News emerges of a book casting Area 51 in a very different light:
The so-called Roswell Incident of 1947 spawned conspiracy theories by the score.
But now, sadly for UFO spotters, a new book offers an entirely man-made – and some would say even more bizarre – explanation, featuring two of the greatest villains of 20th century history: the Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and the infamous Nazi “Angel of Death” Dr Joseph Mengele.
Area 51, the new book by Annie Jacobsen, is based on interviews with scientists and engineers who worked in Area 51, the top secret test base in the Nevada desert.
It dismisses the alien story and puts forward the theory that Stalin was inspired by Orson Wells’s famous radio adaptation of the HG Wells novel War of the Worlds, which provoked hysteria across America when broadcast in 1938. According to the book, the plot started after the Soviet Union seized from Germany at the end of the war the jet-propelled, single wing Horton Ho 229 – a fighter said to be the forerunner of the modern B2 stealth bomber.
This is where Mengele enters the story. The Nazi doctor, who experimented on prisoners in Auschwitz and fled to South America after the war, was supposedly enlisted to create a crew of “grotesque, child-size aviators” in return for a eugenics laboratory.
The book says that the plane was filled with “alien-like” children, aged 12 or 13, who Stalin wanted to land in America and cause hysteria similar to the 1938 broadcast. But, the plane, remotely piloted by another aircraft, crashed and the Americans hushed up the incident.
Jacobsen’s source, a retired engineer from the former defence company EG&G, which handled the US government’s most sensitive projects, said he was put on to the Roswell project in Area 51 in 1978.
This made me sit up and pay attention because it has some resonance with the research I’d been doing into the Philadelphia Project. There is no evidence this ever took place but at the time this was said to have been taking place at the Philadelphia Naval Yard it was also where Robert Heinlein and other science fiction authors were working. He had been given a free hand to recruit his team (effectively bringing the Manana Literary Society together on the east coast) and they had been tasked with coming up with wild ideas that might help win the war. Could it be the concept they came up with wasn’t for advanced technology, but for an idea so big and plausible the enemy thought it was real - the Philadelphia Experiment was what they came up with, but too late as the war ended before they could deploy it. However, decades later Heinlein would be associated with another “Big Con” - the Star Wars Project that helped bring the world back from the brink of nuclear Armageddon despite being a big idea, with some impressively expensive set dressing.
What hadn’t occurred to me is that the Russians might have come up with a similar idea, one that the Golden Age of Science Fiction (ironically led by Heinlein, along with Asimov and Clarke) had prepared the ground for. I had read suggestions before that the Modern Dawn of UFOs was created by science fiction authors in a bid to help bring the world back from the brink of war, with the “aliens” messages of concern about a possible atomic apocalypse helping convince people of the seriousness of the situation. The Soviets would also have a similar incentive to push for this - after all the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki wasn’t the last move of WWII, it was the first move of the Cold War, a shot across Russia’s bows to let them know that their enemy for the next few decades would take any necessary steps. It would also explain why the US intelligence agencies were so interested in Ufology and infiltrated and monitored what most people thought were pretty harmless groups of, at worst, cranks and kooks.
So this is well worth further examination.
Unfortunately, there are problems with this book. We know what Mengele did after the war, for example. Also the author has been caught talking rubbish before, which makes her rather unreliable. A New York Times review is actually quite complimentary about the bulk of the book but seems less impressed with the critical part:
Although this connect-the-dots U.F.O. thesis is only a hasty-sounding addendum to an otherwise straightforward investigative book about aviation and military history, it makes an indelible impression. “Area 51” is liable to become best known for sci-fi provocation.
The whole Roswell story is fishy from the rapidly retracted initial announcement of a saucer crash to its emergence from years of obscurity thanks to Charles Berlitz and William Moore, a team that split up because Berlitz wasn’t beyond letting the truth spoil a good story (Moore is hardly a reliable figure himself, he would later make a career out of spreading disinformation on UFOs for airforce intelligence). This might be a new useful angle to investigate, even if the details seem to unravel rather quickly on examination, and one to keep an eye on over the next few years.
It’s 1945. Stalin calls together a group of science fiction writers and orders them to produce a scenario of alien invasion; he perceives the American threat to be on the wane, and the Soviet state needs an enemy against which to rally. No sooner have the writers developed a scenario than Stalin demands they forget the idea on pain of death.