Roswell 50 Years On

  • Tim Shawcross. The Roswell File. Bloomsbury, 1997.
  • Kal K. Korf. The Roswell UFO Crash: What they Don't Want You to Know. Prometheus, 1997.
  • Michael Hesseman and Philip Mantle. Beyond Roswell: The Alien Autopsy Film, Area 51, and the US Government Cover-up of UFOs. Michael O'Mara. 1997.

A veritable crop of Roswell books seems to being generated by the fiftieth anniversary celebrations, of the current yield, Shawcross is the book of the TV documentary The Roswell Incident shown on Channel 4 TV last year, and re-shown this July. The cover blurb hypes it as the most thorough investigation yet of the biggest alien story ever, which it wasn't. A better subtitle might have been an innocent in Roswell-land, for though, indeed, Shawcross and his colleagues interviewed a large number of witnesses, he too frequently acts on the adage that if they look like honest good old boys or kindly little old ladies they therefore can't be lying or confused with age - and they have good libel lawyers.

One reason for this is Shawcross's lack of any detailed knowledge of the past literature on the case and in the absence of that kind of investigation does not perceive the many contradictions between the stories the same people give to different researchers, or the convoluted background of claim and counterclaim among bickering investigators. At times he seems to be persuaded of the genuineness of the autopsy film, approach appears to surface, and after examining various options, suggests that the affair may have been caused by some experiment at Los Alamos.

Shawcross's speculations are rendered redundant and his book is wholly superseded by what probably is the most thorough reinvestigation, that of Kal Korff. When I reviewed his book on Billy Meir I said that I hoped he would tackle something more meaty next time, and he has definitely done that. Drawing on his own researches and those of Robert Todd, Korff re-examines the various claims, and dissects them with far more professional skill than that shown by the actors in the autopsy film. Readers of Magonia will probably be aware of Robert Todd's demolition of Jesse Marcel, which was noted by Peter Brookesmith in Government Files, Korff goes into painstaking detail, leaving the reader in no doubt that Marcel was a fantasist of the first order. Other witnesses such as Frank Kauffman, Loretta Procter and Glen Davies also go down in a mass of contractions, impossible claims and unverifiable statements. Todd and Korff find witnesses like Irving Newton who were convinced that the debris were from a weather balloon all along.

Korff leads us to the inescapable conclusion that the Roswell debris were from a Project Mogul balloon, and that the great Roswell case which has taken so much of the time, energy, money and reputation of American ufology and ufologists was after all pretty much what the Air Force said it was in the first place. As Korff points out, even through the exaggerations of time, what the witnesses to the debris described was far more compatible with a balloon than with a high tech ET spaceship. Korff, puts the boot in hard, only Friedman emerges with any credit, as a naive but essentially honest researcher. Of Moore, Randle and Schmidt the less said the better. Needless to say Korff gives very short shrift to the ludicrous autopsy film, which is the subject of the book by Hesseman and Mantle, and which is by far the wildest Roswell book so far, Korff describing the original manuscript as reaching an all time low. In the published work the fictionalised dialogue has been omitted, but just about the whole of ufological folklore is endorsed: Area 51, the lies told by Richard Doty, John Lear and Bob Lazar, ancient astronauts, the Cydonia face, MJ12, rumours that Marilyn Monroe was killed by the CIA because JFK had spilled the beans to her about the aliens in pillow talk, etc., etc.

In many ways it is significant that Jesse Marcel Jnr. produces a foreword to this book above all, for it suggests that this farrago, and not the cleaned up versions flogged to the ufological establishment, is what is really circulating at grass roots level. Roswell is inseparable from the whole background of general conspiracism, and beliefs in back-engineering alien technology and bodies in vats.

If as seems likely, Roswell has gone the way of the Bermuda Triangle, then the implications go far beyond ufology and the paranormal; they call into question whole genres of investigative journalism and oral history. Supporters of Roswell were no doubt right in arguing that in more rather normal fields the Roswell stories would not have been subject to the same scepticism. Yet the sceptics were right on Roswell. How many other more mainstream tales of secret experiments or hidden scandals taken at face value by investigative journalists like Shawcross, who like peoples' open honest faces, are equally dubious? -- Peter Rogerson, from Magonia 61, November 1977.

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