UFOs in the White House and Whitehall

Peter Brookesmith. UFO: Government Files, Blandford, 1996.

Using the history of US government investigations as a scaffolding, Brookesmith produces a concise but well-rounded history of American ufology. He also produces one of the sanest and most perceptive books on the subject for quite some time. He eschews both credulous belief, and the more sneering kind of know-it-all scepticism to produce a balanced history; one in which the United States government, far from being an omnipotent conspirator, is as confused as everyone else.

There are a number of points of special interest. Take for instance his revisionist account of the Condon Enquiry, with Condon as the hero and Sounders and Macdonald as villains. He is too much the gentleman to delve into the extent to which Macdonald's markedly manic-depressive character made relationships with colleagues so difficult. I would add the caveat that Condon had in some way begun to associate interest in UFOs with campus indiscipline, and a perceived lowering of academic standards. This led to demands in his Report that teachers who used UFO books in course-work should be censured, and his curious demand to Vice-President Agnew a few years later that a UFO conference should be refused permission to use the facilities of a university campus.

In the second part of the book, Brookesmith examines the 'dark side' of ufology: MJ 12, Roswell and other conspiracy theories. disposing of them admirably. He presents what must be closest to the truth of the infamous Bentwaters case that the current libel laws will allow. For me however, the highlight of the book is a demolition job on Jesse Marcel of Roswell fame, quoting researcher Robert Todd's discovery that Marcel was a liar and a braggart over his service record. This is a key, but not the only, piece is a total demolition of the Roswell legend. He quotes my semi-tongue-in-­cheek speculations in Magonia 54. In light of the new revelations about Marcel, all but number one can now be disposed of. -- John Rimmer/ from Magonia 58, January 1997.

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