An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base
First of all, I had better get this off my chest, although if you read this blog on any regular basis you already know that I’ve had a life-long love affair with all things science-fiction. Fair enough?
And I love conspiracy theories. Love them. Show me a good conspiracy theory and I’m a happy little person. On top of that I can’t get enough of movies like Capricorn One or The Parallax View or The Manchurian Candidate or—yes, Conspiracy Theory, a really good one starring Mad Mel Gibson. And of course I also love Fox Mulder and Dana Scully.
The problem is that these are all fictional. When I get asked to believe that Stanley Kubrick was forced to fake the 1969 lunar landing in a hangar at the famous Area 51, beloved of so many conspiracy theorists, I just find it completely barmy. And I’m like that with most real life theories of that nature. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great story. I think at the moment it boils down to the lives of Stanley’s family being threatened if he didn’t comply with the trickery. But even leaving Stanley Kubrick out of it and trying to get your head around the whole idea of the moon landing being faked…well, seriously? It would include swearing so many people to secrecy, wouldn’t it? And you couldn’t then just bump them off without some Nosy Parker figuring out that all thirty of these deaths couldn’t just be heart attacks.
So…stuff like Roswell, the Black Mailbox and the Kennedy/Lincoln assassination links; well, they’re great entertainment but allow me to remain sceptical.
With all that on board I was delighted to come across this very interesting (and big!) book by Annie Jacobson, a national security reporter and contributing editor to the Los Angeles Times Magazine. Published in 2011 in the wake of the declassification of some material in 2007, Area 51 was touted as a serious nonfiction history of the very secretive base—so secretive that it doesn’t officially exist—out in the wastes of the Nevada Desert. And Jacobson has done a fine job of collecting and making understandable to the layman a great deal of what the CIA and more importantly the Atomic Energy Commission have been hiding all these years. And the first thing that you will think is: Jesus, if this is what they are letting us know about can you imagine what still remains classified?
The Shadow of Roswell
Because some of this is utterly terrifying. Like anybody else, of course, I’ve just taken it for granted that we must have come very close to nuclear disaster on several occasions. I just didn’t realise how often, or just what kind of certifiable nutcases seemed to be running the show on a wing and a prayer sometimes. I wish that she had stuck to this because it is essential reading for anyone interested in our shared nuclear history, for good or bad. Unfortunately, the shadow of Roswell hangs over this book from the beginning, in order I would imagine, to increase sales with the UFO crowd. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just that the actual story of Area 51 is so interesting that when she drops her big theory on the Roswell Incident, well put it this way, you’ll be sorry that she didn’t just tell you something comforting like yes, it really was the crash of an alien spacecraft. And regarding her sources, Jacobson meticulously lists them all at the end of the book. Except one; but that one turns out to be pretty damned crucial if you don’t mind me saying.
Being interested in the life of Orson Welles, I was intrigued by the amount of credit that she gives to his famous War of the Worlds radio broadcast in the ‘30s, which sent many Americans into a panic as they became convinced that Earth was under attack from the Martians. Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler also viewed the ensuing panic with interest, the latter calling it “evidence of the decadence and corrupt condition of democracy”. Also watching with some alarm was President Roosevelt’s top science advisor, Vannevar Bush. However, it was Uncle Joe’s take on the whole thing, according to Jacobsen’s book, that was to be the farthest reaching.
Really alarming news was to come in more concrete form only three months later, with “a press conference to announce the discovery of nuclear fission to the world. When the declaration was made that two German-born scientists had succeeded in splitting the atom, a number of physicists who were present literally ran from the room.”
What Would Happen if—?
Six years later, Vannevar Bush had been appointed by Roosevelt to lead the group who would make the bombs that obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing some half million people; and from that moment on there was no doubt that the world was now under a shadow of its own making, whilst other nations, notably Russia, piled on all their resources in order to catch up.
“Bush was the director of the Manhattan Project, the nation’s first true black operation, and he ran it with totalitarian control.”
