1996, thankfully. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t news to report on that front.

On Friday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a long-awaited report titled “Preliminary Assessment: Unidentified Aerial Phenomena.” As with most government documents, the UAP report is not exactly riveting reading, but there are some facts and figures that jump out.

Of the 144 reports of “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena” that originated with U.S. government sources (read: military aviators) between 2004 and 2021, 80 involved “observation with multiple sensors.” (So much for eyes playing tricks on weary pilots.) And in 21 reports describing 18 incidents, observers witnessed “unusual UAP movement patterns or flight characteristics.” That’s government-ese for, “Ummmm, what was THAT?”

The narrative continues: “Some UAP appeared to remain stationary in winds aloft, move against the wind, maneuver abruptly, or move at considerable speed, without discernible means of propulsion.”

Maybe I’m not giving other nations’ militaries enough credit – and I’m certainly no expert – but it is difficult to believe that China or Russia possesses technology that American pilots would find so baffling. It seems equally unlikely that the U.S. military would be able to keep such significant advancements secret from its own personnel for almost two decades. And if Elon Musk was behind a few of the UAPs, he almost certainly would have let it slip while hosting “Saturday Night Live” last month. Again, not an expert, but it’s starting to feel like the simplest explanation just might be the most unbelievable. 

If aliens are indeed scoping things out, I’d like to think that they’re here to save us from ourselves: “Look what these clowns are doing to that beautiful planet. It is waaaay too hot down there. We’ve seen it happen to other worlds, in other solar systems, and just watched. Let’s be better this time, and let’s be brave. We’ll check things out quietly for a few years, try not to create panic, make sure they’re a reasonable species, and then make landfall to do what we can for the universal rubes.”

After writing that imagined monologue, I have to admit I’m not bullish on our chances of rescue following a couple decades or more of observation. We might want to prepare for Ronald Reagan’s us-versus-them scenario instead, which he shared in a speech before the United Nations in 1987 and apparently found uplifting: “Perhaps we need some outside universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.”

Well, that’s no good either. If people who share a country can’t even get on the same page to eradicate a virus – or racism, poverty, inequality, etc., for that matter – what chance could we possibly have against an advanced civilization that doesn’t believe we’re worth saving?

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Dana Wormald
Dana Wormald

Dana Wormald, a lifelong resident of New Hampshire, has been a newspaper editor for more than 25 years. He began his career on the Concord Monitor’s news desk in 1995 and later spent more than a decade at the New Hampshire Union Leader. In 2014, he returned to the Monitor to serve as opinion editor, a position he held until being named editor of the Bulletin.