Saturday, October 03, 2015

UFOs And Racism...

Major Hector Quintanilla 

UFOs And Racism...
by Alfred Lehmberg

I'm going to suggest something likely uncomfortable.  It's what I do, I know, but bear with me.

I've ever meant no offense. I'm otherwise loath to offend polite sensibilities (sincerely!) but I don't think that Major Hector Quintanilla, a past Blue Book commander, is being considered at this time through the proper filter of the times in which he lived. A proper more realistic filter puts a different spin on the validity of Quintanilla's testimony as regards the existence of UFOs, his criticism of Hynek, and his contribution to the history of ufology.

The times to which I refer were very heavily influenced by social, overt, and institutional racism. Toxic fruit borne of this racism heralded significantly unequal professional playing fields and a speciously unfair cultural advantage for some members in the culture over others. 

By way of example, I once had a very white, blue-eyed Italian American and West Point second lieutenant tell me in the late seventies, during a helicopter live fire exercise at an aerial gunnery range in Germany, that he'd been mentored against expecting to be a General officer in the Armed Forces simply because his name ended in a VOWEL. This officer was even of some positive notoriety: he was feted as having kicked a winning field goal in an Army/Navy grudge game #78.  One would have thought that that might get him a star, but his hopes were not high.

Every year that one goes back in the history of the American Armed Forces, one discovers a further retreat from the (comparative) egalitarian reality enjoyed in it today. This is forgetting that the Armed Forces lead the way to social reform (for pragmatic reasons... the military has to work, so sometimes "fairness" becomes required even where it's begrudged!). A graduate of the Defense Race Relations Institute in 1972, this writer was a proud part of that reform, despite the pragmatism... but I digress...

Speaking with some experience in the matter I'd suggest that a Latin (Mexican?) American of any stripe—and wearing any uniform—in the late 50's and early sixties of American society, was seen as a second class service member by the contrived mainstream AND the branch of service in which he proudly served.  Such was indubitably so and requires no citation. 

This is, in no way, to denigrate the performance, capability, and intelligence of Lt. Colonel Quintanilla, quite the contrary. That an individual of color operating in a "white capacity" of that time had to put out 150 percent of effort to maintain 75 percent of the consideration of that capacity, is small hyperbole!

An officer of color had to be more steadfast than steadfast. He—exclusively, there were no women, essentially—had to be more efficient than merely efficient. An officer of color could be too intelligent and innovative and become an embarrassment to inferior "superior" officers.  That officer of color alluded to had to be more loyal than staunchly loyal... and therein is found the root of his ironic invalidity as a ufological witness for the prosecution.

Heading up the latter Project Blue Book was not a choice assignment, by any means. It was a dead end at best—an opportunity where one had every occasion to tick off the brassy principals. At worst? The assignment to Bluebook was likely perceived as career death...

Quintanilla would not have volunteered for Blue Book—it would have been thrust upon him after a string of white officers "more capable" had found some way to weasel out. Quintanilla would have had no such weasel room. 

With his career at stake from the beginning because of his ethnicity, he would follow his orders with a smile on his face and a resolute chin set. He would also try diligently to adhere to the party line. Quintanilla knew which way the wind blew. That he was where he was, at all, is stark evidence of that.

At the time, UFOs were evolving into a very "politically incorrect" line of inquiry. The mode of official investigation had become slapdash and biased on the side of the resolute negativists prosecuting a narrowly focused program for "reasonable" ufological denial.  It was up to Quintanilla to prove that UFOs were a non issue that did not warrant further "costly investigation." 

It fell to Quintanilla to get the fledgling Air Force out of the uncomfortable business of UFOs.  What a monkey on any man's back, more so for a man of color... for which a success was required of this no-win Herculean task to survive with honor.

