ROSWELL: Inconvenient Facts and the Will to Believe
By Karl T. Pflock (Prometheus Books, 2001)
In various accounts of the celebrated Roswell Incident, witnesses reported seeing strange hieroglyphic-like symbols along one edge of whatever fell to earth in southern New Mexico during the summer of 1947. What were their origin? Distinctive trappings of an alien culture? An extraterrestrial effort to communicate in a universal language?
How about Merrick Manufacturing on Canal Street in New York City?
According to Karl T. Pflock's revealing new book, ROSWELL: Inconvenient Facts and the Will to Believe, the markings came from this very terrestrial company, which sold industrial-strength adhesive tape for use in a top-secret aerial project operating over New Mexico. Pflock quotes one researcher who helped build the devices in 1947 as saying he and others giggled the first time they saw the bizarre markings.
Sure, you're thinking, it's just another cheap, sensational book about Roswell, released to capitalize on whatever worldwide attention the city will draw from the tourists, hucksters and opportunists gathering next week for its seventh annual UFO Festival over the July 4 holiday. Not so. Pflock, who lives just north of Albuquerque in suburban Placitas, writes with unusual force from a perspective that gives his conclusions considerable credibility. A former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense, he is an ardent proponent of the notion that alien UFOs do exist. Pflock was quite willing to believe the essence of the Roswell Incident—until he started researching it in 1992. Many of the key witnesses were still alive, and Pflock interviewed almost all of them.
Within two years he concluded the Roswell Incident was sheer hooey.
Why? Take Frank J. Kaufmann, one of the relatively few persons around Roswell who professes first-person knowledge of a badly damaged but recognizable flying saucer festooned with alien bodies. He has said the spaceship was quickly flown away intact to an Air Force base. Kaufmann also estimated the craft was at least 22 feet long, 15 feet wide and five feet thick. Pflock writes that in 1947 no airplane in the world was big enough to cart away so large an object.
Or this: Other UFO researchers quoted the now-deceased Jim Ragsdale, who claimed he was cavorting with a lady friend in the remote desert when the spaceship crashed nearby, as saying he knew the location well because at the time he was helping to survey it for a planned El Paso Natural Gas Co. pipeline. But Pflock produces a retired company official who declared the route wasn't even conceived of, much less surveyed, until 1952--five years after the Roswell Incident. This tardy timeline is confirmed in a 1953 article in El Paso Gas's employee magazine. The other UFO researchers now say they misunderstood Ragsdale but don't explain why they didn't seek verification.
By the time Pflock winds down his 331-page, 421-footnote book, the Roswell Incident contains more holes than disputed presidential ballots in Florida. In a nutshell, here is Pflock's well-supported take: There was no crash of an alien spaceship filled with little green men, or any other color. What hit was a football-field-long U.S. government-sponsored radar balloon, part of something called Project Mogul, intended to monitor, among other things, Russian nuclear testing. For national security reasons, the cover story was put out that the mishap involved a weather balloon. Witness accounts transported unrelated events that happened years later into the summer of 1947. A fair amount of lying, forgery and ego nursed along the tale.
``In ufology, there is life after lies for those with chutzpah and a gift for saying what those with a will to believe want to here,'' Pflock writes acidly. His blunt conclusion: ``This body of testimony and evidence establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that alien voyagers were not shipwrecked here over a half century ago.''
You can imagine the whispering campaign from the noisy pro-UFO lobby, some of whose members reap lucrative lecture fees around the country talking up Roswell and other purported alien episodes. Pflock's brain has been taken over by mysterious government forces—or maybe even aliens—determined to continue a 54-year cover-up.
But here is Pflock's mocking retort: ``Never mind the contradictions. Never mind the lack of independent supporting fact. Never mind the blatant absurdities. There is so much here, there has to be something to at least some of it, and if this or that witness or bit of data proves bogus, well, there are plenty more of both where they came from.''
Pflock actually breaks relatively little ground for those familiar with the large amount of Roswell Incident literature, which he carefully credits. Pflock himself expressed skepticism in a 1994 book, Roswell in Perspective. In 1997, The Real Roswell Crashed-Saucer Cover-up, by Philip J. Klass, the unquestioned dean of UFO skeptics, covered much of the same terrain.
Indeed, five years ago Crosswinds Weekly detailed the Roswell Incident's shifting crash sites, hidden financial arrangements and dubious research techniques, including a phony notarization ("Now Where Was It Those Aliens Crashed?" August 1996), Accompanying our story was a large map showing six alleged crash sites stretching across a startlingly wide, belief-defying 200 miles of New Mexico desert—a format that Pflock mimics on his book's inside covers.
