Okay. In case there’s somebody out there who isn’t familiar, Area 51 is a super-secret facility located in the barren desert of Nevada. Also known as “Groom Lake,” after the dry lake bed located on the property, or more mysteriously as “Dreamland,” it is (and this much we know for sure) the base where experimental aircraft are created and tested. It’s so top secret that even the President of the United States doesn’t know everything about it. Again, we know this is factual. Bill Clinton, during his presidency, tried to obtain information on the base and its clandestine activities only to run into a stone wall. We know Dreamland exists; these days anyone with access to google earth can look at it from space. We know what they do there, in a vague, generalized sorta way. But there are legends, too, which might be true. The story goes that, after a flying saucer (or flying saucers, plural, as some sources say that there were TWO separate sites) crashed in the desert outside Roswell, New Mexico in 1947, the debris—and the bodies of the dead aliens the crafts contained—was taken to Area 51 for study. In the late 90s, a man named Bob Lazar came forward with an incredible story. He had worked at Area 51, he said, and had seen the spaceships himself, been told they originated from another planet, and told to “reverse engineer” them and figure out how they worked. Lazar claimed to have seen an alien being examined by men in lab coats. When he first revealed his story, the government did exactly what would be expected and denied everything, proclaiming Lazar a fraud. However, Lazar was able to prove that he had in fact worked at Dreamland. Unfortunately, subsequent investigations revealed that Lazar had lied about other things, his educational pedigree, mostly, and this forever stains his credibility regarding everything he says. Lie about one thing and get caught, it’ll make people doubt EVERYthing you say, right? Doesn’t mean everything you’ve said is false, but it will always have that question mark hanging above it.
Supposedly, our stealth bomber makes use of technology developed by study of the flying saucers. Supposedly, a lot of the technology we use today, from fiber optics to cell phones, came about as a result of Roswell tech. There’s no proof for any of it, but there are lots of rumors. Who knows the truth of it? Annie Jacobsen claims to know. I believe her. At least I believe she is truthfully telling us the things that she herself was told by her “sources,” some of them named and some remaining anonymous. I don’t know that her sources, though, were being completely honest with her.
Here’s the skinny: Jacobsen claims that a pair of flying saucers did in fact crash at Roswell. All those eyewitnesses, the rancher, the townspeople, the local mortician, who claimed to see the debris and the dead aliens were telling the truth. The government’s cover story—that the crash was just a weather balloon with a dummy strapped to it—was complete hogwash, she tells us. But she says that the UFOs originated not in outer space but in Cold War Russia. This is proven by the fact that the “flying discs” had Russian writing on them. They were sent to America to cause a War of the Worlds-type panic amongst the American populace much larger than the one Orson Welles set off with his infamous Halloween night radio broadcast. Too bad for the Soviets that they crashed, Jacobsen says, and the US got hold of the tech.
How about the aliens? Jacobsen says that her sources told her the bodies were actually human. They were human beings, experimented on and altered by the evil Nazi mastermind Joseph Mengele, who had entered into a deal with the Soviets the same way Werner Von Braun and his ilk had sided with the US in the days after World War 2. Is this scenario more plausible than the alien take on things? It’s certainly possible. And it’s clandestine and shady enough to satisfy the X-Files contingent out there. It does seem like an awful lot of trouble for the Russians to go to just to scare the begeezus out of their enemies. But such a panic could potentially undermine the American infrastructure enough to make it worth the while. And let’s be honest, the idea of a crazy Nazi scientist in league with the Soviets to genetically and surgically alter human guinea pigs and make them look like aliens is hardly any scarier than the idea that we have been visited by intelligent beings from another planet, is it?
I have a couple of problems with the big reveal, though. One, how would Mengele know what aliens are supposed to look like, in order to make his experiments resemble them, if he wasn’t basing it on descriptions that already existed? Did Roswell actually start the whole alien thing? Did we get our current idea of what an alien looks like—big head, big eyes, little scrawny body—from Roswell? If that’s the case, then Mengele probably based his design on what such a being should theoretically look like. Big heads imply bigger brains, thus greater intelligence, for example. And it’s worth noting that contemporary scientists, in suggesting what human beings may look like in millennia to come, as we continue to evolve, offer up a visual representation that resembles in no small way the classic “alien” physicality, ie big heads and big eyes. Was Mengele just ahead of his time in his guesswork? Could be.