Privy to a bit more of the big picture than the rank and file citizen of the time and on direction of his suspiciously motivated superiors, Quintanilla would have prosecuted that distorted picture with rare diligence if he wanted to keep a position and rank so meaningful to him. He might swallow pride and he might even compromise ethical principles, but he would be able at the same time to rationalize his contribution as the performance of his assigned and implied duty, which it assuredly was. Quintanilla is the innocent in all of this—a man under inordinate pressure—and at the cruel whim of his white ticket-puncher.

I've seen Quintanilla on black and white TV since I was a kid, testifying negatively on the subject of UFOs, and I always get the impression that he is stonewalling, effectively and believably, with some uneasy knowledge of the greater reality, but stonewalling none the less. Additionally, even as a kid growing up in a family not overtly racist, I'd idly wondered why they had given such an "important" position to a 'Mexican'... ashamed to say, but I digress.

Quintanilla did not seem comfortable, at any rate, calling the suspected black cat, white... but he was just the man for the job. Few worked harder than Quintanilla did to achieve what he had achieved as a career officer. I imagine that he was not going to let something he didn't have the time or inclination to entirely believe himself (alien space invaders, indeed!) torpedo his hopes and dreams and the hopes and dreams of his entire family, extended and otherwise! He would testify the same to the end of his life* from embarrassed inertia or perhaps from a sense of historical consistency to facilitate the "National Security..."

No, before one takes Lt. Colonel Quintanilla's negative testimony to the contributory level of Ruppelt, Hynek, and Vallee—or even use Quintanilla to discredit the reputations of those three—one must filter him through those times when men of color had to provide ample and inordinate demonstration that they were predictable and dependable company men, squared, or even cubed, to revisit that earlier small hyperbole above. One must also add to validity's equation how loath Quintanilla would understandably be to give up hard won gains for an ethereal and intangible no-win like UFOs.

At the end of my considered filtering and the reasonable addition of the "psychological baggage" imposed by a society of bigots that Quintanilla must have carried like Job, one might begin to conclude that Quintanilla's contribution to the "reasonable" dismissal of ufology had axes to grind difficult to talk about, consider, and finally accept. The institutional racism and bigotry that Quintanilla undoubtedly experienced as an Air Force officer is enough to mask his feelings, cloud his judgment, and make his testimony less than reliable, this writer offers. 

Doing his duty, between the rock and the invariable hard place men of color were more subject to then, Hector Quintanilla was just another unrecognized and unappreciated victim of bigotry and racism that continues in a form not all that reduced from what it was then, today. He was a, I think reluctant, transmitter of mainstream propaganda, to wit: "We are, too, Alone..."

Col. Robert Friend

It is interesting to note that another man of color, then Major Robert Friend—now a Colonel and the oldest surviving member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen—was put in charge of Blue Book in 1958, but shunted out, perhaps, when he took UFOs too seriously for the powers that be and inquiry was supplanted by the classic debunkery... I digress.

...So Quintanilla's testimony, in the unappreciated aggregate, may be questionable for reasons no one has ever considered before. He was not going to risk his career on a horse that was to be shot before it left the starting gate. It made much more sense to follow the lead of conflicted superiors, do his duty (even protect the National security), but parrot the accepted party line and qualify the usual propaganda he did not seem all that comfortable professing on black and white (but still vastly white) TV.

A conclusion that might be drawn: company men and "ringers," overshadowing those hanging on by fingernails to hard won careers, were employed to control the rank and file citizenry employing propaganda mechanisms—increasingly duplicitous and disingenuous—to klasskurtxian corporate ends. It seems more than merely conceivable that such might be so.

*Also interesting to note is that staunch debunker Quintanilla had published after his death thoughts to the effect that he'd believed all along in the existentiality of UFOs and that they were deserving of all study and investigation.  What is Truth?  It is true enough?  

Read on.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this insightful view into the early days of 'official' UFO debunking. As the fog leaves our collective eyes through articles like this, a picture comes sharply into view... one which is massive in scope and disturbing in implication.

Alfred Lehmberg said...

My pleasure Sir or Madam...