(with due props to Douglas Kenney, National Lampoon co-founder)
Driving to work earlier this week, I heard Terry Gross of Fresh Air (NPR) interview Annie Jacobsen about her new book, Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base. Jacobsen is a national security reporter, which means she is used to facing stonewalling and secrecy and therefore well aware that she must triple-check her information. It all sounded like sober investigative reporting, until it got to the coda. Bear with me, grasshoppahs, because the truth is definitely way out there.
As you know, Bobs, Area 51 is a military installation in Nevada next to the Yucca Flats where most of the US nuclear tests have been conducted. Area 51 was the home of the U-2 and Oxcart military aircraft testing programs and its resident experts appear to have reverse-engineered Soviet MiGs. Some conspiracy lovers opine that the lunar landing was “faked” there. Not surprisingly, its specifics are heavily classified, including an annually-renewed presidential EPA exception to disclosing (ab)use of toxic agents. People in the ostensibly free world can’t even get decent aerial pictures of it — which of course did not deter satellites of other nations, but who cares for rationality where national security is concerned?
To UFO believers, Area 51 is also the facility that analyzed whatever crashed near Roswell in 1947. Which is where Jacobsen’s theory comes in, backed by a single anonymous source. She proposes that the Roswell object was neither a weather balloon nor an alien spacecraft but a remotely flown Soviet craft based on prototypes by the Horten brothers, aircraft designers and Nazi party members. This part is old news, since this possibility was already considered in cold war US investigations.
Jacobsen’s addition (asserted with a completely straight face and demanding to be taken seriously) is that this craft contained “genetically/surgically altered” teenagers engineered by Josef Mengele at the command of that other monstrous Joseph, Stalin. The modifications had produced uniform results of “abnormally large heads and eyes” etc. The goal was to scare the US and weaken its defenses by a repetition of the panic created by Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds 1938 broadcast.
Got that? I can safely bet that Hollywood agents are bidding frantically for the rights to the screenplay even as we speak. And so they should — it’s a guaranteed blockbuster. It has everything: UFOs, Nazis, Frankenstein monsters, government conspiracies… It ties so many loose ends together so neatly that it’s irresistible.
I will leave to other experts the issues of quoting a single anonymous source and the previous debunkings of similar Area 51 “insiders” like Robert Lazar et al. The part that made me laugh out loud was the “genetically/surgically altered” cherry on top of that fabulous cake. To her credit, Gross pressed Jacobsen on this, only to get a rewinding of the tape without any real explanation beyond “I trusted my Cigarette-Smoking Man because I spent two years talking to him.”
For those who don’t live in a parallel universe, the fact that DNA is the carrier of heredity for most terrestrial lifeforms was established in the fifties, which (*counting on my fingers*) came after 1947. So Mengele or anyone else could not have engaged in any form of targeted genetic engineering; that only became possible, in its crudest form, in the eighties. If “genetic” is intended to mean plain ol’ interbreeding, humans take a bit more than two years (the interval from the time the Russians walked into Berlin till the Roswell crash) to 1) produce children, 2) have the children grow into teenagers and, just as crucially, 3) reliably reproduce traits.
Starvation or breaking of bones during childhood can lead to stunting (as Toulouse-Lautrec’s case demonstrates) but I know of no surgery that can increase head size — hydrocephalus kills its sufferers in rather short order. Grafting was so primitive back then that it’s unlikely its recipients would have survived long enough for a transatlantic trip. The only scenario I can envision that would result to anything remotely tangential to Jacobsen’s contention is if the Soviets used youngsters suffering from growth factor or growth hormone deficiencies — genetic conditions that arise without the intervention of experimentation.
Don’t misunderstand me, I know the idiocies that military and “intelligence” agencies are capable of — from marching soldiers to ground zero well after the consquences of radioactive fallout had become obvious, to the frightening abuses of MK-ULTRA, to the Stargate “Jedi warriors” who stared at spoons and goats. But all these are extensively documented, as well as compatible with the technology available at the time they occurred. Jacobsen’s theory is as grounded as the alien craft alternative it purports to debunk. Pity that Gross didn’t invite a biology undergrad to the program.
My theory (and I’ll be happy to talk to Hollywood agents about it) is that the engineered youngsters decided to defect, commandeered the craft and crashed it while drunk on freedom and contraband beer. I even have my own impeccable source: the small store owner at the outskirts of Roswell who sold them the beer. Smoking Parodies and drinking his regular shot of Colt 45 from an oil can, he confided wistfully: “They just wanted to see the Vegas shows, like any kid their age.”
Images: top, Independence Day — the alien craft secreted and reverse-engineered in Area 51; bottom, another possible explanation for the Roswell crash: abduction lesson troubles (from Pixar’s Lifted).