Jeez, there must be something about that name, Bush. In any event, the officially non-existent Area 51 was to play a major role, either directly or indirectly from now on. And this is the most fascinating part of the book for me. Of course we go through the now well-known story of how America made use of Third Reich scientists and known war criminals—wiping them free of all crimes, no matter how appalling—in their bid for dominance in first the Atomic Race and then later the Space Race. Russia was doing the same. The insanity was in full flight.
One guy who was fighting a losing battle against the madness was Albert Einstein:
“…Einstein and the newly formed Federation of American Scientists appealed to President Truman: ‘We hold these individuals to be potentially dangerous… Their former eminence as Nazi party members and supporters raises the issue of their fitness to become American citizens and hold key positions in American industrial, scientific and educational institutions.’ For Einstein, making deals with war criminals was undemocratic as well as dangerous.”
Operation Crossroads sounds as if it was a lot of fun. Of course this atomic exercise was too big to cover up and we’ve probably all heard about it. It came after Hiroshima-Nagasaki and was designed to show the world how serious America was about keeping things peaceful. Still, it is interesting to read some of the eye-witness reports of the time. It took place in a beautiful and deep lagoon in Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands of the Pacific. Basically it came down to setting off three atomic bombs and taking note of what happened to a shed load of captured Japanese and German warships.
What’s that you say? Where were the indigenous population? Well, common sense tells you that you can’t have a lot of savages standing in the path of progress, so they were kindly and no expense spared, packed up and forced to spend the remainder of their lives pining for their vanished homeland.
“There were massive, football-field-size warships whose individual might was dwarfed only by the combined power of them all. Eight submarines had been tethered to anchors on the ocean floor. There were over one million tons of battle-weary steel floating on the ocean without a single human on board. Instead, thousands of pigs, sheep, and rats had been set out in the South Pacific sunshine, in cages or in leg irons and they would face the coming atomic blast. Some of the animals had metal tags around their necks; others had Geiger counters clipped to their ears. The Navy wanted to determine how living things fared against nuclear bombs.”
Yep. You read that right. After Hiroshima some slow-witted folks weren’t too sure what happened when flesh met an atomic explosion. I guess they must have missed those shadows on the walls.
“There was a blinding flash and things were not black anymore. Then there was a white-orange light that seemed brighter than the sun as the world in front of O’Donnell [weapons engineer] transformed again, this time to a fiery red. He watched a massive, megaton column of water rise up out of the lagoon. The mushroom cloud began to form. ‘Monstrous! Terrifying! It kept getting bigger and bigger,’ O’Donnell recalls. ‘It was huge. The cloud. The mushroom cap. Like watching huge petals unfold on a giant flower. Up and out, the petals curled around and came back down under the bottom of the cap of the mushroom cloud.’ Next came the wind. O’Donnell says, ‘I watched the column as it started to bend. My eyes went back to the top of the mushroom cloud where ice was starting to form. The ice fell off and started to float down. Then it all disappeared into the fireball. Watching your first nuclear bomb go off is something you never forget.”
I’ll take his word for it. In his aircraft high above the lagoon Colonel Richard Leghorn had an even better view:
“He watched…the underwater fireball produce a hollow column, or chimney, of radioactive water six thousand feet tall, two thousand feet wide, and with walls three hundred feet thick. The warships below were tossed up into the air like bathtub toys. The Japanese battleship Nagato, formerly the flagship of Admiral Iseroku Yamamoto, the man responsible for planning the attack on Pearl Harbour, was thrown four hundred yards. The retired USS Arkansas, all twenty-seven thousand tons of it, was upended against the water column on its nose. Eight mighty battleships disappeared in the nuclear inferno. Had the armada floating in the lagoon been crewed to capacity, thirty-five thousand sailors would have been vaporised.”
So… I guess we know what happened to the poor old pigs. By the way, they were dressed up in navy uniforms. Well, it was important to see what would happen to fabric when it came in contact with…oh, forget it. And if you think that this was insane then wait until you get to the ‘60s and a decision to explode a nuclear bomb many times the size of the Hiroshima-Nagasaki ones in order to see what would happen when you detonated one right in the Ozone Layer! For the record, some scientists thought that it was a really bad idea, for some reason; others shrugged and said, chances are the Ozone will rebuild itself and anyway, we won’t know until we try.
