STOCKHOLM -- The most extraordinary phenomenon of post-war Europe is the report of flying bombs or rockets that are now beginning to come from widely separated areas. If they are real, then we have a small of what the next conflict will be like. If they are a mere illusion, then we have an example of the uneasy state of mind of the people who live on this troubled continent.
The rockets were first reported in numbers from Sweden, where you would assure that the cautious and even-tampered population, untouched by the direct tragedy of war would not be subject to random nightmares. Next were vague reports of fire-bombs over Athens at the time of the visit of the aircraft carrier Franklin D. Roosevelt. More recently, rockets have been reported over Italian cities and the Italian government has ordered an investigation.
I have talked to many people about the flying bombs. Some put the whole thing down to postwar hysteria. Others take a serious view of what they call, half in jest, "Russian hail."
One thoroughly reliable American observer with whom I talked saw flying bombs in broad daylight over this city. It was a cigar-shaped object which streaked across the sky with great speed and seemed on the point of shooting eastward. Careful Swedish observers have seen what they believed to be rockets.
Official opinion is that nothing is really known about the phenomenon, which has now more or less subsided. Recently, at any rate, very few reports of the bombs have been received. If the government has found any fragments, that fact is being kept a careful secret.
The soundest opinion seems to me to be this: The Russians on the island of Peenemünde, off the German Coast in the Baltic, are probably experimenting with televised rockets. They must send them over a fairly long distance in order to make an adequate test. The United States strategic bombing survey determined that very little damage was done at Peenemünde.
From other sources I have learned that the Russians took Peenemünde almost intact. They also captured a number of German Scientists who active in promoting guided missile and rocket research.
The U. S. got its share of these scientists, many of whom are now in America. But the Soviets also shared in this strange spoil of war and their captured scientists are now said to be working for them. These experts may be teaching the Russians what they know and that may be the explanation for the mysterious fireworks.
Psychologists do not, of course, discount the remarkable suggestibility of the human mind in periods of great stress. Before the rise of Nazism with its sinister accompaniment of mass hypnosis, we like to think we were living in an age of reason and could not be touched by spells and hysteria that formerly swept whole populations. In the year 1000, large numbers of Europeans became convinced that the world was ending and strange forms of mass hysteria occurred throughout the continent.
Perhaps the "Russian hail" was only a stray meteor or two magnified by tragic fears that feed on the mysteries of science. How many years must pass before we can hope to see the peoples of the world back to anything like normal?
Marquis Childs' column was carried in hundreds of newspapers in the United States. He would later win the Pulitzer Prize for Journalism. He is the author of many books on subjects such as one on Eisenhower, the Swedish economic system and politics. The use of the word "televised" does not in this case mean television, but control at a distance by electronic means.