UFOMagazine 8 September 2006
A Hero, A Heroine...
by Alfred Lehmberg
by Alfred Lehmberg
Dr. James E. McDonald, seminal ufologist and a man of undeniably objective science, was a man who might be observed at two seemingly disparate levels. On one level he possessed exactly what our suspect society stridently proclaims it prefers from its citizenship: intelligence, courage, self-improvement, civic involvement, and sterling productivity. He was ever a total asset to humankind’s elevation and advancement on every level.
On the other hand, he was a hapless fool—however magnificent! I think both observations are correct as strongly as I believe that he can be, oddly enough, congratulated and otherwise lauded on both of these levels. At once, Dr. McDonald’s story is a hard lesson even if it is a much needed and certainly gainful inspiration to us all. This is what is drawn from Anne Druffel’s powerful, informative, and very well-woven --excitingly readable-- biography of James McDonald; it is entitled Firestorm: Dr. James E. McDonald’s Fight for UFO Science (Wildflower Press, 2003).
Dr. McDonald, by way of introduction, was a good man, a kind man, a renaissance man, and a family man; he was a man instrumental, key actually, in elevating the status of aggregate ufology to the level of seriousness that it remotely enjoys, against all odds, today.
Yet, today, he is almost totally unknown even by those with more than a passing interest in the field.
This is a tragedy beyond debate. Ms. Druffel, in a near peerless effort, would put that error aright.
Druffel portrays the physicist James E. McDonald, accurately it would seem, as a highly respected world-class research scientist and much-beloved teacher, academic coach, and gifted educator. A renowned atmospheric physicist, he was a nascent prototypical ecologist, an incisive social scientist, and a master of diverse multiple subjects: a brilliant man in every regard. He changed the minds of hostile governments, steered academic boards, chaired lofty research sections, and headed significant causes.
Then he got interested in UFOs …
I’ve written before about an insidious social aspect of our hijacked society I tentatively call the Mothman Futility Mechanism. The sufferer of this mechanism, briefly, is an otherwise rational person innocently encountering an aspect of the highly strange.
In a justifiably passionate investigation of that very real strangeness, this person is destroyed in one way or another as a result of paying an awful and inevitable penalty for the pursuit of that "enigma’s teasing challenge," as it is imposed by that non-elected leadership mentioned before.
Such was the fate of Dr. McDonald. Druffel writes a compelling cameo, indeed, about the mechanism in action. It is portrayed exceptionally well in the heartbreaking and heartbroken subject of her startling biography. Back to McDonald...
This fine man, by step, by increment, and seemingly by design was progressively failed by society, its science, and by those closest to him. He would pay more than most MFM sufferers for his provoked transgression. He would be—perhaps deliberately—aggravated so that he suffered unmitigating depressions he found, at last, he could no longer endure.
Indeed, Druffel succinctly conveys how he would be inexorably driven over the cliffs of the blackest despair by others. He would be goaded, lead actually; drawn out on a precarious limb after years of government duplicity, institutional subterfuge, and agency chicanery. And then the limb was sawed off. With great deliberation and at the nadir of this abject hopelessness, he took his own life.
His was the kind of intelligent effort and efficacious artifice the aforementioned agencies, institutions, and governments would want to finesse for a "managed failure" and conveniently "thwarted success," one might suspect when reading between Druffel’s lines. Indeed, I recall that many of the major players on the ufological scene have been documented as being drawn down the same kinds of primrose path ending so tragically for McDonald. His story, again, is a pointed lesson for the observer of it:
Jacques Vallee wrote about Linda Moulton Howe and Stanton Friedman being played in a similar fashion. J. Allen Hynek and Edward J. Ruppelt wrote about the many hundreds of credible witnesses who initiate a report and then, abruptly, don’t follow up on their testimony. Richard Dolan and David Jacobs make rationally credible cases for an unelected government’s ufological interference and manipulation … and worse things.
Worse things, reader!
Given today’s realities, one could surmise many reasons why someone of McDonald’s caliber and propitious drive would have to be stopped—one way or another!
The mechanisms used against the good doctor are obvious and not so obvious, Druffel more than intimates. Not the least of these —jealous mechanisms of a hostile mainstream— were the scurvy tactics of otherwise inexplicable persons such as Philip Klass and Edward Condon. These were shallow men without imagination and courage, at best. At worst, they were drunk on their own baseless hubris and perhaps even cooperating drones for that conjectured unelected leadership.
Both were two-faced authoritarian murmurers with a predilection for whisper-campaigning, name-calling, hate mongering, and the yellowest of yellow presses. They were the hackish agents of stupefying misrepresentation and the instruments of crass deception and misinformation. They were the blindsiding back-shooters and the artless shadow-snipers. They are the reason the rest of us are reluctant to be bold!
These, and others like them —known and unknown— were the cowardly hurdles that Dr. McDonald was compelled to clear. They were the cheaters. They were the liars. They, themselves, were what they were pretending to warn us against!
McDonald, on the other hand, Druffel writes, was only a genuine scientist of the first water made aware, as a result of his researches, that a significant number of UFO reports could not have prosaic explanations. He was justifiably intrigued.
He was also demonstrably and justifiably aghast that his much revered science, in the person of the military and the scientists it employed, was not taking a remotely competent look at it. That UFOs should be exhaustively investigated was abundantly obvious to McDonald, along with few significant others. He understood all too clearly that they were not being properly investigated by any means. So he readily took up, as a man who is not a coward will, the campaign to bring mainstream science on line for that competent investigation. We are well served, ultimately, that he did.
