Please start at the beginning if you haven't yet
The Aftermath of a Saucer Crash
Even as far back as 1897, there is a relationship between stories of unidentified flying objects and government secrect (Clark 1998:141-159). But it is after 1947 that secrecy becomes one of the enduring hallmarks of the saucer era and later ufology. From the beginning, a vocal part of ufology has blamed a lack of good UFO information and public interest on “silence groups” in the American government. Probably the most influential of these researchers was NICAP czar Donald Keyhoe, who wrote about “Project Saucer” (actually called Projects Sign and Grudge [Swords 2000]), and continued to rail against government secrecy (Peebles 1994:44-48). In particular, throughout his ufological career, Keyhoe’s number one priority was pressing for open Congressional hearings. According to long-time ufological prankster and social historian James Moseley in his memoirs Shockingly Close to the Truth! (2002:46-47), Keyhoe’s persistence actually increased secrecy on the part of the U.S. military.
Congressional action and the University of Colorado “Condon Report” (Gilmour 1969) from 1966-1968 silenced this cause to a large degree, but with the 1990s came an increase in popular interest in the concept of UFOs and government conspiracies. This has led toa focus on government documents obtained by the Freedom of Information Act, most notably The Black Vault, as well as the branch of ufology called "exopolitics," a topic I will not get into at this time.
At the heart of the Roswell legend is the issue of a government cover-up. Though the UFO issue has had an edge of paranoia about the American government since the 1950's, conspiracy theories and the belief that government officials are hiding information about UFO's have grown over the last two decades along with the Roswell legend. The most successful of these concepts has been that of the “Majestic” (also known as Majestic-12, MAJIC, and MAJIC-12) group formed to deal with saucer secrecy in the wake of the Roswell crash. Majestic came to public knowledge in 1987 with the release of the Majestic documents by William Moore, Stanton Friedman, and filmmaker Jaime Shandera. Shandera says he received the documents on anonymously-sent film. The debate about the validity of the Majestic documents is too lengthy to go into at this time, but as of 2003, many ufologists and critics believe the documents to be fake (Klass 2000), though several in this group support the existence of one or another group similar to Majestic with some cosmetic differences. A smaller number, led by Friedman (1992), hold to the validity of the original documents. A larger number of additional documents have appeared, which have even less support than the originals. On my reading list for the summer is Greg Bishop's book Project Beta: The Story of Paul Bennewitz, National Security, and the Creation of a Modern UFO Myth. This book touches on, but is not directly about the MJ-12 documents, but instead documents Air Force disinformation against ufo resarchers, and some of the players in the Bennewitz affair are involved in the release of the Majestic documents.
Despite the direct links to Roswell, Majestic is able to cross between different narrative threads. Roswell researcher Kevin Randle has generally shied away from, or flat out attacked, the Majestic documents. And yet, a dramatic sequence of scenes based directly on the Majestic documents provides the major climax of the 1994 film Roswell, largely based on the work of Randle and co-author Schmitt. Furthermore, while the film relies heavily on Majestic, it ignores the crash site championed by the highest-profile Majestic proponent, Stanton Friedman. The International UFO Museum and Research Center in Roswell follows the film’s lead, and marries a narrative similar to that proposed by Randle and Schmidt to exhibits about Majestic. This melding of sources is reminiscent of some of the elements of Walter Haut's affidavit, released in 2007.
In addition to looking at the specifics surrounding narratives of airship, saucer, and UFO crashes, we must consider the aftermath posited after these wondrous machines fall from the heavens. Only in a few fictional accounts is a flying saucer revealed to the public after a crash. Typically, the remains of the saucer and its crew are crated up and shipped off to one or more secret locations. As early as 1897, human-piloted airships were tied to (as originating from, not going to) secret military bases in Illinois and Colorado (Bartholomew 1998). By the saucer age, alien bodies and crashed saucers started to be hidden at places like Wright Field (later Wright-Patterson AFB) in Ohio. The history of the relationship between Wright Field and crashed saucers is still murky (though it seems to go back until at least the 1960s), but the base was home to Project Blue Book starting in the 1950s, and before that Project Sign and E.T.-friendly Air Force investigator General Nathan Twining. It should come as no surprise, then, that after the release of the Majestic documents, nearly all later Roswell and many crashed saucer stories would designate Wright-Patterson and its infamous Hangar 18 as a resting place (if not a final one) for bodies and debris.
Fictional film versions of UFO silence groups and UFO crashes began to presage as early as 1971 the next major geographical center in crashed saucer stories. Though not dealing with a UFO, the novel and film (1971) Andromeda Strain depict the analysis of an alien life form within a secret underground government facility under Nevada. Six years later, a multinational silence group (backed up by the U.S. military) seal off a section of Wyoming so they can meet with UFOs and their occupants near Devil’s Tower in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg 1977). In 1980, a crashed UFO is transported from Arizona to a lunar landing facility at Wolf AFB in Texas in the film Hangar 18 (not located at Wright-Patterson in the film). Each of these films depicts a secret government base used for making contact with E.T.s or their material culture, located in the arid American West.
By the mid and late 1980s, ufologists and others would turn their interest to a secret military facility in central Nevada, referred to as Groom Lake by many insiders, but most famous as Area 51 (Patton 1998). It became a geographical focal point where Cold War paranoia and secrecy, environmental activism, concerns about government overstep, belief in UFO's, and the nascent cyberculture mixed in the 1990s. Glenn Campbell's (aka Psychospy) Desert Rat journal of his activities as an activist at Groom Lake, and the general doings around the site, provide a great historical source for understanding this weird chapter in the history of American distrust of government. A wide variety of stories have grown up in and out of the subculture of Area 51 observers, and several reference the Roswell crash as the seed for alien technology or craft tested and developed at the base. Area 51 doesn’t appear as quickly in Roswell narratives in large part because of the focus on the events in 1947, which predate the establishment of Area 51. The UFO Museum and Research Center has a substantial exhibit on Area 51, but the base does not figure in a major way in most non-cinema versions of the Roswell or other crashed saucer stories. Interestingly, an argument could be made that while these fictional prototypes for Area 51 predate stories about the site, this differs from crashed saucer stories, which typically predate fictional analogs. Area 51 has followed in the footsteps of Roswell in becoming the inspiration for a musical play.
Once a research center is established, the material and crew undergo analysis, which can yield great benefits for society, though in most cases these are hoarded by the secret group in question. A small but persistent thread of ufology links Nazi Germany and flying saucers, and in a couple of crash stories, Nazi scientists are able to study saucers, possibly the origin of many of the German “wonder weapons.” (model below on display at the IUFOMRC).
The concept of reverse engineering to create advanced technology (particularly aircraft) is more commonly applied to the U.S. and Roswell. The most developed version of this thread is Corso’s (1997) The Day After Roswell, within which Corso claims to have been personally responsible for seeding technology from the Roswell crash to defense contractors, and thereby playing a part in the “creation” of nearly every major technological advance in the later 20th century.
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