Pflock's effort does suffer from a writing style drier than the Plains of San Agustin—one of those six crash sites and nowhere near Roswell. But the illuminating detail and documentation he musters more than makes up for any literary shortcomings. Pflock goes after just about every pillar supporting the Roswell Incident. Among his other points:
—Most accounts now say the crash occurred around July 4, 1947. But persuasive evidence exists that William W. (Mack) Brazel actually found the famous debris on his ranch three weeks earlier. In stories dated July 8, 1947, the Associated Press and the Roswell Daily Record both quoted Brazel as saying he found the debris on June 14. This would render irrelevant the many witnesses who say they saw something mysterious streaking across the skies around Roswell during the Independence Day weekend.
—Now-retired New Mexico Institute of Mining professor Charles B. Moore was the project engineer who launched the doomed balloon, one of a series coordinated by the Federal Government through New York University. His account is buttressed by other participants.
—Jim Ragsdale's I-saw-it-crash-while-trysting account is worthless—Pflock calls it the ``Jim Ragsdale scam''—because over time and after monetary inducement he altered too many crucial facts, including moving the location 35 miles west.
—Over the years Roswell mortician Glenn Dennis changed so many details about his story of a military nurse girl friend at the local Air Force base who saw the bodies and told him about them that his credibility is gone. He first identified her as Naomi Self, then Naomi Selff, then Naomi Snipes, then said he was still hiding her identity. Dennis claimed she later died in an airplane accident. Pflock and other researchers have amassed considerable evidence that no nurse with a name anything like these ever worked at the base. Pflock believes that Dennis patterned her after an actual nurse, Eileen M. Fanton, who was at the base—and who is now dead, apparently of natural cases. Pflock also suggests that Dennis' gruesome descriptions of burned aliens really came from three victims of a 1956 Air Force plane crash whose bodies were autopsied at the Roswell funeral home still employing Dennis then.
—UFO proponents claim government agents immediately confiscated all copies of the July 8, 1947, press release by Roswell military authorities announcing the capture of a flying saucer (the claim was withdrawn a few hours later). This is often cited as evidence of something big and evil. Pflock says there's a far less sinister reason why no copies have been found: The release was read over the phone to media outlets and not issued in written form. Pflock's book reproduces the actual printout of a teletype exchange that day between the United Press International bureaus in Denver and Santa Fe. Denver: ``LETS HAVE TEXT ARMY ANNOUNCEMENT FASTEST.'' Santa Fe: "ARMY GAVE VERBAL ANNCMENT. NO TEXT.''
--UFO researcher William L. Moore (no relation to Professor Moore), co-author of The Roswell Incident, the 1980 book that started all this madness and coined a memorable phrase, got caught passing on a doctored memo. Dated October 30, 1947—less than four months after Roswell—the memo by Air Force Brigadier General George F. Schulgen summarized UFO research to date. The version that Moore publicized declared, ``It is the considered opinion of some elements that the object may in fact represent an interplanetary craft of some kind.'' Pflock's book reproduces both the original memo, which sits in the National Archives, and the altered version produced by Moore. The above-quoted language, with its unspoken
suggestion about Roswell, is not in the original.
Many Roswell Incident supporters play up the fact that more than 270 witnesses say they saw something. But Pflock -- calling Roswell ``the triumph of quantity over quality'' -- says that means nothing if there is no agreement on essentials like, say, when and where. Kaufman and Ragsdale, for instance, put the crash site in different counties. On that July 4 weekend--which, as noted above, might have been several weeks after the actual crash--witnesses couldn't even agree on what direction the object they say they saw in the sky was heading. (Pflock says it likely was a meteorite.)
His biggest point of all: A series of secret Air Force and Central Intelligence Agency memos written through 1955 and later declassified make clear that no extraterrestrial vehicle was recovered at Roswell or anywhere else. For example, on September 23, 1947—shortly after the Roswell Incident—Air Force Lieutenant General Nathan F. Twining noted ``the lack of physical evidence in the shape of crash recovered exhibits which would undeniably prove the existence of these objects.''
In these and other documents, Roswell was never mentioned, even in passing. Of this paperwork, Pflock writes, ``They were created by those whose job it was to crack the flying saucer mystery, who wrote and spoke with the certainty that no unauthorized person would ever be privy to their words ... They had no qualms about being forthright with each other... They were candid with each other, utterly so.''
The Roswell Incident has certainly been good to the economy of Roswell, whose International UFO Museum and Research Center helps draw a steady stream of out-of-town tourists to a pretty out-of-the-way place. Pflock doesn't fault the city for cashing in, but suggests something akin to a profit motive is a major reason for all the disinformation. Almost regretfully, he writes: ``The Roswell treasure hunt has inspired a tremendous and often uncritical gathering of material and a rush to often equally uncritical interpretations of that material, pro and con.''
Veteran national journalist William P. Barrett now lives in Las Vegas. Besides his 1996 look at the Roswell Incident, he has authored or co-authored for Crosswinds Weekly articles detailing the FBI files of Georgia O'Keeffe, the record of New Mexico Governor Lew Wallace, New Mexico’s 25 richest persons and New Mexico’s 40 largest landowners. His e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org .