Seriously, how the hell we are still around is a complete mystery to me.
Area 51 is in the background through all of Annie Jacobsen’s massive history of the place. It has featured throughout some seven decades now, throwing its influence over events from the aftermath of World War II through the Atomic Age, the Space Age and it has been instrumental in the major breakthroughs in spying techniques. The reporter has had remarkable access to many people on the ground—and many of them, having now seen the book, regret talking to her so openly. For despite the endlessly fascinating and terrifying historical events that Area 51 has been the background to, it is her ‘revelations’ concerning the ‘flying disc’ that crashed at Roswell in 1947, that has caused the most outrage since the book was published.
It’s a pity, because I think that the main bulk of the book and what she reveals through the newly declassified records is fascinating enough without any conspiracy theories; but as much as I’d like to stay away from her Big One, there is no way to do it, since it has become the main bone of contention since its publication.
Basically, it comes down to that troublesome ‘flying disc’ that crash landed on Roswell. Now I think that there is no doubt that the early reports of something substantial hitting the place are true. One thing for sure is that the amended reports that this was a weather balloon are nonsense. The trouble begins with some of the eyewitnesses saying that they saw small bodies being taken from the crash site. These of course were to become the large-headed alien bodies that, according to conspiracy theory lore, were kept in a hangar at Area 51.
Basically, according to one of Jacobsen’s aged informants (who presumably can no longer live with the guilt) the disc was deliberately crash-landed by Stalin, the despot who had been so inspired by the War of the Worlds broadcast that he attempted to create his own mass panic in Americans.
So before we go any farther, let’s have a quick look at that. We are to believe that Stalin deliberately crashed a fairly sophisticated craft—in 1947!—that had enough of his technological secrets in it to keep the scientists at Area 51 busy with reverse engineering for years to come? That wasn’t very bright, was it? And in any case it would be another decade before the Russians had the know-how to even put a tiny satellite like Sputnik into orbit—and God knows that terrified the Americans enough!
The informant goes further. The small bodies that were recovered from the vehicle were actually children who had been genetically interfered with in order to give them disproportionate heads and over-large eyes: they were deliberately created in order to convince the American s that the aliens had landed.
And who did the genetic modification? Why, it was Josef Mengele of course.
“The engineers [of Area 51] learned that just before the war ended, Josef Mengele made a deal with Stalin. Stalin offered Mengele an opportunity to continue his work in eugenics—the science of improving a human population by controlled breeding to increase desirable, heritable characteristics—in secret, in the Soviet Union after the war. The engineers were told that this deal likely occurred just before the war’s end, in the winter of 1945, when it was clear to many members of the Nazi Party, including Mengele, that Nazi Germany would lose the war and its top commanders and doctors would be tried and hanged for war crimes.”
Never mind that it has been pretty accurately documented that Mengele ended his life in reasonable luxury in South America– all those decades he was actually working for the Russians. At least Ms. Jacobsen does ask the obvious question that would be bothering anyone by now. If we had such tangible, truly shocking proof of the evil of Stalin then why not reveal it to the world; why cover it up?
She receives the answer that it is because we have been doing the exact same thing!
I have no faith at all in my fellow human beings. I think that if we could get away with doing such things then we would, make no mistake; but there are just so many reasons that much of this doesn’t add up. There are too many to go into here but the internet is full of the arguments if you want to pursue them. For myself, it probably says a lot for my mentality that I can’t help thinking that this would make a great movie that would turn a prize piece of nuttiness like The Boys from Brazil into an exercise in rationality. And don’t get me started on that one.
As I’ve said, almost all of Jacobsen’s research is valuable and interesting. I just can’t help feeling that it is her publishers who have pushed her into this indefensible position in order to sell a few more copies.
The book has reinforced my distaste for human beings and the horrors that we are capable of, something that is never far away in any case. And if nothing else, Area 51 will convince you that the Monty Python boys were right: there had better be intelligent life up there, because there’s bugger all down here.
Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base
By Annie Jacobsen
Orion Publishing Group Ltd. 2011