Philip J. Klass, aviation writer and longtime UFO skeptic (below left, hamming it up with Stan Friedman in the late 1970s), passed away yesterday at the age of 85.
Klass's obituary can be found at www.ufomag.com/colleagues/philklass.html
Klass (or "Uncle Phil" as he was often called by some within ufology who knew him well) was the longtime bete-noire of ET "True Believers" - a group not to be confused with ETH proponents (more on the distinction below). Perhaps the most rabid of the current crop, Alfred Lehmberg, has demonstrated his utter lack of class by posthumously attacking Klass today at both his new blog and at UFO Updates. Lehmberg wrote: "The man was a cesspool of belligerent evil... He was not the honoured opposition we'd eulogize. He was ever only a craven enemy of our aggregate spirit and an insult to the bravery of same." See www.virtuallystrange.net/ufo/updates/2005/aug/m11-013.shtml
Fortunately, Lehmberg is, as always, the egregious, mean-spirited exception that seems to prove the rule.
Other early responses have been more measured, and have reflected upon both the good and bad that was Klass.
For example, Kevin Randle wrote:
"I was saddened to learn of Uncle Phil's demise. He enjoyed his role of rat in the birthday cake and asking questions that some of us didn't ask. He was always cordial with me even when we disagreed, as we frequently did. If nothing else, he did take the time to physically investigate cases, going to locations and talking to witnesses. We can only hope that others in the skeptic camp will follow suit and make on the site investigations rather than pronouncements from the armchair. True, Uncle Phil knew that UFOs didn't exist and this often colored his thinking, but he also made the rest of us work a little harder..." See www.virtuallystrange.net/ufo/updates/2005/aug/m11-027.shtml
I was chatting with Brad Sparks last night, without knowing that Klass had died. I asked him what was going on. He said, "my friend, Phil Klass, has passed away." Brad had knock-down, drag-them-out fights with Klass over any number of ufological issues, but he still described him as a friend. That speaks well of Brad - and Klass.
Royce Myers III, of UFO Watchdog, was dismayed, as was I, by some of the more vicious responses to Klass's passing. Putting Klass in perspective, he wrote: "Klass was a skeptic, not a pedophile or mass murderer. There are people in this field I absolutely cannot tolerate, but I can guarantee you this: I would never celebrate their passing nor find any comfort in it. I thought people in this field would be far above this sort of nonsense. With condolences to the Klass Family..." see www.virtuallystrange.net/ufo/updates/2005/aug/m11-023.shtml
I couldn't agree more. I'm not a fan of Dr. Michael Salla, for example. Frankly, I think he and his exopolitical fellow travellers do more damage to the cause of the serious study of the UFO phenomenon than Klass ever did, and I've said so - time and again. But I don't wish him any personal ill will, and I hope he lives a long and productive life. Ditto Lehmberg.
And there's the problem - most people, as I've written here before, understand that the study of the UFO phenomenon is not the "be all and end all" of human existence. Even if ET was to land on the White House lawn tomorrow, life would go on, changed as the circumstances might be. This is true even within ufology - indeed, it is the very argument that Cosmic Watergate proponents like Stan Friedman use when they urge the government to come clean about the crashed saucers and alien life they are convinced the government is covering up - "hey, we can handle the truth!" To most of us, the UFO phenomenon is an important subject that needs to be studied, but it doesn't define who we are.
Things are different for the most rabid of ET "True Believers," however - like Lehmberg (a minority, to be sure, among ETH proponents). They look to the sky, hoping for the technological era's equivalent of divine intervention to lift them out of whatever personal malaise they find themselves in; for them, it really is personal, in the same way that the most ardent evangelicals look at those of us who have not found our way to their God as "pawns of Satan." For rabid ET "True Believers" like Lehmberg (again, a far too vocal minority of ETH proponents), things are simple - they have found their God, and will brook no opposition. You're either with them, or against them. They live in a world where their God is "grey" (literally), and everything else is black and white. They are indulgent self-loathers, and that self-loathing bleeds out into their relationships with everyone else who hasn't "seen the light."
Their belief overwhelms their sense of our common humanity, and the compassion we should always have for others.
Thus their reaction to the passing of Klass. Lehmberg: "He was a craven enemy of our aggregate spirit."
Ponder that sentence, and then ask yourself - who would you rather have to a dinner party: Alfred Lehmberg, or Phil Klass?
For me, the answer is easy - Klass. Klass might have thought ufologists were a bit nutty, but he would never have described them as the "craven enemy." If you had wheeled a flying saucer and aliens in front of him, I have no doubt that he would have winced a bit, and then said, "looks like I was wrong."
My choice of dinner companions will no doubt come as no surprise to Lehmberg (I can see the Alien View News column now - "Kimball the New Klass"), who has called me "Klass-lite." Considering the source, it is an epithet I wear as a badge of honour, even if it is completely ridiculous.
Now, having said that, let me address a couple of points about Klass himself.
1. Did I agree with him?
Not very often, but he did provide a useful counterbalance to the ET "True Believers" - a far right ufological yin to their far left ufological yang. However, whereas they are unwilling to ever admit that they may be wrong, Klass never ruled out the possibility of ET life, and was known to give ground on particular cases where someone had demonstrated he was in error (i.e. with Brad and RB47).
2. Did he make mistakes?
Absolutely, sometimes some pretty big ones (Brad Sparks thoroughly demolished Klass's "explanantion" for the RB47 case, for example) - but who doesn't? But let's not forget that he also got some things right over the years (like the big picture on MJ-12, for instance).
3. Did he attack pro-ET types?
Yes. On the other side of the ledger, however, it must be noted that Klass took his fair share of pretty heavy hits over the years as well (the term "klasskurtzian" is not meant as a compliment by those who use it), seemingly with good humour, and most people who knew him well, like Kevin Randle, Brad Sparks or Stan Friedman, say that he was actually quite agreeable on a personal level.
Which all makes sense, because, at the end of his life, Phil Klass was just a man, no better or worse than most of us. His passing, outside of the narrow confines of ufology, will probably go largely unnoticed, which, now that I think about it, would probably please him, in that it would prove his point that UFOs aren't really all that important, at least as far as the general public is concerned - one of those things on which he and I agreed, even as we would have disagreed about whether this was a good thing or not.
Most ETH proponents would likely admit that they'll miss having Phil Klass around. I know I will.
The more evangelical ET "True Believers," like Lehmberg, who see themselves as heroes in a great struggle against evil, will probably never admit that they'll miss Klass, but they will.
After all, every evangelical religion needs a Devil, and all heroes need an arch villain.
Klass was Lex Luthor to their Superman...
Or, as Uncle Phil might have had it, Batman to their Joker.