May 17, 2021 - 3:00pm

UFOs are back — or at least they are in America. Ezra Klein, writing for the New York Times, is the latest public figure to give this issue the time of day. 

That’s not to say he’s become a full-on believer in flying saucers, but rather that there’s enough evidence out there for sensible people to take seriously:

The most curious subplot in the news right now is the admission, at the most senior levels of the United States government, that the military services have collected visuals, data and testimonials recording flying objects they cannot explain; that they are investigating these phenomena seriously; and that they will, in the coming months, report at least some of their findings to the public.
- Ezra Klein, NYT

To reiterate, these aren’t the words of some attention-seeking toad-licker, but a public intellectual with every reason not to trash his reputation. And, as I say, he’s not the only one. Other sober-sided types openly discussing the possibilities include the hyper-rational economist Tyler Cowen, the former CIA director John Brennan and the former Senate majority leader Harry Reid.   

Furthermore, the most importance evidence in this matter comes from the US military — specifically pilots who will have been carefully vetted before being put in charge of the most deadly and expensive aircraft ever built.

However, it is interesting that this appears to be a mostly American affair. Certainly, it’s hard to imagine a similar debate taking place over here. Any British public figure of any standing who went on about this stuff would be ridiculed. Remember the mockery unfairly aimed at the former Lib Dem MP Lembit Opik — and all he warned about was the scientifically established threat from asteroids. 

So why the difference between the US and UK on UFOs?

Maybe it’s because the American military, including its airborne component, is so much bigger than ours — and thus more likely to have collected evidence of unexplained phenomena. Or perhaps the British authorities are better at keeping such material under wraps. Alternatively, we could theorise that interest in UFOs is an outlet for collective psychological stress — specifically the stress experienced by a superpower that is once again under challenge from a foreign rival (21st century China taking the place of the post-war USSR).  

Then again, the difference may lie in the fact that America is a more religious society than ours. Klein makes a fascinating point in which he contrasts his own materialist worldview with that held by the majority of mankind throughout history, which is that we share “the cosmos with other beings — gods, spirits, angels, ghosts, ancestors.” The idea of a “crowded universe where other intelligences are interested in our comings and goings” is not, um, alien to people of faith. 

Indeed, what would really freak out a secular society is not UFOs proving the existence of visitors from another planet, but of beings that have always been with us — in our world, if not quite of it.

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.