More problematic for me is this: After the Russians went to the trouble to manufacture mock aliens to pilot their top-secret flying machines (also developed with acquired Nazi tech), with the intention that the crafts were to land and the pilots were to get out and walk around, just long enough for people to get a good look at them and panic accordingly, they had to know there was at least some possibility that the crafts could crash (which they did) or be shot down. Why, then, if what they wanted was to create a panic by creating this illusion, would they ruin this illusion by embossing their saucers with Russian writing? “Don’t worry, guys, it’s just us!” is what that writing might as well have said. “No spacemen here!” The eyewitnesses who saw the actual crash site in Roswell DID describe writing on the craft, yes, but some of those eyewitnesses were trained military men (one who came forward with the truth on his deathbed). Would he have failed to recognize Russian writing, attributing it instead to some extraterrestrial civilization? Possibly. Maybe even probably, if we force ourselves to adhere strictly to Occam’s Razor. But it doesn’t make sense to me that the Russians would put the writing there in the first place, thus guaranteeing the spoiling of their illusion in the event of a crash.
Something that DOES make sense to me is this: Those in charge at Area 51, knowing that in this day and age they can no longer get away with just denying the facility exists, knowing that the Internet has made it possible for the common man to learn more, much more, about them and their base than they would like, would instead resort to a secondary kind of smokescreen. That they’d use a conspiracy theory to further their own ends. That they’d hint at a shadowy cover-up of the facts, just not the REAL shadowy cover-up, in order to protect those facts. As I said, I believe Ms. Jacobsen is reporting with complete honesty the things she was told. But was she told the REAL truth? It’s all smoke and mirrors, and puzzles within puzzles. It is worth noting that Ms. Jacobsen herself admits in her book that she doesn’t know why her sources chose her to reveal their secrets to, or why they did so at this time. Maybe because she’s a credible reporter, highbrow news rather than tabloid, and thus more likely to be believed. As for why now, I’ve already made my guess. The cat’s partially out of the bag.
Or she could have it right. Nazi-created mutants instead of aliens. Who knows. Certainly not me. It’s interesting to read about, either way. For me, it’s all about a good story, anyway. Always.
Several years ago, my buddy Scott (renowned Historical Fiction and Fantasy novelist Scott Oden) and I went on a long road trip to the American Southwest. Scott was going through an ugly divorce and I thought it best for him to get away for awhile. As I was planning a trip and would welcome the company, I dragged him along. We went through Cross Plains, Texas, home of the legendary writer Robert E. Howard, most famous as the creator of Conan the Barbarian. We saw dinosaur footprints and a meteor crash site where the meteorite in question had landed on a wooly mammoth. (You can’t make this stuff up, folks.) We saw Carlsbad Caverns, on a day (and night) when their famous flock of bats refused to put in an appearance. And we drove into Roswell.
Roswell, New Mexico ought to be thankful for that UFO crash back in the 40s. It turned what would otherwise be a typical southwestern ranch town into a tourist mecca. They have a cool UFO Museum there now, dedicated to all things concerning the crash. They have an annual UFO Festival. There are also a few other “unofficial” UFO-themed tourist traps, to which Scott and I gladly contributed money. And, as one might expect, Roswell is now home to its share of crackpots. We saw a perfect reproduction of the pyramid complex in Giza, rendered in limestone gravel (just like what’s lining every rural driveway and back road in the country—again, you can’t make this stuff up). And when we went into this one little UFO “museum” slash general store, literally as soon as we’d walked in the door and the little electric chime had sounded, the guy behind the counter, with sweaty forehead, leering countenance and eyes as wide as a crystal meth tweaker, leaned out across the countertop and shakily asked us: “So, you two ever seen any ALIENS?!!” We politely replied that we’d only made contact with the South-of-the-Border kind and quickly left the establishment.
I do have to wonder if that guy has read Ms. Jacobsen’s book, and if so what he thinks of it. Does it make him happy or angry to have a NEW new conspiracy theory to dwell on? If he still owns that little junky store, does he now lean out over the counter and unnerve his customers by demanding: “Have you ever seen any genetically-modified Nazi Russians?!!”
Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it?