For his trouble, Druffel notes, he was bait-and-switched, drawn out over empty air with high-level and well-connected promises of the financial support necessary for a quality investigation which, carrot-like, never materialized, and he, along with his family, was phone-tapped and threateningly followed in obvious ways!
Concurrently, even as McDonald is hobbled and persecuted in his righteous study of the problem, Edward Condon throws away a half million dollars in government grants for a negatively biased foregone conclusion regarding UFOs that he would later foist on the scientific community and a hapless public, very nearly ruining the whole ufological enterprise with his patent obfuscation of it, out of hand.
The bastard! Verily.
Condon and Klass were too little, too late for a complete destruction of nascent ufology, it seems, as Druffel points out with ready alacrity. Condon was clearly and suspiciously identified by McDonald, even before the formal report was released, as a duplicitous ax-grinder who apparently had not even read the report which he chaired and for which he was writing the conclusion. McDonald also made decisively short work of Philip Klass’ ludicrous expository, too. Klass was, summarily, inarguably, and effortlessly dismissed.
But for McDonald’s sterling science, faultless logic, expansive intelligence, and stalwart bravery, the bucket of cold water that was poured on UFOs by these two might have snuffed out the interest in them, altogether. McDonald was truly key in keeping them alive for subsequent generations. Druffel makes this clear, also. Oh, but what McDonald might have done with the half million dollars that Condon just pissed away on his fake study. I don’t think it unlikely that humanity might already be living expressive lives in the asteroid belt as a result. A living ring of humanity around our sun; a glittering halo of progressive humankind living between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter … but I digress.
Why was Dr. McDonald a fool, then? Everything expressed thus far would seem to indicate that he was a fool’s very antithesis. And he was, good reader; he was. But he was also a Boy Scout and a believer. Not a believer in the paranormal or a believer in UFOs, but a believer in a government of the people, by the people, and for the people as a working reality.
He had a Boy Scout’s confidence in the institution of science that went where the data went and not where it could, itself, be driven. He believed in demonstrable right and the courage of tested convictions, not easy convenience, untested faith, and profitable complacency. He believed in the rule of law, the rationality of due process, and the efficacious profits of professional behavior; he believed in the inevitable elevations and advancements discovered in frank open-mindedness, and he believed in the certain ultimate rewards found in a passionate investigation for the truth. Truth though heavens fall.
McDonald’s belief was that his society was an accurate reflection of the preceding. Even as it was not then. It is not now. McDonald, astonishingly, even as he can’t really be blamed, one discovers, believed he fought his scientific battles on a field that was remotely level.
The monumentally magnificent fool, forgetting for a moment that he is exactly the kind of fool that this writer and Ms. Druffel, I suspect, aspire to be and always admire; in fact, the only foolishness we’d insist upon. Fairness, rationality, forthcoming-ness, progressiveness, consistency, intelligence, and individual respect one should be able to take for granted given no demonstration otherwise.
Any other path is back-stepping, inane insanity. It is also apparent foolishnesses, given the state of the union today and half a century’s ufological denial, extra-normal dismissal, and thoughtlessly executed and canted denunciation by profit-taking pelicanists, scurvy skeptibunkies, and conflicted klasskirtxians.
These were the presumptions Dr. McDonald held, writing off the inconsistencies of science he witnessed as a monumental cock-up of crass incompetence and not what it more than likely was—a monumental cover-up of crafted duplicity.
And one not in our best interests I’d suspect; nor, I predict, would Ms. Druffel. Those who have would keep on having without regard to the sensibilities of those who have not.
Would that McDonald had been better able to take stock of his culture’s duplicity, he might have proceeded along more successful lines. Druffel points out a few occasions where information held out on him by knowledgeable authority provoked assumptions he was making regarding the veracity of professional persons he was otherwise forced to deal with. Thus, more encouragement outwards on that precipitous limb.
These were the officious anti-intellectuals and ethically bankrupt authoritarian toads such as Klass, Condon, Menzel, a host of intelligence operatives, wind-sensing (and passing) politicians, and timid academic functionaries. Betrayers of truth, all!
Verily, Ann Druffel is clear that Dr. McDonald was a fine, upstanding, and intelligent man of ethical consistency and rare courage who was betrayed by persons closest to him; betrayed when those persons knew he was on the right track, doing the right thing, and doing it in exactly the right way.
Where was the doctor’s wife when he had the future by the shirttails and enigma by the scruff? Where were his learned colleagues who knew he was right when he was blindsided by the convenient bias of pompous detractors who’d have to scale a ladder to buff his shoe tops? Where were his friends? What have they done in the aftermath to keep McDonald alive then, and for the future?
Dr. McDonald’s story is a hard lesson, because we are reminded of the prices that are sometimes demanded for the pursuit of human advancement. He is a wonderful inspiration when we recall that his name will be remembered long after the names of Klass and Condon and Menzel are less than ignoble dust.
In closing, this is a book of such power, intelligence, and accuracy that it has compelled this writer to reassess all of Ms. Druffel’s past work in a new, more interested and attentive light. It is that kind of book. Not to diminish the volume in any way, but it could be a dazzling film featuring Matthew McConaughey or Russell Crowe.
They might do Mac justice.
Firestorm! The very title of Ann Druffel’s book is an astonishing hint to just how close McDonald may have been to putting us in the asteroid belt to which I’d alluded earlier. Be that as it may, I am improved, fortified, and emboldened with the reading of it.
I’d suggest you would be, too.